Stop Texting Your Employees At Midnight
You hear a buzz on your nightstand. Blearily you reach for it; it’s your boss, again. You wake up quickly―what is it this time? You have just completed a work day filled with Slack messages, texts, emails, notifications, and more. You are tired, but now you have yet another message to respond to.
According to a 2017 study entitled, “Work, Stress, Coping, and Stress Management,” “the source of stress, such as workload, seem to exacerbate with improvements in technology.” In other words, instead of relieving us from stress, technology increases it. In fact, the same article found that almost half of those over 13 years old planned their vacations around accessibility to email, and 83 percent check their email at least once a day while away from the office.
Bosses increase that tech stress even more, as they are the ones sending out many of the alerts, pings, and notices that punctuate the day. They are the people setting policy on technology use, either explicitly in writing, or implicitly by their actions. Bosses also examine their employee’s tech use: are their staff on task? Are they responding quickly enough?
And yet, how often do bosses examine their own tech habits?
Stop Pinging Your Team
“The manager that asks employees to communicate via email, and then doesn’t respond and projects are put on hold or at least slowed down. I see this happening particularly in the hiring process when companies lose good candidates to their competitors,” says Karla Stoker, an HR professional.
“[And then there’s] the manager who sends emails at all hours of the night and weekends, expecting an immediate response, even at 3 AM,” Ms. Stoker adds. “[We keep hearing about] the importance of sleep, which makes those late-night emails counter-productive.”
In addition to literally losing sleep by being woken from pings, employees also lose sleep wondering when the text will occur. Some even struggle falling asleep after handling a work issue. Ms. Stoker has witnessed other examples of the distracted, and not so good boss. “The last thing I have seen is a manager that berates an employee via email rather than having a productive face-to-face conversation.”
Bosses affect employee health and well-being. Some of those effects include lack of sleep, anxiety, stress, low morale, unclear expectations, and health concerns. Bosses may feel like they are being efficient and productive firing off those emails at night and texting during the day. Multi-tasking makes them feel good. They get a dopamine hit from those notifications. They feel important but that multi-tasking is not productive or efficient.
How To Handle An Over-Messaging Boss
According to one Stanford study, researchers put 100 students through a series of tests and found that the heavy media multitaskers performed the poorest. “Social scientists have long assumed that it’s impossible to process more than one string of information at a time. The brain just can’t do it.”
Overuse of media and the constant stream of messages make employees work less efficiently. And along with being less productive, they’re more stressed. However, it is hard to leave those messages unanswered to set those boundaries when they’re coming from a person who can fire you.
What can you do if you have just such a boss? This is tough. Your boss may not even realize their actions are affecting others. They may be blind to their responsibility to create a healthy tech culture at the office. And they may not respond well to feedback from someone they supervise.
“Depending on the relationship with the boss I would recommend employees have a frank conversation with the boss,” recommends Ms. Stoker. “Acknowledge that you understand they are busy and have many people to respond to.” Ms. Stoker then suggests asking your boss if they could meet with you alone.
Managers are busy, and by acknowledging that they have limited time, and respecting that time by only asking a few minutes, can create a safer space for a potentially difficult conversation. After setting the meeting, employees should concisely and briefly state how technology use is affecting their work.
Some conversation starters to use:
I find it difficult to complete my tasks when I am interrupted by emails and texts. I want to make sure I complete your projects in a timely manner, can you help me with that?
How can we work together to minimize tech distractions at work?
I feel the late-night messages are affecting my personal time outside of life. It’s difficult for me to be productive at work when I don’t get a break.
What are your expectations for your staff to respond to your emails? For texts?
I can focus better on meetings and listen to you better when there aren’t cell phones in the room.
What are your expectations on social media use in the workplace?
Decrease Workplace Distractions
The first step in dealing with an over-messaging boss is one-on-one, face-to-face communication. Management has to be aware that this is an issue before any change can happen. Some changes that can decrease workplace tech distractions are as follows.
Ban phones from meetings. In important meetings, particularly ones where brainstorming and higher-level thinking is involved, phones should be put away. If possible, those phones should not just be hidden in a purse or a pocket but left outside the room. Simply limiting phone use is not enough.
A 2015 study out of the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that even if study participants did not hold or touch a cell phone, a notification caused them to lose their concentration, make errors, and perform poorly on tasks. These errors and lapses in focuses were similar whether or not participants actually answered the call or text.
Organizations should strongly consider a ban on cell phones in meetings, and this should come from the top. If employees see that their managers have their phones out, but they cannot, this can cause resentment.
Encourage batch emailing. Batch emailing is the process of only sending out emails at certain points of the day. When employees don’t know when they’re getting a message from their boss, it can raise anxiety rates. Batch emailing also makes emailing more productive. By focusing only on email a few times a day, rather than distractedly and passively scrolling through email all day, you save time.
Bosses should set aside specific sets of time, like three 30-minute windows where they will only check and send emails. Consider those windows spaced out in the early morning, around lunchtime, and an hour or two before the work day ends.
Limit social media. As with batch emailing, social media should also be checked at certain times and for only so long. This may not be possible for some jobs in marketing or public relations, but for other positions, social media should be limited at work.
This spring, a middle-school teacher from Long Island was fired for a semi-nude photo a student had obtained without consent. The teacher is now suing the school district for gender discrimination. Which invites questions: Should an employee be fired for something they did on their own device and on their own time? Should they be let go for something that was obtained without their consent? What is an employer’s responsibility for things posted online, if any? And what should employees expect about their privacy online?
Laws and policies are unclear around issues of online privacy, workplace rights, and what employers should monitor. Organizations should set clear policies on what is appropriate on social media. These policies should be created with staff, not just top-down, and regularly changed and evaluated as technology changes.
Hold meetings away from the office. To encourage productive and tech-free meetings, take meetings away from the office. Consider a walking meeting when it’s nice outside. The act of walking focuses the body on the ideas being exchanged, not on any buzzing or pings. Another benefit of out-of-office meetings is that it creates a more egalitarian feel. Sitting behind the big desk of the boss can be intimidating—sitting across from the boss at a busy coffee shop does not.
Create a company policy on driving and cell phones. Driving while distracted and on your cell phone is against the law in many states, including Utah. If an accident happens while the driver is distracted, the law finds the driver at fault. However, organizations and lawyers are questioning if employers also share the liability. The American Association for Justice (AAJ) created guidelines for employers on distracted driving due to these growing concerns.
Beyond liability, employers should pause and reflect on the messages and calls their employees may receive on the road. The dangers of distracted driving can lead to injury or even death.
Technology can be a tool for greater efficiency, but in an organization with unclear policies and bosses who over-message, it can wreak havoc on professional and personal lives. We should all take time to step back from the device.