back to article A spot of after-hours business email does you good, apparently

Bosses worldwide will be rejoicing after a British academic declared that banning work email use out of hours could negatively effect underlings' mental health. The unwelcome news comes after a University of Sussex academic conducted a study which supported the idea of tailoring workplace email use policies around individual …

  1. Blockchain commentard Silver badge
    Pint

    I don't answer work emails in work time. Why would I want to do it in pub time?

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Stop

      We need to release a counter-study, explaining why bosses are lucky we bother turning up at all, let alone reading work emails.

      1. JetSetJim Silver badge

        Here's what the Oxford Dons have been told - don't send emails out of hours, it's potentially contributary to workplace harassment.

  2. Winkypop Silver badge
    Linux

    My old work email account is still live

    It has an out of office message written in red 72 font.

    I HAVE RETIRED!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: My old work email account is still live

      I hate to be the bearer of bad news Winkypop, but you do realise not answering these e-mails will eventually result in your death?

      Eventually....

      1. Dippywood

        Re: My old work email account is still live

        Living eventually results in your death. No need to subset.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: My old work email account is still live

          Pessimist....

          When I'm god king, death will be my mistress.

        2. Huw D Silver badge

          Re: My old work email account is still live

          Yup. Being born is a fatal condition.

      2. Winkypop Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: My old work email account is still live

        Eventually.

        Until then.....

        Whooooohoo

  3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    I used to have remote access to work emails via a browser from home or phone until a while ago, but lost that because of tightening security rather than anything intended to improve my well-being by only being able to access emails when actually in the office.

    The reason I miss it most is for being able to check what I'm going back to after a holiday. I was in the practice of quickly checking the number of unread emails in my inbox on a Sunday night before returning to the office. No intention of reading them then - it was just nice to be able to mentally prepare myself for how good/bad/indifferent the first few hours back at work were likely to be. Now I just kind of assume the worst and go in blind first thing Monday morning.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      Wouldnt that have meant that on the times you checked and saw things were really bad, that you would spend the rest of the evening worried about it and then have an incredibly shite night, and so have an even worse morning?

      That doesnt sound particularly healthy...

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        I wasn't particularly reading the content - it was just to get a crude measure of workload. Couple of hundred emails and no meeting invitations for Monday morning = nice leisurely start to the day and ease myself back into the working week.....500 emails and Monday already has meetings lined up = need to be disciplined and get in for a reasonable time.

        1. IGotOut

          No, wrong.

          500 emails means you do a select all unread. Hit delete and then see who ACTUALLY needs a response.

          As a decent manager once said, if it's important they'll email you again.

          1. FozzyBear Silver badge
            Happy

            Yep gotta say best strategy, particularly when returning to work after holidays.

          2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            I've never understood this attitude. I'd much rather read the 500 emails. I may not respond to the vast majority of them, but I'd rather know what they were about than bask in ignorance.

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Wouldnt that have meant that on the times you checked and saw things were really bad, that you would spend the rest of the evening worried about it

        Depends on the person, I suppose. I wouldn't have worried about it. No point in worrying about things I can't, or don't intend to, address now.

    2. Guus Leeuw

      Dear Sir,

      the first job on a Monday coming back from holidays has to be to open the Inbox, select all messages and put them in the archive for that year (bin or actual archive...).

      Then coffee and handshakes and tales about holidays...

      Those people who really need your attention will come back fairly soon... Those whose problems are dealt with, will not let you know... The rest ah well... If they can't be bothered to remind you about their email, it wasn't all that important.

      Best regards,

      Guus

  4. Sykowasp

    Yeah, maybe for those people who would ideally work 1pm to 9pm in a sane world where you aren't forced to get up at 7am to be in work for 9, so they spend 3 hours waking up and web surfing in the mornings, and then wish to catch up on email trash in the evening after dinner.

    But yeah, no. Not that. Anything received after home-time can wait until the morning.

    1. Flywheel Silver badge

      maybe for those people who..

      That'll be our MPs, although you may have to modify those hours to be more truthful.

  5. Jay 2

    Years ago I used to be pretty bad for check my work Blackberry at home, on holiday etc. But it would just end up winding me up or stressing me out. So I managed to wean myself off and now don't look at work email on work mobile device unless someone calls me with some sort of serious problem. Definately less stressful!

    1. DiViDeD Silver badge

      Re: "don't look at work email on work mobile device"

      After many years with work mobiles and notebooks, as well as a mobile I only ever use for work, the policy that has always worked for me at the end of a day is:

      - Ensure all work related devices are charged up and place in desk drawer

      - Lock drawer

      - Go home

      So far, these actions have not led to the collapse or bankruptcy of a single company,

      And before someone points out that I may be deeded out of hours for an essential matter, that's what callout payment arrangements are for.

  6. Cederic Silver badge

    maintaining awareness

    I find out of hours email to be helpful for keeping awareness of things going on. I don't generally read the emails, just watch the traffic flows and subject lines.

    When you work for a multinational with a team in seven countries there's always something going on. I demand flexible working from my employer, it's reasonable to be flexible in return.

    1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      Re: maintaining awareness

      Same here, I tend to keep a vague eye out because I'm in a different timezone to the majority of the business (and even amongst themselves, various teams there are also in different timezones).

      I'll sometimes reply well out of office hours if it'll avert a fire or other headaches.

      But, my employer doesn't *expect* it of me, they know things will (as a rule) need to wait til my working day. That surely, is the important point really.

      The issue isn't that people check email out of hours, but that they feel like they are compelled to do so. When it's an active choice, with no expectation it'll continue then it shouldn't be a source of stress. When they feel they'll get chewed for not having to respond at 11pm with "no stop, don't do that!" then it very definitely can be a source of stress.

    2. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: maintaining awareness

      Much the same here, 24/5+ working on three continents means there's little downtime.

      I will respond to urgent matters out of hours or on holiday, if only to save having an even bigger mess to deal with on my return*.

      *Like the time, many years ago, when the backup tape drive failed on a 486 Unix box while I was on holiday. I actually had a "mobile**" phone with me and told the office categorically to leave it until my return a few days later. They ignored this and called in a PC engineer without telling me. His first action was to switch off the box without any attempt at a shutdown. When I returned a few days later it was chaos as they'd been without the system, I then spent a week rebuilding things and retrieving data, since of course there was no recent backup.

      **Motorola car phone mounted on huge lead-acid battery pack.

    3. DougS Silver badge

      Ditto

      Being willing to read and perhaps respond to emails out of hours doesn't mean you HAVE to ALWAYS do so. If I'm home sure I'll check them, and things I would have responded but aren't that important to I "mark as unread" so I can deal with them the next day. I may respond to some of them, but that doesn't mean they should always expect it - if I'm out of town for the weekend then I won't see anything and if they call/text me I don't feel bad about telling them that.

      Typically it is only 5-10 minutes, unless there is something that requires a lengthy response that I'm willing to respond to at the time. If it can help things out by answering a question from someone overseas who would otherwise have to wait a full day, why not? So long as it is voluntary I don't see a problem with it, and I agree that if you want flexible working hours instead of a fixed 9-5 schedule you should be flexible on your end too, at least where it isn't cramping your style.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Ditto

        "why not?"

        Because I'm not getting paid for it. Looks like my personal time is worth far more than yours appears to be. Computers are supposed to do work for us, not enable us to work more hours.

        "So long as it is voluntary I don't see a problem with it"

        The problem is that it's on the down-side of the slippery slope. The Boss grows to expect it, and because it helps the corporate bottom line, will ask for more. And more. Etc. When does it end? Worse, I will be expected to work after hours "because DougS does!". Gee, thanks. What a guy.

