Stop The Late-Night Emails

Stop The Late Night Emails

There was a time, many many years ago, when taking our work home with us was a clear sign that we were overwhelmed. It wasn’t a badge of honor, but rather a label that you couldn’t get all your work done at work. Or even worse, it was a sign that your company couldn’t properly delegate tasks and was overwhelming their employees. Before that, it was basically impossible to take your work home with you, save for a few papers hastily tucked into a brief case. There was simply no way to drag a giant mainframe computer to your car and drive it home.

But then the speed of technology increased. First, it was laptops and then Blackberry’s for the most valuable employees. And eventually, everyone voluntarily purchased a smartphone and IT departments relented and started circulating instructions for how to load email onto that shiny new iPhone.

And just like that, we all got stuck taking work home. If you own a smart phone, you take your work home with you every night. What used to be a rare occurrence that went barely noticed, is now a daily onslaught: late-night email.

For many people, it started innocently enough. “I’ll just put the kids to bed and check in real quick,” we’d tell ourselves. Or “I’ll just clear out the inbox so I’m fresh in the morning.”

But the problem with late-night emails, especially for leaders, isn’t the messages you’re consciously typing…it’s the larger message you’re unconsciously sending. When you’re sending emails after-hours, you’re announcing to your team and to the whole company that you expect a similar responsiveness from them. You’re subtly suggesting that the expectation is to indeed be always online—always able to respond. You may not be overtly advocating to do away with work-life balance; but your actions suggest you wouldn’t mind if others were as off-balance as you were. And that’s a problem.

We know from countless studies that time away from work makes work better. We know that companies who allow their employees to fully unplug and go nonresponsive on nights and weekends see greater productivity gains despite working less hours. That quick reply at 11:33 PM doesn’t seem so draining, but it adds up over time.

That’s why more and more companies are putting limits on after-hours email. Some companies take this idea to the extreme and shut-off their email servers after hours. You can still compose emails; but you can’t even connect to send them until everyone is back at work.

But if you don’t work at one of those companies, and you do feel the need to fire up your laptop or smart phone, at least consider the messages you’re sending about the company culture you expect. If you must get responses to each email composed, keep the newly written emails in your drafts folder or schedule them to be sent the following morning.

In all likelihood, it’ll be read by recipients at about the same time. But they won’t read between the lines or assume the same demands are expected of them.

This article originally appeared as an episode of the DailyBurk, which you can follow on YouTubeFacebook, LinkedIn,or Instagram.

Thanks for reading. You can get more actionable ideas in my popular email newsletter. Each week, I share educational (and entertaining) videos, articles, and podcasts that will help you and your team do your best work ever. Over 40,000 leaders just like you have subscribed. Enter your email now and join us.


About the author

David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.

Recommended Reading

Why Motivation Doesn’t Last

No matter how long your tenure as a team leader has been, you’ve probably seen it. Motivation can fade. Individual employees who seemed so full of life and so engaged in the job eventually settle into rhythms and patterns and might even burn out. Teams that were formed with an inspiring mission eventually fall into […]

How To Make Big Gains By Focusing On Small Things

By now you’ve probably heard about deliberate practice and the famed “10,000 Hour Rule.” If not, it’s an idea developed by K. Anders Ericsson and popularized by mega-bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell; the idea is that a significant amount of world-class performers’ success was their commitment to attaining more than 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Since […]

4 Ways To Improve Your Communication Skills

Teamwork requires communication. Communication is the lifeblood of a team. It’s how leaders and teams coordinate what needs to be done, who needs to do it, and how all those various tasks fit into the broad whole of collaboration. As a leader, communication skills are arguably the most important skills to develop. And if you’re […]

Scroll to Top