Your employees may be experiencing two work days in one: one for their usual responsibilities and another for managing emails. The management of emails is shown to both increase stress levels and perceptions of work pressure.
A 2016 research report from the UK’s Future Work Centre showed that while email is a vital form of workplace communication, it has some major disadvantages. These include:
- email is so simple to use that it results in people sending messages that may not otherwise be thought necessary,
- email communication can be a major distraction from meeting goals, and
- when employees have a busy inbox, they can feel increased pressure and stress. This has been labelled ‘email overload’, which occurs when the volume of emails received exceeds the employee’s perceived ability to deal with it.
The good news is that there are several ways to improve your employees’ experience of email and decrease their stress levels.
Discuss solutions with your team
When it comes to emails, one solution is unlikely to fit your entire workforce.
Productivity expert Sally Foley Lewis suggests, “Work with your team to devise realistic and agreed rules. These might include:
- out of office messages used to encourage people to call rather than email, or
- quarterly inbox emptying sessions: line managers could support their team to delete, delegate or archive emails as a means towards a zero inbox.”
Watch your language
Email doesn’t portray body language or tone, so messages can easily be misconstrued.
This can lead to misunderstandings between team members, strains on relationships and increased stress levels.
Foley Lewis shares an example of how this can happen: “I recently worked with one employer whose language choice in emails caused stress and confusion. The employer would send emails that started with ‘Just a few changes needed…’ and the email would actually be incredibly lengthy, causing hours of re-work.
“Once the employer realised that they were sending mixed messages, and the impact this had, they made immediate and simple changes to improve the situation.”
Discuss acceptable email etiquette with your team. While this may seem unnecessary, people have very different expectations and ideas about what is acceptable or not acceptable in an email. Openly discussing expectations and boundaries can minimise the likelihood of any issues cropping up.
The expectation to be available 24/7
Between 2014 and 2018, it’s estimated that the number of people accessing emails on mobile devices has doubled. This has played a major role in the increased expectation of employees to be on call after hours and essentially work two days in one.
62 per cent of email users say they leave their email on all day, and these are the people most likely to report feeling high levels of email pressure.
One study found that it’s not so much the amount of time spent on email that’s stressful. It’s the expectation of being available all the time that creates these negative outcomes for your employees.
The study’s authors say, “if completely banning email after-hours is not an option … they may want to establish formal policies and rules on availability for after work hours, such as weekly ’email-free days’ or specific rotating schedules that will allow employees to manage their work and family time more efficiently.”
This not only helps to manage your employees’ time, but also shows that you’re willing to find ways to support their wellbeing.