Save Your Employees From Burnout! New Study Shows Workers Check E-Mail Too Much!

Most people imagine workers sitting at their desks, imagining lounging on an exotic beach somewhere. We don’t really imagine the opposite–vacationers dreaming of being in the office. As small businesses put in longer hours, the need to occasionally get away is greater than ever. But a new study shows that no matter where we go, our work e-mails follow.

The report, commissioned by GFI Software, found that most small business employees surveyed check e-mail on weekends, late at night, and while on vacation. Six in ten employees admitted they check e-mail twice a day outside of work hours. A few employees admitted to checking e-mail during major events, like child’s school events, funerals, and while either they or their spouse was in labor.

The problem is even worse among larger companies, where 75 percent of respondents report checking e-mail outside of work hours. Being constantly connected comes at a price. Employees are never allowed to relax and recharge, leading to burnout and a risk of damage to personal relationships. In her book, Sleeping with Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work, Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow recommends a digital disconnect, citing its power to make workers more productive and happier. The book is based on research Perlow did at a Boston consulting firm, where she used shifts in attitude and behavior to gradually help workers learn to disconnect.

To help your employees learn to enjoy personal time sometimes, here are a few tips:

  • Encourage workers to disconnect. Perlow found that the reason many people were anxious to stay connected when not at work was perception. Employees felt that if they responded quickly to each e-mail,  no matter the time of day, they’d be more successful. For this reason, Perlow recommends business owners provide Predictable Time Off (PTO). With PTO, your workplace requires workers to disconnect from voicemail, phone contact, and voicemail on a regular basis. The study found that workplaces with PTO were no less productive than those with employees tethered to electronic devices.
  • Honor employee’s personal time. This includes not only providing occasional personal days and reasonable vacation time each year, but also letting your workers enjoy that time off. When an employee is on vacation, encourage him or her to leave an “away” message on e-mail and voicemail, letting clients and colleagues know they are on vacation and will have limited access to e-mail. Only contact an employee on vacation when absolutely necessary.
  • Keep night and weekend work at a minimum. While no one expects to always “punch out” at five p.m. on the dot, try to make night and weekend work an emergency situation. If your employees are regularly burning the midnight oil, ask yourself if perhaps you might need to add to your staff or outsource some of the work. Burned-out employees are more likely to leave when another opportunity comes along.

Small businesses have some of the hardest-working, most dedicated employees on the planet. But a worker can only work at 150 percent for so long before suffering from severe exhaustion. To ensure your top employees stay around for years to come, take a look at your team’s job requirements and ask yourself if they should change.

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Stephanie Faris

Stephanie is a freelance writer and young adult/middle grade novelist, who worked in information systems for more than a decade. Her first book, 30 Days of No Gossip, will be released by Simon and Schuster in spring 2014. She lives in Nashville with her husband.

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