I respond to almost as much business email at 10 in the morning as I do at 10 at night. I always assumed this was a freelancer issue – when you work from home you’re always at work.
But a new study from GFI Software shows that even 9-5 office workers answer email at night. . . and on the weekend. . . while on vacation. . even at funerals!
Outside of regular work hours, six out of ten workers say they check email once a day. 12% check in “real time” which I assume means they have some kind of alert set to let them know there’s a message.
I’m sure there are people who need to check email when they’re not at work. If you’re lab is developing a vaccine that could save half the world, it’s good to be in the loop. But I suspect that the majority of people who check email after hours don’t have to. Their boss might like it but nothing terrible will happen if they answer the email on Monday rather than Sunday. Still, we see responses like this:
- One in 10 respondents admitted to checking work email at a child’s school event
- 9% at a wedding
- 6% at a funeral
- 6% logged into their work email while they or their spouse was in labor.
So why do we do it? Fear, for one. We’re afraid that if we don’t check on Saturday, we’ll come back to a mess on Monday. Then, since we’re already flipping through looking for trouble spots, we knock out a few other quick questions to clear the queue.
I also think that checking email makes us feel needed. Imagine if all communication from your company stopped for two days. Would you feel relieved or concerned?
Experts like psychotherapist Nancy Colier of the Huffington Post says that constant email checks are an addiction.
Email triggers a part of the brain that I call “lottery brain.” It is the part of the brain that produces the thought/hope/belief that miracles can happen, and specifically, to us — personally. To some degree, “lottery brain” is an adaptive part of us, as it inspires hope and a sense of possibility, as long as that hope is also supported by proactive agency in our behavior.
The bigger question is, who is initiating all of these after hour emails? If you work with people in other countries, time zones will cause an issue. But why is the guy who sits next to you M-F emailing you on Saturday night?
There Is An Upside
Even with the pressure to perform and the constant disruptions, 90% of the workers who responded to the survey said email was a blessing and not a curse. In addition to helping them keep in touch, 58% use email as a means of storing and retrieving information. 62% use folders to organize their email and 29% archive their email. One respondent said he had emails going back to 1994. Now that’s dedication!
There’s no doubt, we’re addicted to email – work or otherwise. And even though a large number of people are dealing with business emails at home, 30% said they check and respond to personal emails while they’re at work. So they kind of makes it even.
Could you go a whole day without checking your email? If you did, what’s the worst that could happen?