pressure to answer email after-hours causes problems … even when there’s not much email to answer

Over at QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I take a look at several interesting work-related stories in the news right now, including how to figure out the right amount of pressure to put on your staff, why pressure to answer emails after-hours leads to stress and detachment (even when there’s not actually much email to answer), and more. You can read it here.

{ 21 comments… read them below }

  1. Friday Brain All Week Long*

    Shawn Doyle for President. PREACH!

    I am currently listening to a rehash of All Of The News From Yesterday by my coworkers in my open office and finding it hard to concentrate. So I come here!

  2. Lemon Zinger*

    So glad you wrote about the pressure to answer emails. I talked to my SO about this last night. He didn’t understand why I’m so stressed at home. It’s because I am expected to answer emails and texts from my boss at all hours, and I have no protection because I’m salaried. I’m counting down the days until December, when I become non-exempt and will have to report all hours worked!

  3. Kyrielle*

    Yes for Shawn Doyle! I have always loved the “open plan offices encourage collaboration” trope for its idiocy, too. It’s true that open-plan (and to a lesser degree cubicles) forces shared awareness, but in my experience the more people will overhear any conversation, the *less* likely collaboration is because *people don’t want to disturb their coworkers*.

    I don’t mean the ones they’d be collaborating *with*. Of course they’re willing to talk to them (or if they’re not, it’s not the layout at fault). I mean the ones who aren’t involved in whatever-it-is, whose concentration would be interrupted by these people collaborating all over them.

    Whereas folks who have a space with a door that closes that they can use (either a “breakout” style conference room or their own office) can pull in the people involved and, as long as “collaboration” isn’t a code word for “hold a shouting match”, know that their uninvolved coworkers can carry on working, undisturbed by their discussion.

    1. Vicki*

      A story I have shared before:

      At LastJob, I was in a cubicle farm, but the room was 80 feet long with no intervening walls, so almost as bad as Open Plan. Walls and ceilings were hard. They even installed glass “bulletin boards” (use tape, not pushpins). People made conference calls from their cubes.

      I asked our VP if something could be done about the noise level, perhaps adding some soft materials to make the acoustics less “bright”. She shared with the exec VP above her.

      He wrote back to say that it sounded like we had a great “collaborative” environment and he wanted to visit!


  4. Jamie*

    These are all great but 2 and 3 need to be required reading. Seriously – the requirement to be always available is a huge stressor in and of itself even when all is quiet.

    It doesn’t feel that way at first – at least for me – it felt like no big deal but after years where you’re tethered even in your sleep (because you have to sleep with phone on a loud dock so you’ll wake if you get texts or a call) it changes you. I have a visceral reaction when my phone goes off…I physically clench and my chest gets really tight and you can see it on my face – my mood shifts immediately to “what now?!” Even when it’s someone I want to hear from, or a personal text I’m expecting like my husband from Target texting pics of the towel colors in stock….I relax quickly, even when it’s work, but that conditioned response can’t be healthy long term and it absolutely impedes the ability to relax.

    When 24/7 availability is necessary – and in many positions it is – you have to spread it so you don’t have one person on call literally for years on end.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yes. Every week I was on call at my $OldJob I was a bundle of stress because the ceiling _could_ fall in, even if it seldom did. Every time I heard the associated ring tone I flinched, even if it was on someone else’s desk that day. (And I *insisted* we change it off the default ring tone – every so often we’d get a new phone and once we left it on the default and I flinched every time _anyone’s_ phone rang who had left it on the default. After that I pushed to change it and, luckily, everyone agreed.)

      I was senior enough to also get occasional calls from the person *with* the phone, but that was rare enough (1-2 times a year) not to feel as risky. Still, I’d have quickly gotten flinch-habituated to my own ring tone, except I assigned that one phone a special ring tone. (And, in a nod to how I reacted to it, it was a select from Pat Benetar’s “Anxiety (Get Nervous)”.)

        1. Kyrielle*

          *grins* It’s kind of awesomely amusing, especially given the title of that song. And there is almost no segment of music in that song (or by her in general, I think) that is not going to be loud enough and driving enough to get my attention, even if I’m asleep.

        2. Kyrielle*

          (Mind you, I’m silly with my ring tones anyway. My default one is a selection from the Helsinki Complaints Choir. It sounds pretty, choral, and vaguely repetetive. It is, in fact, the section where what they are singing translates to “and all ring tones are equally annoying”.)

    2. Ex Resume Reviewer*

      This is why I keep my work and personal phones. My work phone has a different ringtone and text tone, so I know when it goes off. If I’m not on call, I leave it on silent and maybe check it once a day (sometimes people call the wrong number). I’d go batty just with the volume of emails on my personal phone, and we don’t even answer those after hours, just the text alarms and calls.

  5. Crabby PM*

    I always tell my direct reports, “I will often answer email outside of business hours. I do not want nor expect a response outside of business hours. I need to be able to do this in order to keep on top of things, that’s part of being a manager. It is not included in your responsibilities. If I have to get ahold of you for an urgent issue outside of business hours, I will text/call/previously arranged method. I will not try to reach you for an urgent issue by sending you an email randomly and expecting that you’ll see it.”

    If the person isn’t a direct report I will add, “Just clearing my inbox, no answer needed until tomorrow/Monday/next week.” at the top of the email.

    1. Regina 2*

      This is what all my good managers have done and I have so appreciated it. Unfortunately, I am learning you are in the minority. :-(

    2. Murphy*

      I considered taking away my staff’s work phones when I got here. They don’t get paid to answer emails off-time and I didn’t want to set the precedent that they should be always available. We ultimately decided that anyone below X level could keep their phones if they wanted them (as a perk), but if they wanted to give it up they could without any questions asked. Regardless of whether or not they have a phone with email on it, they are not expected to answer me after 4:30. I’m sort of anal about protecting my employees off-hours (it’s also how they know that when I do need them to come in/stay late/etc. it really is important and not just because I’m an asshole).

  6. MissDisplaced*

    I got displaced from my office for the new man-boss and shoved out into cubicle land and I HATE it. It’s so loud and disruptive. My job requires a lot of writing, design and coding, and I’m constantly interrupted now because there is no door to close.

  7. Anonymous1*

    I’m a veterinarian who works in an office with several other doctors and shared on call. I also get a horrible, visceral reaction to my phone’s ring and text-tones and my heart rate skyrockets. I spend 25% of my life on call and it sucks. I can’t go anywhere, I have to drop my grocery shopping or laundry if I get a call and go out immediately and it’s miserable sometimes. Calls come at all hours and I have to sleep with the phone next to my bed since some people like to sit on emergencies for hours then call at 2 am. Most people don’t realize I don’t get extra days off for being on call. If you wait until the middle of the night to call about something that has been going on since noon and I’m up half the night I still have to go to work for 10-12 hours the next day and function. To top it off, I make in the mid-5 figures for 45-70 hours a week. It wouldn’t be all that bad except the on call.

  8. stevenz*

    That was a disappointing article in itself. Doesn’t Inc have more space than that? You really have to follow all the links to get to any good information, like the Konnikova New Yorker article, that then has further links to actual studies.

    Still, these findings are neither new or surprising. What continues to baffle me is why management still believes the myth? (I know why. Things like open offices, not letting people work from home, etc. aren’t really about productivity, they’re about control. And controlling is much easier than managing.)

    1. Ice Bear*

      You hit the nail on the head. It’s because many companies still believe they need to watch people like a hawk to get work done when in fact they are pushing those people to seek better situations where they aren’t treated like a child.

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