Creating better work balance: The pros and cons of email outside the office
Businesses and the digital workforce alike have become dependent on mobility for convenient access to email anytime and anywhere, but ever-present email connectivity has raised some work balance challenges. Here are the pros and cons of mobile access to work email, along with tips on how businesses can strike an appropriate balance that encourages employee productivity while avoiding stress and burnout.
Mobility offers improved productivity and flexibility
Mobility offers today’s professionals a level of flexibility they could not enjoy just a few short years ago. No longer tethered to their desks in order to keep their work moving, employees can stay on top of work emails while picking their children up from school, standing in the grocery store checkout line or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. Better able to balance their work and personal lives, employees may be happier on the job. Meanwhile, ambitious professionals desirous of a coveted promotion may feel it’s beneficial to keep up with email after hours to demonstrate value to the company.
Recent research indicates that most employees consider mobile access to work emails a benefit rather than a burden. According to Gallup, just 15 percent of workers who email after hours feel it negatively impacts their well-being, while 91 percent of them think that the amount of emails they must respond to outside the office is reasonable. In addition, they say that using email outside of work doesn’t affect their personal well-being or their relationships with friends or family. So it appears many employees are comfortable with checking work email after hours and frequently do so.
Mobility can also pose work balance challenges
Although mobility is convenient, some workers find it can create a sense of pressure. Employees who check their email after hours due to a perceived “always-on” workplace culture may feel that there are no boundaries between their work and personal lives. As a result, constantly checking work email can eventually cause those employees to burn out and lose focus. Curtailing access may help: SaneBox reports a team of researchers at the University of California, Irvine and the US Army has found limiting email access dramatically reduces stress levels, enhancing both well-being and productivity.
That being said, mobile access to work email does not uniformly impact everyone in the same way. Some employees thrive and become more engaged when granted 24/7 access, while others may feel it intrudes too far into their lives. Not everyone needs constant email access to perform their duties, either. While senior management, IT and staff members in customer-facing roles typically find it a requirement for their positions, employees in other roles may not need to be connected and available all of the time in order to fulfill their responsibilities. Businesses may find it beneficial to clearly articulate their expectations for employee availability, taking differences in role into account.
Culture may inform attitudes about mobile connectivity, too. As The New York Times reports, France recently enacted a labor law mandating that companies with 50 or more employees must implement internal policies to ensure employees are not working after hours or on weekends. Meanwhile, as Business Insider notes, 44 percent of Americans check work email every day while on vacation to avoid facing an avalanche of emails upon their return. Accordingly, the way a business handles mobile access to email may be influenced by its corporate culture, its core values and its leadership’s views on what a productive digital workplace looks like.
Tips for better mobile email work balance
Mobility can enhance business productivity, but it also has potential to negatively impact employee well-being if not carefully managed. Research bears this out: Gallup reports workers largely feel after-hours mobile access to work email is a positive, but those same employees who check email outside of work also report experiencing the most stress. Here are some tips for maximizing mobility’s benefits while minimizing its potential downsides:
- Consider developing a policy that clearly outlines the company’s expectations for employee availability through email. In the absence of clear messaging from the top, employees may assume they must always check work email after hours and needlessly burn themselves out, harming workplace productivity in the long run.
- When creating a policy regarding email availability, consider that not all employees may require after-hours mobile access to work email in order to fulfill their responsibilities to the organization. For those that do, it may be a good idea to include language to this effect in their job descriptions.
- If it’s critical for employees to be available outside the office, setting specific hours during which they’re expected to respond to messages may provide employees with guidance that will help them balance their work and personal lives.
- Employees may not be stressed by email access so much as email inbox overload. With that in mind, it may be worth adopting policies and tools that specifically address this problem by cutting down the volume of unnecessary emails.
- Email may not be the only messaging platform employees use while out of the office, so businesses may want to clarify their expectations around employee availability through chat apps, social media platforms, text messaging and other channels as well.
Mobility is clearly here to stay. Businesses appreciate its productivity benefits, while employees value the flexibility it allows them. Although each business must manage mobile email access in the way that best supports its priorities, proactive steps can also be taken to mitigate any potential downsides regarding employee burnout. That way, both companies and their employees can fully reap the rewards of mobile access to email in the workplace.