I’ve read a few good posts recently about the need for schedule management. So naturally, I feel compelled to toss in my two-cents. The first one that crossed my desk was from the Harvard Business Review titled “Your Late Night Emails are Hurting Your Team”. It’s a very good read and one that managers should spend some time pondering. My guess is we’ve all done it at some point. And maybe we still do. It’s late, you remember something and, so you don’t forget it, you shoot off a quick email. It’s not meant to be a burden to the recipient. It’s meant to be a relief for the sender.
Now as you can surmise from the title, the author suggests not sending emails late in the evening hours because it totally stresses out employees. I totally get it. And even though I’m one of those people who does send a late night or weekend email, I completely agree with the author. Companies with an “always being on” culture are burning employees out.
But banishing late night email isn’t the answer. Because that just turns late night email into first thing in the morning email. The answer is to set expectations regarding email response times. And respect them.
I think I’ve mentioned once or twice before that I facilitated a focus group for a customer service program I was designing. We talked about email response times. You know what the overwhelming answer was from focus group participants regarding acceptable email response times? 24 hours. Yep.
Not ten minutes, not ten days. 24 hours.
Which means that if someone sends an email at 9 p.m. the recipient should not feel guilty that they weren’t tethered to their phone ready to respond within ten minutes. And the sender shouldn’t expect them to. If it’s an emergency, then it should be treated like an emergency, which probably means another form of communication other than email.
The second read that caught my eye was fellow Workforce Institute board member David Creelman’s latest post, “Employee Centered Schedule Optimization”. What struck me is that we’re not talking about an “only exempt” or “only non-exempt” issue. Being able to have some control over your schedule impacts every single level of the organization.
David’s post serves as a reminder that, in order to achieve balance, we need to have some rules or guidelines about work schedules. Even when we’re in positions that might appear to be incredibly flexible. For instance, many organizations give non-exempt staff a tremendous amount of schedule flexibility because they can contact them after hours. But is there a point where that after hours contact is crossing the line?
Sure, I understand. Maybe it only takes 5-minutes to respond. How much can that contribute to stressed out employees? Unfortunately, it’s when there are multiple 5-minute responses. Every evening. And all weekend long.
The answer isn’t to stop allowing employees schedule flexibility. The answer is to set expectations and respect them. Flexible working arrangements are not a substitute for answering evening or weekend emails.
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The bottom-line is that everyone should have a certain level of consciousness about the content of their messages, the method they use to send them, and the timing. In addition, there should be clear and reasonable expectations regarding a response. And those expectations need to be respected.
Image courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby0