The Curse of Off-Hours Email

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Receiving work messages in the evenings or weekends can be stressful, but senders often don’t consider them urgent. There is a way to clear up misunderstandings.

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research we did just published In the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, it is suggested that the answer is “no”. Worse yet, our inability to recognize the fact when we shoot an email often entangles us in an “always on” work culture that contributes to burnout.

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We examined this question in a series of studies with a total of over 4,000 working adults. We took participants from the perspective of the sender or receiver of a non-urgent work email sent outside working hours. We asked “senders” to indicate how quickly they expected a response and asked “receivers” to indicate how soon they Thinking The senders expected a response from them. We consistently found that receivers underestimated the need for a rapid response—what we call the “email urgency bias.”

The incident matters because it is detrimental to our collective well-being. Two of our studies directly examined this effect: one surveyed 450 full-time employees living in the US; Another, 739 employees are working in a public organization in Spain. In each, we asked half of our participants to think about the emails they had sent and the other half, the emails they had received.

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In both studies, we found that, on average, recipients perceived that they needed to respond 36% faster during work hours than expected senders. What’s more, receivers reported feeling more stress from off-hours work emails than senders expected them to feel, and the stress associated with this unnecessary pressure resulted in less subjective well-being.

Several subsequent studies examined what happens when emails contain different content or are sent at different times. The disparity in perceived urgency was consistent across all of them.

This miscommunication comes from what some researchers call “ego bias.” People are anchored in their own perspective in the moment and often fail to appreciate the different ways in which someone in a different situation might interpret the same situation. In particular, egoistic bias can lead us to mistakenly believe that others know how we feel and what our intentions are, as well as overconfidence in our ability to interpret the feelings and intentions of others. Happen.

For example, a 2005 study by a team of researchers led by Justin Kruger at New York University’s Stern School of Business showed that email senders assumed that receivers would be able to read sarcasm in their written statements, and Email recipients similarly assumed that they had accurately identified the sarcasm in the senders’ statements. However, the study found that participants in both roles showed overconfidence in their assessments of how well they communicated with each other.

Our research on email urgency bias shows a similar communication breakdown. Recipients assume that senders expect a quick response to their email, even when they are sent during off-hours, and fail to understand that there is no immediate need to actually respond.

One thing that can help eliminate this kind of miscommunication is to clarify your assumptions. In our final study, we tested an intervention where senders clarified their expectations by adding the phrase, “This is not an urgent matter, so you can have it whenever you can.”

It turns out that adding this phrase eliminated the email urgency bias. Even though the information in the note was not new because participants had already been informed in the study material that the email was not necessary, it helped to clarify the expectations of the senders.

When our emails are urgent or high priority, many of us include a red exclamation mark or an upper-case urgent label. In fact, some of us use that technique excessively, and such indicators are so common that it can sometimes seem like everything is urgent. However, we also overlook the value of communicating clearly when there is a response. No Urgent – that is, when there’s no need for someone to drop what they’re doing to give feedback on a weekend or evening.

Our research shows that a failure to clearly communicate both our levels of expectations—the urgency and non-urgency of our emails—can be a major driver of growth in an “always on” work culture and can lead to an increase in our overall appearance. has a negative effect. -Is happening.

We’re not saying you should stop sending emails when it’s convenient. After all, technology and workplace innovations like email or online messaging tools were meant to make our lives easier by allowing work to be more flexible and potentially more inclusive. Instead, we must make sure that the way we use technology does not become a driver of unhealthy workplace cultures where employees feel pressured to stay engaged with their jobs when they are not expected to do so. Is performed. As our research shows, others may not necessarily know when our requests are non-urgent.

What else can you do when you find yourself sending emails at 8 a.m. on a Sunday? Here are some other suggested messages that may help your coworkers better understand your expectations:

• “Even though I am sending this email outside of regular working hours, which best fits my own work-life schedule, I do not expect a response from you outside my own working hours.”

• “Note that you may have received this message outside of my office hours but I do not expect to receive the message outside of your office hours.”

• “Please know that I respect personal time limits. If you receive an email from me during your personal time, please reserve your time and allow me to respond while you are not working.” Wait. It’s important that we all prioritize happiness over email whenever possible.”

People will continue to send emails on weekends and in the evenings as this may be the time that is most convenient for them. Ok. It’s not necessarily about Low Email sent during off-hours. about this Better Emails sent during off-hours.


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