        And besides, why do you feel you owe the company free labo(u)r in the first place? Shirley 40 hours/wk is enough out of any employee ... Shouldn't they be hiring enough employees to handle the labo(u)r needs of the company?

        What's next? A standard 40 hour week "at work", plus a mandated un-paid 10 hours at home? Followed by 15 hours, then 20 hours, then ... (Actually, I think Henry Ford's 8hr/5day work-week "for everybody" is inherently evil, but that's a rant for another day.)

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: Ditto

          If you are working a full 40 hours a week in an office then your job sucks, and I can understand not wanting to work off hours at home. I haven't had such a job in 25 years, and never would consider it again.

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Ditto

          why do you feel you owe the company free labo(u)r in the first place?

          I don't. I'm salaried, not paid hourly. I'm paid to Get Things Done, and in my opinion, I'm paid very well for that. None of my labor for the company is free; our agreement is I do things for them, and they give me money and benefits in return.

          Shirley 40 hours/wk is enough out of any employee

          I'm not paid to work a set number of hours. I work when I want, and I do what needs to be done, and we're both happy with the result.

    4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: maintaining awareness

      I demand flexible working from my employer, it's reasonable to be flexible in return.

      I like the flexibility to read email whenever I get the urge. Sometimes I want to work late at night. Sometimes when I'm in holiday I get curious about what might be going on, and decide to spend half an hour browsing through the conversations. Other times I don't, but it's my decision, not that of some nanny state or self-appointed expert on "work-life balance".

  7. Jonathon Green
    Holmes

    An alternative interpretation.

    I suspect that the authors may be experiencing some confusion between “employees who prioritise work performance goals and who would prefer to attend to work outside of hours if it helps them get their tasks completed." and “employees who are scared shitless that they’ll find themselves either out of a job or passed over for otherwise well deserved pay rises or promotions if they’re not seen to be willing to prioritise their corporate life over their private life in aggressively competitive, presenteeism driven working environments”...

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: An alternative interpretation.

      Exactly!

      That is the general attitude in Spain fo any worker who isn't 'fijo' (fixed) which mean a fulltime employee with a permanent contract who is also byond the probationary period, that seems to be the majority now.

      I always regard research and its alleged results by psychologists with a pinch of salt, most studies seem to me to be largely correlative and the resultir even the study itself coloured by the character and preconceptions of the researchers.

      Often too, the study group/s are too small or narrow in scope.

      This study in particular is not conducive to happy employees if the PHBs begin to make heavy hints that work emails are accessible 24/7.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: An alternative interpretation.

        I always regard research and its alleged results by psychologists with a pinch of salt,

        In this case I would take it with half a pound of extremely coarse grained salt.

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "employees who prioritise work performance goals and who would prefer to attend to work outside of hours if it helps them get their tasks completed."

    IOW employees whose mental health has already been damaged.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      And as the MD of Hoskyns (now Cap Gemini) used to say, if you have to do overtime (and checking your emails outside of office hours is overtime), you boss has screwed up.

      Obviously there are exceptions, like a go-live or an upgrade/maintenance that can only be carried out when nobody is using the system.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Correct, incidental, pre-planned overtime with time in lieu is something else, that can be very good planning. And incidents do happen, I still remember being ordered home in a taxi at 4 AM with firm instructions not to report back before 13:00 (and being ordered home again at 4 AM in a taxi).

      2. the Jim bloke Silver badge

        your boss has screwed up.

        and thats the entire point.

        Management induced crises{1} are the main reason we have to basically, sleep with one eye open, constantly watching for some disaster-in-waiting that can be dealt with easily early enough, but will be much more troublesome if allowed to develop.

        [1] including not employing enough people to do the job, or getting rid of people with required skillsets,

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        He clearly doesn't work at that esteemed organization any more! I think I'll switch to AC for this one.

    2. cynic56

      is there a particular problem with the mental health of employees on the Isle of Wight?

