Email has completely penetrated our private life. Emails are probably screened throughout the evenings and on the weekends in your organization, too. This appears from recent research that we conducted among Belgian and Dutch professionals. Checking emails outside of working hours appears to be beneficial for the organization at first sight, but the contrary is true. Structural evening and weekend work is actually worse for your organization than you might think.
Here are our findings. In total, 525 Belgian and Dutch employees participated in our research. Over the course of six weeks, they received emails with the request to reply immediately after they were read. A number of those emails were sent in the evening after working hours and during the weekend. The reaction speed indicates how much the average employee is connected to their job via their inbox.
A spectacular 10.8% of the evening emails (sent on a workday after 7.30 p.m.) were intercepted within one minute. Almost a quarter (23.3%) read the emails within fifteen minutes and 57.0% read them the same day. For a clear majority of employees, the end of the workday is not the end of worktime and they stay connected with their job via their inbox.
The weekend confirms this permanent connection with work. Of the test emails sent in the night from Friday to Saturday (between 1.30 and 2 a.m.) exactly 3.3% or one out of every thirty was read before six in the morning (!). Saturday morning at 9 a.m. that becomes 26.7%. So, more than one out of every four professionals checks their professional email immediately after waking up. On Saturday night, more than half (55.3%) have read the email and on Sunday night, that is 65.1%. Barely one out of three employees (34.9%) waits until Monday to open their professional mailbox again.
This is definitely a problem. Recent research published in Chronobiology International conducted among 57,000 employees in the European Community showed a clear correlation between structural homework and work-related psychological and physical health problems. In other words: the increased short-term gains of the organization due to extra work outside workhours is lost in the long term.
Currently, there are some legal initiatives that would give employees the right to be unreachable. Yet only a change in mentality in your organization will be able to slow down the rise of the email. Organizations that want sharp and motivated employees must give those employees the space to recharge their batteries after working hours and on the weekends. Such a strategy results in happier, more relaxed and productive employees.
Human Resources departments should therefore focus more on the company culture and on awareness training of employees. Not sending unnecessary emails should be a matter of courtesy and respect: you don’t email each other in the evening and at night, just like you don’t call each other. Anyone who does want to email, can postpone his message until the following workday.