The recent article in the New York Times, “The Workplace Benefits of Being Out of Touch” was thought provoking. It can be a challenge to unplug from email, but I realized that the behavior described in the article is based on two large assumptions. First, the article didn’t specify how one would know if they were “expected” to be available all the time. People often assume that just the act of sending email after hours creates the expectation of an immediate response, even during off hours. This is an incorrect assumption. In talking with my clients, I find that when most people send email in off-hours, it’s with the expectation that the receiver will “have it when they log on in the morning.” They are sending the message during off-hours more to mark something off their own to-do list, rather than to receive a response right away. So it’s a mistake to always assume that simply because someone sends you an email during off hours, that they expect you to answer it during your time off. In which case it’s not the employers who need to “allow” their employees to “really disconnect,” it’s the workplace assumptions that need to be challenged in order for the employees to have the downtime they need and feel free to unplug from email.
The second assumption the article makes is mentioned in the second paragraph: “most people feel that if everyone else is available 24 hours, then we have to be too.” Even if “most people feel” that way, it doesn’t make it true. I’m sure it varies from organization to organization but I’d bet it’s a small number of people who advance in their careers simply because they can be counted on to answer emails in the wee hours of the morning. Responsiveness may be an important quality to get ahead, but that’s not the same as being constantly reactive, and as more progressive organizations realize that downtime is important, there may be a better way to differentiate yourself in your career. Try being among the few who are known for being calm and in control, with thoughtful responses rather than immediate knee-jerk reactions, and who project a great work-life balance with the appropriate time to refresh, recharge, and unplug from email that is necessary for creativity and brilliance to shine. I can’t predict your workplace results but I can tell you that it will be good for your mental health!
I welcome your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading!