Let’s just end the “email after hours” debate with this…

Barely a workshop goes by where this issue doesn’t come up in discussion in some way shape or form. It’s the situation where people get really stressed by other people sending emails at all hours and feeling as though they have to respond.

So here’s our take on the situation and, well no surprises, let’s start by taking things back a step with a little neuroscience to really understand what’s going on here.

The neuroscience of the situation

When you receive an email at a strange time, you may be uncertain about whether or not it’s ok to ignore it until a better time, or whether you feel compelled to respond. Some people crave more certainty than others, and so mental health studies are starting to show that some for some people this really is a thing that’s causing more anxiety than is necessary.

This anxiety can cause your stress hormones to kick in and basically inhibit the workings of your rational brain – let’s face it, I’m sure many of you may have cursed without too much of a filter at some emails that have hit your inbox at strange times.

And extra anxiety can lead to troubles with people sleeping or just giving energy credits to being overwhelmed rather than actually getting things done and feeling back in control again.

Two sides to the debate

Now it’s not just about the person receiving the email, there is also the person who sends the email.

In fairness, many people just have different body clocks and so often get ideas at all sorts of times and it’s just efficient for them to email at that time to get it off their mind. From a neuroscience point of view, this actually makes a lot of sense to actually send the email

If you have forgotten something from earlier or have a brainstorming idea, and you try to hold onto it and remember it for another time so that you can email it at a more socially acceptable time, this may cause you extra anxiety and therefore sleep may impacted by not sending the email.

From a work-life integration standpoint, traditional working hours aren’t actually the most efficient for everyone but that’s probably a debate for another blog…

Of course there are still unfortunately those people who deliberately send emails after normal working hours just because they are trying to look like they are putting in the long hours. Newsflash – if that’s you, I hate to break it to you but you need a little 101 in the “neuroscience of productivity” because your ideas of productivity are completely outdated, which means your leadership probably needs some work too!

OK now back to giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’re sending the email at a strange time because you are working with your natural biorhythms…

The key to sending emails at any time and having it be productive for everyone and to avoid the anxiety

If you are emailing people outside of normal work hours, good leadership suggests that it’s best to make people feel safe by making it clear at the outset that they don’t have to respond at that time, it’s just easier for you to send the email at that time.

If you send an email at a strange time and expect a quick response, that’s actually not great leadership.

Of course if the person sending the email hasn’t communicated this to you and you feel slightly stressed by the situation, then take responsibility to have a conversation with the sender around whether or not they actually expect a response to take the uncertainty out of it for you.

And as always, if you would like help to increase the communication and performance of your team, please get in touch. We’d love to help.


If you’d like to find out more, join the conversation in our next open workshop.