  9. big_D Silver badge

    Employer...

    I think it also has something to do with the employer and whether they expect people to work outside of office hours and whether those working outside of office hours are praised or told to get a life...

    At a previous company, the workers turned up at 8, the boss between 10 and 11 and he worked through until 6 or 7 in the evening. Anybody, especially management, leaving before him was a slacker... He also expected 24/7 availability for all workers. I had real problems, because my wife said no smartphone upstairs, let alone in the bedroom, in the end, I just left the phone downstairs.

    My last couple of jobs have been much better. There is no out-of-hours support. There is no need to read email out of office hours. And you definitely better not get caught reading (or replying) to emails if you are on leave!

    The company philosophy is that life is there to be lived, so don't waste your free time worrying about work. I still find that difficult after the previous job above, but I am feeling much better about myself, more relaxed and more able to look after my private life.

    1. Blane Bramble

      Re: Employer...

      "the boss between 10 and 11 and he worked through until 6 or 7 in the evening. Anybody, especially management, leaving before him was a slacker"

      Seen it, but it's a sign of poor management. The response is "my guys have been here since 8. You arrived at 10. Of course they're leaving before you".

      1. OssianScotland Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Employer...

        I must have had the same boss - 9 on the dot, when I was in at 0630 to deal with the Eastern hemisphere, then home at 1500 (not much lunch break, if any) and then a couple of hours remote work dealing with the western locations.

        Once he said to me "and I'm not having you buggering off at three oclock like you usually do...." A couple of the other guys spoke up for me, but this was more of less the final straw, and I did a Patrick McGoohan a few weeks later.

  10. Joe Drunk

    I feel for you

    I really do. I used to feel compelled to constantly check/respond to emails off-hours. I thought it would give me job security. All it gave me was insomnia/weakened immune system. I also work for a large multi-national corporate meat grinder. The stress level is extremely high, there's always a fire that needs putting out.

    My physical and mental health are far more important to me than whatever artificial goals are placed on my department by some bonus-oriented PHB.

    Luckily my role is more sale related so no 24/7 on-call. Work phone gets shut off after hours because It doesn't matter what I type in any email when I'm not at the office, it will not change the fact that when I come in next business day it will always be EMERGENCY! URGENT!.

  11. Steve Kerr

    No pay, no work

    After being burned in a previous job, if I'm not being paid for out of hours work, you're not getting my time for free.

    I've had phone calls in the evening/weekend where somebody has said "You didn't answer the mail I just sent", to which the answer is "I don't look at emails outside of my working hours". This is normally followed by an awkward silence. If it's an emergency, then I'll deal with it and claim the overtime, anything else will be dealt with during my working day.

    My team does have a team chat so if that pings out of hours, I will normally have a look in case one of my direct colleagues is asking a question which may have a 20 second answer or if it's interesting stuff that colleagues are up to non work related.

  12. IWVC

    El Reg has heard of these workaholics but doesn't believe they exist outside Dilbert cartoons.

    Sorry to say that many years ago when I had to work for a living I had access to email from home as health circumstances resulted in a deal to work from home 3 or 4 days a week. Working from home was always a problem with domestic interruptions but I eventually cleared a bit of work and emailed it to my boss' email address at about 11pm. Was somewhat surprised to receive a reply at 11.15pm .....

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: El Reg has heard of these workaholics but doesn't believe they exist outside Dilbert cartoons.

      Before I moved over here I was with a teacher. She'd receive emails after 11 from both parents and her headteacher; both would expect a reply by the morning. Sadly she burnt out and ended up in psychiatric hospital. She's since taken a massive pay cut and is doing a much less stressful job.

  13. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    How about paying a stipend to those who are "required" to be doing work during unpaid hours?

    I'll bet the enthusiasm of management for email anywhere, anytime will die down when having that feature "enabling" staff cuts deeply into their departmental budget.

    Idiot "scientist".

