EFG Magazine

That feeling has worsened during the pandemic, with fewer physical barriers to work, Bohns says, pointing to the rise of burnout among employees amid lockdown. “It’s not like I leave the office, work can come at any point throughout the day,” she says. “The less we’re bound to physical spaces to work, the less we have safe spaces where we don’t work.”

Some of us may have the mental strength to resist that pressure and that email notification ping, perhaps setting specific times to check email a handful of times each day. But not everyone can withstand the feeling we must always be available. Because of that, changing how we use email isn’t down to recipients, but senders. “A lot of the research before has focused on the person who holds the bias, the receivers who overestimate expectations,” says Giurge. “But what we found is that senders who are unintentionally violating those boundaries can become more aware of their email behavior.”

What should a sensitive sender do? You could manage when you send an email, making use of scheduling tools to try to prevent the recipient from answering out of hours. But that can backfire, says Bohns. “So many people think that’s a clear solution, just schedule everything for 9 am on Monday,” she says. But that means a stressful deluge of messages first thing in the morning, which doesn’t take into account people working to their own schedules—if someone wants to get through a few messages on a Saturday to have an easier Monday, let them make their own mind up.

Another idea is to acknowledge reply times and working hours in your email signature. Giurge warns that is easily ignored or missed, though recipients can also set response rules, saying they’ll only answer messages at certain times. That at least sets expectations, and if a faster reply is needed, the sender knows to pick up the phone—or send a DM.

Managers can help by keeping to such rules, helping to create a culture or set of norms around email. “If bosses and team leaders are sending emails on a Friday night and not indicating that they don’t need a reply, that’s telling people they need to be working all the time,” says Bohns

There may be a simpler solution: just say your message isn’t urgent. Giurge advises making use of subject lines by clearly labelling an email with “read this later” or “not urgent,” letting the receiver relax. “Simply make the implicit expectations explicit by adding a line to make it clear this is not an urgent response,” she says.

Some email clients have ways to label a message as requiring immediate followup or being of high priority—we need to do the same with messages that are low priority. “We are very good at indicating when things are urgent, with all caps and red exclamation points,” says Bohns, adding that we need a green exclamation point to show something isn’t urgent, that it can be answered asynchronously in our own time.