Late-Night Emails take a Toll on the Team

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By Angela Johnson

August 30 , 2020

In the digital world that we live in, it is easy for people to be connected to work 24 hours a day. You may find yourself checking e-mail on Saturday morning before the kids get up, or as you are sitting at the nail salon or barbershop. Is this healthy? Are you giving the company more of your time than is necessary? You may tell yourself that you are saving yourself time on Monday morning by checking email over the weekend, but are you really? Does it eliminate your need (or desire) to dive right into email as soon as you log onto your computer the following day? No, probably not!

If you are a supervisor or manager, think about your employees checking their email in this capacity. Are you encouraging them to disconnect from work and to have work-life balance by sending emails late night or whenever that random thought pops into your head? Although you are not intentionally telling them that you expect them to work during non-work hours, you know that you are looking at your phone to see if they have replied. What expectations are you setting for their behaviors and work habits?

According to Harvard Business Review, “being connected in off-hours during busy times is the sign of a high-performer. Never disconnecting is a sign of a workaholic.” Whether your employees are in-house or work remotely, what are your expectations of them? Do you want them to be connected all of the time or do you want to encourage work-life balance? How does the corporate culture distinguish between work time and “off” time?

As the leader and manager of your team, you set the boundaries and expectations for your team. You may send emails in the middle of the night simply because your brain is on overdrive and things pop into your head at that hour. Although you certainly may not expect a response from an employee, do they feel compelled to respond to you because they want to impress you? Do they think that it will get them ahead or display their commitment and dedication to their job? Are they awake too and welcome the distraction from sleep?

You have no way of knowing WHY an employee looks at or responds to your off-hour communications. However, it is a habit that if not acknowledged and stopped, it could have residual effects on productivity.

  • An employee wakes up in the middle of the night to see your email and is fearful that if he/she does not respond, it will look negatively on their performance. They fire off a response but in the haze of sleep, they write something incorrect or inappropriate.
  • Again, seeing a message from their supervisor in the wee hours, an employee replies but has no recollection of the communication in the morning.
  • An employee may use this off-hour communication to tout their relationship with you the leader to others as a display of loyalty or showmanship putting a rift between employees.

When employees constantly monitor their email during non-work hours, they blur the lines between work and personal time. Studies have shown that employees are the most creative and productive after they have taken some time away from the task or work. If they are constantly checking email on the weekends and at night, they do not have this much-needed downtime which can then prohibit them from being their most creative and productive.

As the manager, you must establish clear guidelines and expectations for email and other communications. It is even more important that you be an example to others as to what it means to respect work and personal time and create good habits for your team. If you do have a thought that you want to share, write the email but save it as a draft to send during normal business hours or create a voice memo to yourself as a reminder of the thought to be sent at a later time.

Although technology has made employees more productive and has given them the ability to work anywhere, anytime, this does not mean that as leaders we should encroach on their personal time or encourage them to be connected with the company at all times. Work-life balance is critical to productivity so do not let your late-night emails take a toll on your team!

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