Many managers are not aware of how their email habits impact the people they supervise. Now that many of us are working remotely, we may be tempted to engage in some email bad habits that can harm our team’s resilience.
In 2018, the Harvard Business Review published an article describing efforts to quantify how some leadership habits impact teams. The authors found a significant and consistent correlation between the amount of time managers send emails after-hours (late nights and weekends) and the amount of time their direct reports do the same. For example, in one company, they found that for every hour managers spend sending emails after-hours, their direct reports are putting in an additional 20 minutes on after-hour emails.
The authors analyzed Sunday night email patterns since many people like to get a head start on their week by catching up on Sunday evenings. Most people do this with no intention that email recipients will read or respond right away. However, the authors found that when managers start their workweek on Sunday night, so do their direct reports.
Intentionally or not, managers who frequently email after hours are signaling an expectation of similar behavior to their teams, who then respond in kind.
The growth of after-hours emails can be harmful. According to the General Social Survey, 48% of employees say that work sometimes or often interferes with family life. After-hours emails are likely a substantial contributing factor. Gallup research found that employees who email for work and spend more hours working remotely outside of regular working hours are more likely to experience a substantial amount of stress on any given day than people who do not exhibit these behaviors.
It can also be tempting to email during virtual meetings. Managers who multitask during meetings signal that it’s OK not to pay attention. According to Harvard Business Review, managers who frequently check and send emails during meetings are 2.2 times more likely to have direct reports who also multitask in meetings. Many people try to justify multitasking since they are overwhelmed with work. They think they are more productive, when, in reality, multitasking reduces productivity.
According to Harvard Business Review, when we shoot off a quick email during a meeting, we miss that part of the conversation. We – and others – may not even notice, but it means we have gaps in our understanding of what took place. That can lead to different interpretations of a decision, missed opportunities to provide critical guidance or inconsistent follow-through on action agreements. Beyond that, multitasking can signal to others that we do not value their time or their contributions.
Every manager, even the best, can fall into the trap of after-hours emailing and multitasking at meetings, especially during this health crisis. When you’re tempted, remind yourself that while this one time may seem harmless on the surface, you risk eroding your team’s resilience if it becomes a habit.
To resist temptation, turn off your phone and put it away during meetings. If you want to draft email after-hours, schedule your replies to go out during regular working hours.
How do you prevent yourself from emailing on evenings, weekends, and during meetings?