Though she hates to admit it, Anna Wieler says she was guilty of checking her office email account while on a recent staycation.
“I probably did it once a day; it’s more that I delete things I don’t need to know about,” Wieler laughs. “Yes, I am one of those people who does need to look at my email.”
A vice-president of human resources at southern Manitoba’s Access Credit Union (51,000 members, $2.43 billion in assets), Wieler says she appreciates having the flexibility to manage her email during off hours, to minimize the stress of a bursting inbox when her workday formally begins.
The explosion of mobile Internet and email over the last decade, giving users a 24/7 connection to both personal and professional networks, has made maintaining work-life balance a huge challenge.
Yet, in recent years, recognizing the growing toll on mental health, lawmakers in France, Brazil and New York have proposed measures to protect workers’ “right to disconnect,” effectively banning emailing after work. In 2014, Daimler Motor Company went so far as to provide workers going on holiday a service that would have new emails automatically deleted while away. Though laws that curtail work email access have yet to catch on in Canada, credit unions are prominent amongst businesses keeping tabs on email overload.
Access once experimented with turning employee email off during vacations but opted instead for informal policies around not checking email to allow for flexibility. “Our informal policies have kept things reasonable for people,” says Wieler. So far, she says, email management hasn’t been reported as an issue for employees at the credit union.
Synergy Credit Union (24,700 mem- bers, $1.4 billion in assets) has taken a similar approach. Managing contractors and employees across multiple time zones is an increasingly common challenge for global enterprises but the struggle is a little different for the Lloydminster-based credit union. Located on the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan, some Synergy employees working in the same branch live in different time zones, which can impact work hours for some by an hour or two. However, this geographic quirk hasn’t impacted the credit union’s “self-management” approach to emailing outside of work.
“We freely extend a lot of trust to our employees,” says Erin Close, a human resources manager at Synergy. “We share our values and we leave it up to our leaders and relationships that they have with their teams to manage those. Every team is a little bit different,” Close says.
Still, Close adds, establishing work life balance is an ongoing conversation at their workplace and employees and management are asked to limit emailing after hours. Recognizing that it “takes two to tango,” some at the credit union save email drafts to send at a later time, so they don’t fill up a colleague’s inbox after work.
But size isn’t the main factor in whether an organization introduces email management strategies. Inbox management is left to employees’ discretion at many of the country’s largest credit unions as well, where formal email policies are not the norm either.
While this approach may work for some organizations, the absence of a formal policy around email can impact an organization’s work culture, says Simon Fraser University professor Lieke ten Brummelhuis, a researcher in workaholism and work life balance. Brummelhuis’s past research into smartphone use after work revealed that accessing email outside of the office can disrupt employees’ ability to recharge between shifts.
In extreme cases, this can contribute to physiological conditions such as cardiovascular diseases. “Psychological detachment [from email] is extremely important to keep your health,” Brummelhuis says. “Often times, two days completely off the grid is enough to recuperate.”
Brummelhuis suggests that an explicit policy creates transparency about expectations around team members’ communication. “I think organizations should start by pausing and reflecting on their work culture: what do we value, what kind of behaviour do we find acceptable and what kind of examples are we setting in terms of the higher management levels?” ◊