What Message Does Your Email Policy Send?
One of the most ubiquitous tools to emerge over the past twenty years (among a host of others) is email. First thought to be a novelty reserved for “techno-nerds,” email has become as commonplace a communication tool as a phone conversation; if not more so. While some see “texting” as a ready replacement, email between and among friends, family, and co-workers isn’t likely to disappear any time soon.
As far as the workplace is concerned, it’s time for some ground rules, and even some boundaries.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, "The Curse of Off-Hour Email," Professors Laura Giurge of the London Business School and Vanessa Bohns of Cornell University cite results of their recent research on the organizational impact of email on employees. The results, while not surprising, do shine a light on the frustration, stress and yes, even resentment which often results from receiving an email from co-workers and bosses (especially bosses!) any time of the day and any day of the week.
It’s no secret that employees are increasingly looking to compartmentalize their personal and work lives, with an increasing emphasis placed on protecting their off-hours. Since email often carries with it what the researchers call “urgency bias” (this is true whether the sender intends this or not) the stress of trying to decide whether to respond immediately, delay, or not respond at all can create emotional conflict on the part of the recipient. If it’s from the person to whom they report (or someone higher up in the organization) the level of stress can increase commensurately. For those who chose to respond quickly, feelings of resentment can arise.
While “out of office” messages can help, the authors suggest more can and should be done. For example, senders may include “boiler plate” language which spells out clearly for the recipient why they are sending the communication at a particular time and their expectations for receiving a reply. Acknowledging that the message may be seen as an intrusion of personal time can also help. Here’s another thought...
Organizational leaders can collaborate with team members, managers, and supervisors to facilitate a discussion of expectations and requirements for being “always on” and for sending and responding to email. While you’re at it, you might as well add texting and yes, even phone calls (especially to employees’ mobile phones which are almost “always on!").
Few things can derail organizational culture more quickly than unclear requirements and expectations on the part of team members. It might just be time to add email protocol to the list of items to get clear and correct. You may just be surprised by the results of clearing the air on this critical but often ignored issue.
Does your organization have a clearly spelled-out policy regarding use of email? If you’re free to share it, please send it along to me.
For more information on ways to measure and improve your organization’s culture, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.