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The Signicat Blog
Thais Guillén

UK Marketing Manager @ Signicat

What do you consider your ‘normal’ working hours?

As we all know by now, the pandemic has given room to a more flexible work-from-home culture, which has led to people managing their own schedules instead of having to follow a strict 9-5 routine. But what are "normal" working hours for you?

# Can work hours be too flexible?

Some people may start working a bit later in the day and finish later, some people may start early to finish early, and some people may work in chunks throughout the day until they complete their daily work hours. Workers are creating their own schedules (to the extent their companies allow) so they can work when they are the most productive. They are making their work fit into their lives rather than the other way around, as it used to be. We are creating our working hours, and what is 'normal' differs from one another.

This can certainly be great because flexibility and productivity usually go hand in hand. However, it can also lead to sending and receiving emails outside of normal working hours. For some, these emails may be ignored, but for others, it can add up over time and become a source of stress that affects their mental health and overall well-being, especially if the emails are from their managers.

Due to the nature of our jobs, particularly when working in a multicultural and multi-country company, we may usually find ourselves working past our 'working hours' to complete a project or get through an important task, which can sometimes lead to sending emails or Slack/Teams messages during those 'non-normal' working hours. However, we must recognise that this can be stressful for some people, especially if the email sender is a manager or above.

# How to avoid burnout

To avoid burnout syndrome, we need to be mindful of how others feel around us at work. That is why we should look for ways to ensure our 'normal' working hours don't negatively impact others. Here are some ideas for both people who send emails outside normal working hours and those who may receive them:

# Received emails outside of your 'normal' working hours?

Here are three things you can do (both on your laptop and phone):

1) Set yourself as 'Away' or 'Disconnected' and pause notifications. Whether you are using Slack, Microsoft Teams, Outlook, Gmail, or other tools, there is usually an option to pause notifications. If you set your status as 'Away' or 'Disconnected,' you can also ask your colleagues not to reach out during that time and schedule their messages/emails instead.

2) Set your working hours in Outlook. By doing this, your co-workers will be notified of your working hours before they hit 'Send' on an email.

3) Block your calendar, as you would do for holidays, and use your out-of-office message to set response-time expectations. For instance, you could use the following examples for your automatic email message:

“Thanks for reaching out. Since we are working in a multi-time zone company and we have a flexible working hours policy, please be advised that my working hours are X - X. I will do my best to reply to your email as soon as possible during those working hours.”

“Please be advised that in order to protect my work-life balance, I do not read nor respond to emails outside of my normal working hours. I will get to it as soon as possible during X-X.”

# Sending emails outside of your ‘normal’ working hours?

Three things you can do:

1) If you work for a company that doesn't have a flexible working hours policy and requires all employees to follow the same schedule, simply don’t send emails outside of working hours. Instead, schedule them to be sent during normal working hours, as defined by your company's policy.

2) If you work for a company that allows for a flexible schedule, it's likely that your company's policy already acknowledges that you don't need to reply immediately to emails outside of working hours. However, it may be helpful for a high-ranking member of your company to send an email to all employees, highlighting this policy and encouraging them to take the necessary steps. Here are some examples:

“At <company name>, we value and respect flexible work arrangements, so please respond when you are working.”

“<company name> ‘is a flexible employer with teams working across multiple time zones. Although we can send emails at a time that is convenient for each, it is not anyone’s expectation that you read, respond or follow up on emails outside your hours of work.”

“You are not expected to respond to emails outside your working hours. At <company name>, we value and encourage flexible working, so please be assured that we respect each other’s working pattern and look forward to a response when next at work and able to reply.”

3) Consider adding a disclaimer to your email signature to inform people why you may be writing to them outside of ‘normal’ working hours and to ease the pressure to reply immediately. Here are some examples:

“Since I work across multiple time zones and on a flexible schedule, I am sending this message now because it works for me. Please feel free to read, act on or respond at a time that works for you.”

“I choose to work flexibly and may be in a different time zone than you, so I may be sending this email outside normal working hours. No need to respond or act out to my emails outside of yours.”

“We work flexible work hours across multiple time zones. If you have received an email from me outside of your normal business hours, please know I am not expecting you to read or respond immediately. “

“Due to my new family/work life schedule crossover, you may receive emails from me outside of normal work hours. Please do not feel any pressure to respond outside of your own work schedule.”

“My work day may look different than your work day. Please do not feel obligated to respond outside of your normal working hours.”

“I sometimes send emails out of hours; I do not expect others to do so.”

“I work flexibly and may send emails outside normal working hours. Your immediate response is not expected.”

“I sometimes work at irregular times, so if this email arrives in your inbox out of hours, I don’t expect you to read, action, or reply to it outside of your working hours.”

“My workday may look different from your workday. Please do not feel obligated to respond outside of your normal working hours.”

It is important to highlight that even with these measures in place, if the email you are sending raises a potentially worrisome topic, it may still have an impact on the recipient's reaction. Therefore, managers should still be mindful of the content they are sending and remember not to send emails on sensitive topics outside of working hours.

# Honouring people's boundaries

Although these ideas are not going to make constant connectivity, workaholism, or work stress magically disappear, they can contribute to creating a culture of respect for boundaries and acknowledging that work doesn't have to consume all of one's time. Honouring other people’s boundaries is reassuring and helps others feel comfortable with maintaining theirs. This can encourage a healthier work-life balance and potentially reduce stress levels. It is crucial to remember that these disclaimers are just one part of a larger solution to addressing work-related stress and burnout.