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In my work with hundreds of companies and thousands of people in the last 16 years, I recognized an issue with regard to corporate communication; specifically after hours email. The pace and timing of email can have a damaging affect on productivity and on the culture of an organization, and what I realized is that executives were contributing to this damage without even realizing it. I had so much to say on the topic that it takes up an entire chapter of my book, Work Without Walls: An Executive’s Guide to Attention Management in the Age of Distraction.

I wrote about it for my very first article for Harvard Business Review back in 2015, and it struck a nerve. Your Late Night Emails Are Hurting Your Team became the most popular article on HBR that year, with almost half a million views in just the first month.

The Latest Research

A new study from Virginia Tech is the latest to validate my anecdotal experience with my clients. It’s being presented at the Academy of Management meeting this week  and it’s titled, “Killing me softly: electronic communications monitoring and employee and significant-other well-being.” The basic finding is that after hours emails cause anxiety, and negatively impact our lives and our relationships. The author of that study also has a supporting body of research on the topic.

William Becker, co-author of the study, says, “Our research exposes the reality: ‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.”

And you don’t even have to be reading or responding to the after hours emails for them to be a problem. The mere expectation of availability is the issue.

The Solutions

That first HBR article, and the follow-up, Fixing Our Unhealthy Obsession with Work Email offer some suggestions for this problem, but the problem of “work without boundaries” is the exact subject-matter of my book, Work Without Walls (click the link to start reading for free), where you will find more context plus comprehensive solutions. You’ll find it particularly relevant if you manage staff. If you don’t, you might want to send it to your boss.  🙂

Setting a tone for appropriate expectations of availability contributes to the culture of an organization, setting up the culture to support productivity and attention, rather than sabotage it.

By the way, this content is from a new training I’ve developed that is geared toward leadership, about how to create an intentional office environment and culture that supports productivity and attention.  After hours email is just the beginning. Get in touch if you think this training might be a good fit for your leadership team. Reach out here or call me at 424-226-2872.

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