Tips for taming the email beast

Unplugging from work is a struggle for many in this hyper-connected era. In many cases, organisations are asking employees to do more and expecting them to be available through mobile devices during non-traditional office hours.

Email can be a useful tool, but it can also morph into an after-hours monster for some workers. One top regret of managers during their most recent time on holiday is checking in too often, according to a recent survey by staffing firm OfficeTeam. No doubt, this is a byproduct of the email beast.

A manager on holiday might not be working in the traditional sense: sitting behind a desk, typing on a computer, making calls, or meeting with employees. But that manager might hear the ding of an email notification on a smartphone. If an email pops in, the boss often feels the need to respond.

Setting proper boundaries regarding email, whether during a work week or vacation week, can help the manager be more refreshed upon returning to the office and can help employees learn communication discipline. A recent Gallup poll shows that employees who spend time outside of work checking email are more likely to experience stress than workers who don’t check email after hours.

Stefany Williams, CPA, CGMA, the CEO of Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas, says she feels better when she’s not addressing work issues late at night.

Williams is an advocate of “going dark” during time off. Here is her advice:

Pay attention to what motivates you to check your email relentlessly – and make it stop. “For me it was the light on my phone blinking across my kitchen at 9pm while the phone charged,” she said. “That’s where I started reclaiming my ground. I turned that blinking light off and started checking the email on my terms instead of the phone’s terms.” She suggests disabling email notifications.

Talk with your boss. “Make sure that there is support for what you are doing,” Williams said. She advises managers to get clarity on the expectations about response times and protocol for urgent situations. “This is fairly easy if you are sitting at your desk,” she said. “If you are in the field, more clear expectations need to be in place.” Make sure people who may need to reach you know about your change in response patterns and how it will affect them.

Do not combine personal and professional mobile devices to save money. Many people don’t like the hassle and cost of having two phones, but having one often means workers give up the ability to separate work and personal life. “This was not a fair trade,” Williams said. She suggests doing a cost/benefit analysis of “the restorative power” of time away from work and says the monthly cost of a personal phone will be worth it.

Williams recommends that setting a good example with email at work can also make organisations more efficient. She advises setting up calendar appointments to check and respond to email, say 15 minutes every three to four hours. Williams said that training employees to be more disciplined with email is ongoing, as workers have grown accustomed to getting immediate replies.

“No one is at their desk every minute of every day,” she said.

Related CGMA Magazine content:

More and More, Employees Spend Off-the-Clock Time Working”: Going on holiday isn’t as refreshing as it used to be. Surveys in the UK and US show that managers and employees alike are treating time off differently than they used to.

Four Tips for Managing Remote Workers”: Good communication with employees in other buildings or other continents is the biggest difficulty chief information officers (CIOs) face in managing those workers. A survey of US CIOs also lists four tips to better manage remote workers.

Neil Amato ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.