Keep a lid on those emails!

Free time means free time…

When I began to work as a freelancer, one of the things I wanted to benefit from was a better work life balance.

In the main, I’m achieving this but with only so many hours in the day am I guilty of emailing people outside their normal work hours? Is that affecting them in a negative way or is it just part of a changing workplace?

Here’s what I’ve found as a freelancer and some of the things I’ve done to try and regain the balance.

It could affect your relationships

Last year, a report was published by workforce emotions expert, William Becker, which looked at the effect of emails outside of work hours on employees and their significant others.

Most spouses felt it had a negative impact on their relationship but most employees were not aware of this.

The study also measured the effect of working off-duty on a person’s mental health. Mr Becker, using research from Lehigh and Colorado State Universities, found that the pressure to check messages outside work led to increased stress and anxiety among employees.

As I was thinking of writing this blog, I began to look more closely at my own email checking and my husband’s too. I realised that there wasn’t one evening where neither of us had our heads in our smart phones. We’re guilty but we’re not alone.

An example for my children

As a working mum it means I’m often juggling lots of things all at the same time. For me, working flexibly means I can be there for my children, help them with school work and be a sounding post for the dilemmas faced by a 5 and 2-year-old.

I’ve come to realise though, that being there to pick them up from school, cook dinner for them and be in the house with them isn’t the same as spending time with them.

I realised I was checking my email too much and then getting frustrated with them because they’re clearly vying for my attention. I’m showing them that they’re not as important as my work.

Sometimes, I do need to work but I really need to stop the obsession of checking my phone all the time. How can I expect my children to listen to me, pay attention and develop good social skills, when I’m doing the exact opposite?

Do you really need to send it?

Yes, working flexibly means I get to set the hours I work (in the main) but surely it doesn’t give me the right to intrude on someone else’s evening with an email.

They might not be working.

One thing I have promised myself I’m going to try is drafting an email in the evening when I want to get it done and then clicking send in the morning. The chances are it wouldn’t have been actioned overnight and if I’m honest I almost certainly didn’t need it to be.

I think we could all think a little more before we click that send button. Do I really need to send this now? Could I write a reply and save it to drafts?

When I check my email in the evening I’m then thinking about work when I go to bed. We all know how important sleep is for us physically and mentally, so I shouldn’t be sabotaging it with email checking or sending.

Avoid burnout

Mental health in the workplace is, quite rightly, now getting more of the recognition it deserves. Feeling a pressure to respond to emails whenever they land in your inbox can cause stress, anxiety, and burnout.

Some employers are now taking action, implementing policies to stop emails going outside of work hours. In 2012, Volkswagen stopped all emails going to staff Blackberries out of work hours.

In 2017, France introduced the ‘Right to Disconnect’. A law which states a business of 50 people or more should outline the hours expected of employees and outside of those they’re not expected to check or respond to emails.

If you’re self-employed then you haven’t got this protection, so you need to have more will power. You want your business to succeed, yes and it’s all you think about but is it worth risking your health over?

We can all play a part

Whether you’re the sender of emails or the recipient, there are things we can all do to reduce the email noise and get a better work life balance.

For the sender:

  • If you want to work in the evening or at weekends try to avoid sending emails. Write them and add them to drafts.
  • Take a moment to think how it will affect the recipient. Will they feel they need to respond or take out the laptop and do more work? What will they miss out on as a result?
  • Look at your time management. Try to have all your emails and client work done within normal working hours. Admin (maybe some accounting) and longer projects can be worked on outside of these times.

 

For the recipient:

  • Pack away your computer if you’re not using it. You can always get it out and work again when you’re not spending time with family and friends.
    It’s too tempting just sitting there with the ping of emails sounding out.
  • If you have a separate work phone, turn it off when you’re not working.
  • If you can’t turn your phone off, move it away to another room so you won’t be tempted to check it. And don’t look at emails just before you go to bed.
  • Add your normal working hours to the bottom of emails and outline your usual response time to manage peoples’ expectations.

 

Ultimately, think about how out of hours emails could affect you and the recipient. Free time means free time and I for one aim to get more of it.

How can THP help?

We certainly don’t want people working every evening and weekend. So, if it’s your accounting that’s keeping you up, we can help.

Come and talk to us at one of our offices in Cheam,  ChelmsfordWansteadSaffron Walden and London City. or call us at our head office on 020 8989 5147.

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