    1. Nunyabiznes Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      If I'm on call, there is a minimum 1 hour charge for responding to calls/emails. That was put in place by our new boss over the old system where we were expected to answer all calls/emails with no compensation. On call rotates 1 week on 4 weeks off and there is a base rate per day on call.

      There are noticeably fewer emergencies.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      Exactly, Stevie.

      Many moons ago we were given pagers to carry "for emergencies". I turned mine on when I got to work, and off again when I left work. My reasoning was that I wasn't being paid when I was off work, therefor they had no right to try to contact me. Needless to say, management wasn't very happy with my interpretation. They called HR, to get me to see reason or to fire me. HR took my side (!!!). Long and short of it, everybody with a pager wound up with an extra dollar per hour for each and every hour we were required to be on call when otherwise off duty.

      A couple years later a few of us were presented with DynaTacs ... we all said "more money, please". This time, we were compensated $1.75/hr. For awhile there I was collecting for both the pager and the phone. It was quite lucrative, added up to a hair over $18,000/yr in mid '80s dollars. Fortunately Upper Management liked me more than the mid-level idiot who ran our division ...

      Then Middle Management discovered email. Every single last one of us refused to use email out of hours because actually sitting down and typing was entirely too disruptive to our RealLife. That was the end of it ... until the Blackberry made email a telephone thing (yes, I know, there were attempts before the Crackberry, but RIM put the concept on the map, at least for the non-technically inclined). Thankfully, I was already out of the 9-5 loop by the time that happened.

      Daftest thing is that you idiots actually use YOUR OWN EQUIPMENT to do your company's business! WTF are you thinking? If they need you to check your email outside of working hours, Shirley they can bloody well pay for the gear required to do so, right? The entire BYOD thing boggles my mind ... how much money are corporations, world-wide, saving by forcing workers to pay for the privilege of doing their jobs?

      And then there is the actual meaning of "BYOD", to wit "Break Your Own Defenses". One wonders how many emails are being opened at home world-wide as I type that would get the user fired if he printed it out and tried to carry it out of his office at knocking-off time ...

      Suggestion: It's called a 9-5 for a reason. Treat it as such. Leave work at work. Your life will be a lot happier.

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        Oh yeah. My managers were constantly asking me for my cell number so they could "contact me in emergencies". I responded that my personal cell phone was for personal emergencies, for situations where my wife needed to contact me when I was at work or I needed to tell her I was delayed at work and would be late home.

        I added that if they wanted to contact me out of hours they could give me a company cell phone. I was given waffle in return about how hard and expensive it was to get one of those allocated. I acted puzzled and responded that every single consultant SA had been issued with one in the first week of their employment so it couldn't be *that* hard or expensive, but in any case if it was too much trouble to give me the equipment to facilitate out of hours communication it was obviously not that important that I be able to respond to such attempts to communicate.

        I changed manager a few years later and was immediately issued with a company cell phone. I tyook great delight in using it in meetings with the Mr "Too Much Trouble".

        The downside is being able to be disturbed at home.

        The upside is *overtime* baby!

        Win-lose-win.

  14. BGatez Bronze badge

    I'll take my chances.

  15. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Whip-crack-away, whip-crack-away, whip-crack-away

    Oh, the Deadwood stage is a-rolling on over the plains

    With the curtains flappin' and the driver a-snappin' the reins

    A beautiful sky, a wonderful day

    Whip-crack-away, whip-crack-away, whip-crack-away

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_xmujSyxkU

  16. Oengus Silver badge
    Pint

    Don't waste the beer

    get ready to, er, accidentally spill that beer.

    That would be a waste of perfectly good beer... just have the phone accidentally drop into the receptacle of recycled beer as you are "checking e-mail" in the loo.

    1. Nunyabiznes Silver badge

      Re: Don't waste the beer

      I think it would be a perfectly acceptable way to get rid of PBR, Old Milwaukee, Schlitz, etc. ;)

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: Don't waste the beer

        Even that would mostly be alcohol abuse.

