To check or not to check … your emails after 6pm?

Late Night Emails

There has been a lot of coverage in the press about proposals in France to allow workers to ignore their work emails after 6pm. Read this insightful article by Attracta Mooney of Ignites Europe which contains some commentary from me. To read more articles, please subscribe to Ignites Europe.

People Feature: How to cut down your after-hours emails

Article published on 15 April 2014
By Attracta Mooney

Sending and receiving emails outside standard office hours is the norm in the asset management industry, but experts say both employees and companies should be taking steps to cut down on dealing with messages after they have left work for the day.

Last week, labour unions and federations in France signed an agreement that some workers – about 250,000 in the digital and consultancy sectors – would not have to respond to work emails outside of normal office hours.

The agreement says employers should not pressure staff into being available after 6pm, while employees have to resist looking at work-related material on computers and smartphones outside working hours.

Experts say a similar initiative would have limited success in the asset management industry, although there are steps employees and companies can take to reduce the time spent dealing with emails outside office hours.

The very nature of asset management, which is often cross-border and global, is one of the main reasons why banning emails after 6pm might not work.

“We live in the 21st century. We work in an international environment, so there are always going to be emails coming in around the clock,” says Corinne Mills, managing director at Personal Career Management.

An Ignites Europe poll reveals that the funds industry is devoted to emailing outside of normal working hours, with 94 per cent of more than 200 respondents checking their emails after 6pm. About three-quarters regularly read their emails after work.

Penny Davenport, a careers coach, adds: “The 24/7 culture is everywhere and it’s very hard for any individual to fight it, and equally hard to manage their career in a positive manner whilst doing so.”

While it might be difficult to end post-6pm emails, experts say employees should take a close look at their emailing habits and see if they can cut down on sending messages outside working hours.

Ms Mills say good practice is to put your mobile phone in another room. “If it’s really urgent, they’ll ring you. But turn off the ping [the noise that alerts users to a new email].”

Ms Davenport says “as soon as humanly possible, set your boundaries”.

“For example, make it clear that you never respond to emails after 9pm and before you leave for your commute. Let your actions speak for you,” she says.

Jeff Davidson, a work-life balance expert, suggests putting aside half an hour at the same time each evening to deal with emails.

For example, at 10pm you could extensively answer emails, but otherwise leave the phone down, he says.

Ms Davenport also advises not responding to non-urgent emails outside of work. “Resist the temptation to reply ‘just because’,” she says.

Mr Davidson agrees it is important to think carefully about whether or not the email is urgent before hitting reply.

“There are a lot of things that appear to need to be done as soon as possible, but if you give it some deep thinking, only a fraction needs to be handled right away,” he says.

Another suggestion is to reply to non-urgent emails with “really good points and perhaps I can come and see you in the morning to discuss them”, says Ms Mills.

If a matter does need to be addressed that evening or during the weekend, it is often faster to pick up the phone rather than to respond by email, experts say.

“Every email sent gets a response and blows up the volumes. Try and call people where you can,” Ms Davenport adds.

Ms Davenport also recommends being careful when using social media outside of working hours, or risk a barrage of emails from office colleagues.

“It might be fun to be tweeting with colleagues about a TV show or to be on Facebook, but then you are making it known that you are online,” she says.

Ms Mills says everyone, particularly managers, should think carefully before sending a work email outside working hours.

“Managers should not be sending routine emails after 6pm that need lengthy answers, because staff will feel they should answer it,” she says.

“There is very little that won’t wait until the next day. [Managers] can write the email but delay delivery until the next morning.”

Ms Mills says it is also worth taking a close look at your own motivation for emailing after work, because our obsession with emails is sometimes driven by our ego rather than by the company’s working culture.

“There is something quite flattering and egotistical about [sending and receiving emails outside of working hours] – people want your opinion. There is some kind of self-importance thing going on,” she says.

“We need to wean ourselves off that.”

One problem with emailing after work is that it affects both your personal and working life, experts warn.

“Constantly checking your emails affects your work-life balance. Work intrudes into your living space,” says Ms Mills.

“You might be emailing [for work] in bed at night, but if you are trying to organise a plumber while at work, it is still often frowned upon. When you are in work, you are meant to work. But at home you are also meant to work too.”

As well as affecting a healthy work-life balance, there is also a risk our day-to-day work may suffer by not taking a break from email, career consultants say.

“To have a good sense of perspective on any relationship, you need to have some distance from it so we all need a break from work – at night, and on weekends and during holidays,” says Ms Davenport.

Sarah Dudney, City headhunter and founder of Ignite Career, adds that digital breaks can help increase the quality of our ideas.

Such breaks give “our minds time to rest”, which can mean better ideas in the long term, she says.

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