A Simple And Smart Solution To The Scourge Of After-Hours Emails

Subtle signals in the workplace (even an email signature line) can exert a surprising influence on employee engagement.


Sometimes, the ties that bind us can be found in the most unexpected places.

It’s a lesson every business leader should heed, as organizations struggle to retain employees in today’s highly competitive job market.

When crafting employee retention strategies, companies often focus on dollars and donuts – offering competitive compensation packages (base pay, bonuses and benefits) as well as attractive perks (from free food to onsite dry cleaning to lunchtime yoga classes).

And while the compensation component is obviously critical, and perks can be appealing, their impact on employee loyalty will be overshadowed by another important consideration: What does it really feel like to work at that company?

Just as with customer loyalty, employee loyalty is heavily influenced by emotional rather than rational considerations. No amount of free donuts, employee discounts or concierge services will make up for a work environment where people don’t feel valued, appreciated and cared for. But what’s important for leaders to realize is that those appealing and loyalty-enhancing workplace characteristics manifest themselves in surprisingly subtle ways.

You don’t find them spelled out in an organization’s employee handbook, or emblazoned on motivational posters that hang about the office. Rather, they come in the form of signals that are conveyed by organizational leaders during even the most banal workplace interactions.

I was reminded of this recently when I received an email from one of my clients, a senior executive at a $20 billion company. Embedded in his email signature, below his name, was this simple statement:


NOTE: I routinely reply to email outside of standard office hours but don’t expect replies in kind. Be safe, be mindful, be healthy.


I asked him about it, and he explained that he’d gotten feedback from his employees that they felt compelled to match his work schedule (which was never his intention), so he added this note to his email signature to make his expectations clear.

Many people (myself included) are guilty of sending work emails out at odd hours. Yet, as recent research has shown, the senders of these messages rarely view them to be as urgent as the recipients. Oftentimes, people just send emails out when it’s convenient for them, based on their own work-life schedule. However, employees who get messages from their bosses outside of normal work hours often misinterpret the urgency and feel stress as a result. That, in turn, undermines their subjective wellbeing — and sows the seeds for discontent.

Simply by making one’s expectations explicit, as my client did in his emails, leaders have the power to remove that stress from their employees’ lives. But this thoughtful and considerate email closing does more than just reduce employee stress. It also represents a very tangible demonstration of advocacy from a leader to their staff. It’s a signal of respect. It’s a rejection of “always-on” work culture. It’s an acknowledgement that employees have lives outside of work — and that they should enjoy them, free (as best as possible) from the pressures and obligations of their professional lives.

Being an advocate for those in your charge is an enormously powerful way to strengthen employee loyalty. When staff see that they have a boss who genuinely looks out for their best interests, who fights for them, who develops them, who facilitates their wellbeing — it creates a bond far stronger than anything forged by even the most innovative corporate perks.

We show allegiance to those who advocate for us. And the more leaders show advocacy for their employees, the more success they’ll have keeping them on the payroll.

[A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.com.]


Jon Picoult is founder of Watermark Consulting, a customer experience advisory firm that helps companies impress customers and inspire employees, creating raving fans that drive business growth.  Author of “FROM IMPRESSED TO OBSESSED: 12 Principles for Turning Customers and Employees into Lifelong Fans,” Picoult is an acclaimed public speaker, as well as an advisor to some of world’s foremost brands.  Follow Jon on Twitter or Instagram, or subscribe to his monthly eNewsletter.


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