Sunday, 22 September 2013

Steps for achieving a Work-Life Balance. Changing the 24/7 Email Culture - Part One: The Idea

I'm sure that every organisation is the same, but I think that we are in danger of email overload. Senior leaders, middle managers, teachers and some support staff are sending emails to each other at all times of the day (and night), both on weekdays and throughout weekends. The prevalence of smart phones now means that we have access to work emails even when we are away from our desks. There is no place to hide - work can track us down wherever we are. This 24/7 email culture is not healthy, it is not conducive to effective downtime and personal/family life, and it is not efficient: we are in danger of working longer, but achieving less.
Schools are very intensive places. We have two modes of existence: holiday and term. We have the great privilege of having more holiday than most, but all that means is that in term-time we work both long and hard. Work inevitably spills over into evenings and weekends. 
Whilst some colleagues prefer to answer emails in the evenings and at weekends, it is all too easy for a culture to develop where it is acceptable to enter into an email correspondence at all hours.
Sending an email may reduce the size of my inbox, but, in so doing, it increases the size of someone else's.
As in tennis, my reply puts the ball into someone else's court. There is little doubt that receiving an email in the evening or at weekends puts tacit pressure on colleagues to reply. There is also a danger that colleagues within the organisation believe that the only way to get on is to be available 24/7, which certainly is not the case.
So here are some ideas that we are considering that we hope will change the culture:

Limit internal email traffic to specific hours
We are considering making it a rule of the organisation that it is only acceptable to send a work email to a colleague between 0700 and 1900 on weekdays. The only exception would be an emergency maintenance/IT/caretaker request.
This proposal does not prevent colleagues working outside these times. Indeed, if a colleague wishes to draft replies to emails “out of hours” that is fine. Such should be saved as Draft (using the “Save” function) or sent with delayed delivery (select “Delay Delivery” from the “Options” tab in Outlook). This may mean that we come into work (especially on Mondays) to be greeted by lots of emails, but at least we will have had a weekend/evening off.

Encourage staff to turn off their mobile
We want to encourage staff to take quality personal/ family time.  We need to change the culture so that colleagues feel comfortable making themselves uncontactable "out of hours". Ideas include:
  • Turn off your phone/ Turn your phone to Airplane mode – that way you won’t receive Email traffic. 
  • Set your phone to go to automatic “Do not Disturb” On an iPhone this is: Settings – Notifications – Do Not Disturb – Scheduled – Set Times (e.g. 2100 – 0700).  It is possible to “Allow Calls from Favourites” and there is a setting to allow “Repeated Calls” 
  •  Use the "Out of Office" feature in Outlook more often.
Think Differently
  • We shouldn’t feel guilty for taking time away from work. 
  • We shouldn’t feel that we always need to be contactable. 
  • We should ask ourselves, “Can it wait?” and “Do I need to disturb a colleague’s evening?” 
And so . . . 
We're still at the discussion stage, but opening up the debate has reduced the amount of evening and weekend traffic to a trickle.  I'm endeavouring to lead by example and haven't sent an out-of-hours email for a fortnight.  Initial impressions are that life is becoming calmer. I'll let you know how it goes . . . .

See also

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