Leadership and email management

How do you create an environment that will help your team and business to blossom? That’s something that all leaders are keen to discover and learn more about, isn’t it? I am very interested in exploring how you can create a better work environment and in this post I will talk about emails. I get far too many emails and sometimes I spend half a day managing all of them and trying my best to action them, reply and follow up. It does take too much time.

I once worked in a team that went through a big change that meant merging three teams and making lots of people redundant. One of the new people who started work in all this re-organisational mess was keen to create a ‘Code of Ethics’ so that we could all work better together. He collected some thoughts from different people in the teams and put together a document that he thought was solid and clear.

He emailed everyone the document and when I received and opened it I was shocked. This is a few years back and not everyone had a smartphone as they do today. One of the points he made was that you don’t have to answer emails after 8 o’clock in the evening. I laughed at this and wondered what he was talking about. I would never answer emails that late in the evening.

It turned out that the behaviour of one of the managers was not very pleasant. She expected a prompt reply and got annoyed if it you didn’t reply within 30 minutes, it didn’t matter if it was late in the evening.

I believe what he wanted to say in the Code was that you aren’t expected to work late into the evening and that you should spend quality time by yourself or with your friends and your family and not spend your nights replying to emails.

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We all know that working late is not very healthy, if you are getting into the office feeling sluggish due to a lack of sleep then you will not be that efficient. However, there are still a number of managers and leaders who send emails late in the evening or even in the middle of the night.

I was reading a blog post the other day about a professor at Harvard Business School, Lesley Perlow. She has written a book called Sleeping with your Smartphone, a very intriguing title.

She studied what happened when managers had a chance to disconnect from work – no email in the evening etc. –  and the result was that they felt more excited about work, they were more satisfied with their personal and professional life and they also became more collaborative. So her research shows that it helps to encourage your colleagues to shut down and not work late at home.

Last summer I met up with a friend of mine who works for a large Swedish company and she was telling me about her manager. The manager had a habit of emailing her and the team at 4:30 in the morning, and this happened several days a week.

When my friend came into the office she had already read all of the emails on her iPhone and knew that she had to action them ASAP. Her smartphone was no longer a tool that made work easier, no, it was a tool that she now connected with a feeling of fear.

Has this happened to you? Have you ever feared that you will wake up with emails in your inbox that will determine what your day is going to look like? Are you replying to emails after 10 o’clock at night? Are you sending requests to your colleagues late in the evening and expecting an answer that same evening?

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I believe that email is one of the most misused digital tools. Some people don’t have any idea about how to use it effectively.  If you are a corporation or a large organisation you are likely to have goals that you want to achieve and stakeholders and shareholders who expect you to achieve these goals. If you have a culture that is making people feel stressed and is preventing them from having a good work-life balance, it is unlikely that they are delivering their best. You will only be tapping into part of their potential.

Managing a team includes making them enthusiastic and helping them to understand that you are all working towards the same goal. If you are better at communicating your goal and where you are going as a team you are likely to send fewer emails. People will already know what they should be doing.

My friend with the crazy manager with bad email habits didn’t have the guts to tell her boss that this behaviour is not good for her, so the problem continued. It’s not healthy for anyone to develop bad email habits.

I think that leaders and managers have the responsibility to lead and not to stress people out. How you communicate and which tools you use to share your message is incredibly important, but still so many people are using emails to send out orders.

Just because you have a thought late in the evening doesn’t mean that you have the right to interrupt another person’s life. You might be “kind” and tell them that you don’t expect a reply late at night, but people are curious and will check messages on their smartphones in the evening. The email you sent may have been communicated in a better way, say in a team-meeting or over the phone.

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Expecting people to reply to emails late at night or very early in the morning doesn’t actually help an organisation to reach its goals. It’s not in anyone’s true interest to deprive people of a work-life balance.

To create an environment that will support and help employees to connect with each other and reach further you must know what kind of behaviour is going to make this happen. Emailing late in the evening and replying to emails on your smartphone just before you go to bed will not create this environment. It will create stressed out people who are not able to preform at their best.

Use digital tools in a smart way, not as tools that create fear.

At the pen this morning is me, Sofie Sandell, sharing my digital wisdom with the world. My challenge this month is to reduce the time I spend emailing by 50 percent. So, if you don’t get a reply from me, please don’t send another email, give me a call instead. If I am free I will pick up the phone.