  17. LeahroyNake Silver badge

    Optional

    Blocking email notifications between 1900 hrs and 0800 works for me.

    A few customers have my mobile number and can call it 24 /7 and to be honest I would rather speak to them and sort any issues out ASAP while they are in front of the problem is easier than going to site the next day. They pay quite a lot for that service though.

    When the boss phones me on Sunday morning when I'm watching the rugby about their home Internet connection...FFS NO!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Slacking off

    Now in the days of 'Slack' my management is focused on comms via Slack and email with the expectation we use the app as then they can see if we are 'active.' So now what happens is that the usual glacial email forwarding will happen in management space (taking a week or more to head down to us plebs) and then the Friday special arrives - urgent request for data, analysis etc that us plebs are expected to provide by Monday. Only with Slack, the expectation is that we provide updates via Slack (even if management don't log in, check or acknowledge said updates until the next business day.)

    We already had an instant messaging product (that has some superior features) so now I have to sign into and monitor multiple messaging solutions and get interrupted by notification popups providing additional distractions.

    I had one manager who would go to bed, sleep for a few hours then get up, send emails making sure to CC higher up (if the higher up was important enough), then go back to bed. They looked like they were available 24x7 answering emails late at night, early mornings etc - got her some quick promotions in the company.

    1. Oengus Silver badge

      Re: Slacking off

      I had one manager who would go to bed, sleep for a few hours then get up, send emails making sure to CC higher up (if the higher up was important enough), then go back to bed. They looked like they were available 24x7 answering emails late at night, early mornings etc

      Haven't they worked out how to use the "don't send before" feature...

  19. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    WTF?

    My boss

    knows it will cost him one hrs pay just to get me to answer the phone out of hrs (I did so enjoy that conversation 24 hrs after major heart surgery as to why machine #23 had gone down with a stupid error message... I dont think he did, but I did make a major contribution to the cardiac ward's swear jar.... )

    So e.mail.... no fekking way would he even risk it.

    Lets face it.... you are not being paid to work, therefore why are you working?

  20. jmch Silver badge

    Those who teach...

    "Dr Emma Russell, a psychologist and lecturer in management"

    Yes, but ever worked or managed in industry?

  21. FozzyBear Silver badge

    Umm.

    Which 1980's Japanese company sponsored this research again? It wasn'y mentioned in the article

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Not a company, MITI.

  22. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Mushroom

    OFF

    That's the second word. In case you need a hint the first word starts with an 'F'

  23. Big_Boomer Bronze badge

    Workoholics

    Oh there are plenty out there. They start early, finish late, and most of them constantly bang on about how many hours they are working. Personally I just laugh and say "I prefer to work efficiently and get my work done during office hours".

    That whole culture of "I work considerably more hours than yow!" is and always was laughable. They rarely achieved in their 14 hour working day what I achieved in my 7.5 hour working day and in the end most of them dropped by the wayside once management finally saw past their brown puckered lips.

    Yes, I'll answer my work mobile phone after hours, but they'd better have a damned good reason for phoning me or else be prepared to experience the addition of a new excretory orifice. As for emails,.... it's a store and forward non-real-time comms medium. If it's an urgent problem, then call. If it's an email, by definition it's not urgent and can wait until tomorrow.

    There are also some whose home life is sooooooo dull that an email from work is a welcome distraction. I mostly feel sorry for them.

  24. batfink Silver badge

    And what about the fifth reason?

    Their "list of reasons people want to do this" doesn't seem to include the obvious:

    - "so we can be seen to be working OOH and are therefore valuable employees so don't sack us/pass us over for promotion".

  25. Mattmattic

    Working for a company that covers several very different time zones means that "out of hours" email isn't a thing any more. My contact in Australia, Africa or the USA needs an urgent answer in their own time zone, then I have to get back to them.

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