Why late night work emails are killing productivity

Work email at nightYou’re at home and it’s late evening. A work email has arrived from your boss. It must be important if they’re emailing at this time of day, right?

You read it and feel compelled to respond.

The chances are that as a communications pro, you’re used to being asked for advice at short notice. And if you work on the news side of communications then it’s par for the course.

But there are also those types of emails from leaders, or even your own manager, that are not urgent as such, but form part of a regular pattern of ‘offline’ discussion to progress an issue or to help shape an idea.

Maybe you are a leader or manager yourself and are the person that starts these out-of-hours email conversations.

According to productivity expert Maura Thomas, writing for the Harvard Business Review, these late night emails are a real problem and can create a culture of disengagement and unproductivity.

When late night emails are sent by someone in a leadership position employees feel compelled to respond straight away. This is motivated in part by ambition – people want to show they are keen and helpful, and don’t want to compromise their career chances.

It’s also about habitual multi-tasking – the mindless constant checking of emails and social media while doing other things. More and more of us are doing it.

This sort of out-of-hours communication promotes an always-on culture, argues Thomas, chipping away at creativity, innovation and true productivity, and effects results, as you miss out on essential downtime.

By contrast, having ‘time away’ enables you to recharge your batteries and deliver your best at work, allowing you to produce new ideas and fresh insights.

While I don’t agree with absolutely everything Thomas says, I agree that most work cultures would benefit from greater focus on “presence, single tasking and full engagement”. I’m not sure how realistic it is to completely refrain from after-hours communication, but I think it makes sense to clarify expectations about email and other communications out-of-hours.

A few other recommendations I agree with:

> Establish policies to support a healthy culture, recognising and valuing single-tasking, focus and downtime.

> Put away devices when speaking to staff, and implementing a “no device” policy in meetings (see my blog on mindfulness in communication)

> Establish quiet spaces, remote working options for high concentration work (see my blog post on creativity)

These recommendations go beyond resolving email communication out-of-hours. This is about helping employees to become fully engaged in their work, leading to increased productivity and improved business results. What’s not to like about this way of working?

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