Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Regular readers of HR Bartender know that I try to answer work-related questions. I will admit that I can’t always answer them right away, but I do work to answer them. To those of you who have sent me questions, thanks so much for being patient!
The reason I’m bringing this up is because the other day I was reading someone’s response to a question that I’ve never been asked before. Here’s the question:
I’ve been trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance, which means closing my work laptop at 5:30p. However, my manager has a tendency to email me in the evenings. Can I wait until the morning to email them back?
The person who answered this question said that the employee should absolutely put their wellbeing first and suggested they take a look at the manager’s email to make sure that it wasn’t time sensitive. I totally agree with the spirit of this reply, but I wanted to take a moment to offer some additional details.
I remember seeing a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that said the greatest challenge for global teams was collaborating and scheduling work across multiple time zones. As we become a more global business environment, we need to realize that at any given moment in time, we could send or get an email at the end of our workday from a colleague who is just starting theirs. This isn’t bad or wrong. It’s just part of today’s work environment.
Know the best way to communicate. I recently published a post on “Understanding the Best Way to Communicate” that covers the advantages and disadvantages to texting, email, video calls, and face-to-face communication. We’ve all met someone who sent an email that should have been delivered in person. Or held a meeting that should have been an email. Give employees some guidance on using the right communication medium.
Organizations should define email expectations during onboarding. And stick to them. In the employee’s note above, there’s no mention of what company expectations are regarding email. This doesn’t have to be a complicated policy. Let employees know that their wellbeing is important, and they’re not required to answer emails when they’re finished working. This doesn’t stop anyone from sending an email. But this way, employees don’t have to guess what they’re supposed to be doing.
Managers should let employees know when they need to deviate from the email standard. There might be times when a manager needs to communicate with employees outside of the company’s regular policy. For example, maybe the manager will be working late on a project and need information from an employee. They could reach out to that employee and say, “I’m going to be putting the finishing touches on the client proposal, would you be available via email tonight if I have any last-minute questions?”
Employees should let their managers know when they need to deviate from the email standard. The same is true for employees – at every level – when it comes to email responses. It’s possible that an employee might need to let everyone know when they will be difficult to reach. For instance, an employee might tell their co-workers, “I’m going to be unavailable tomorrow afternoon. So, if you send me something, I’ll respond in the evening.” It sets the level of expectation for a reply.
One of the first rules of communication is understand your audience. That includes setting the right level of expectation with them. I don’t know that we’re going to be able to stop people from sending emails in the evening hours. But we can let others know that they don’t need to look at them. Or ask for their cooperation when we need them to read them outside of the norm.
Employees should be able to close their laptops and enjoy their evening. That happens when effective communication take place.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby after speaking at the SHRM Annual Conference in Las Vegas, NV26