a study of answering emails away from the office and the impact on employers, employees and customers
4 of 5 employees are extremely likely to open their emails when out-of-the-office
The trend of life-over-work balance is trending in a positive direction for employee health, welfare and burnout
Employees of the United States government are likely to send lengthier replies than employees of other organizations, and are likely to spend a significantly longer length of time reading each opened email
The number of people in academic careers who opened their emails when their out-of-office reply was active
the number of seconds a government employee is likely to spend reading an email when their out-of-office reply is active
BEHAVIOR TO EMULATE
Leaders should send emails when the recipient is at work; not the time that is most convenient for the leader
People who work at a for-profit organization are likely sleeping with their work. The first thing many Americans do when they wake up: reach for their phone. The eyes are barely open, squinting to adjust to the blue light and one finger scrolling through the emails that were received while asleep.
When asked, “if you read an email immediately upon waking up at 6:00 am, when do you respond?”. The average and most frequent response is “6:01 am”. The majority of for-profit employees are sleeping with their career.
Employers are likely to expect their employees to check their email and engage with vendors, clients, and team members when the email is received. Frequency of communication and the ability to respond quickly is desired abilities by employers, including while the employee is out-of-the-office. The out-of-office auto-reply may be turned on, yet the vacationing employee is not turned off, which signifies an imbalance in life-work balance and the potential quality of output.
Business-to-Business (B2B) clients are likely to engage with their emails while on vacation because they have a fear of missing out, a fear of not being relevant, and a fear of losing their employment.
In 2013, the American Psychological Association (APA) published a press release centering on the trend of being connected to work during what was traditionally the “off hours” of weekends, holidays, vacations, and sick days. The APA reported—based on survey research done by the APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence—that contrary to popular belief, many employed adults in the United States believe staying connected to work has benefits over keeping an “iron curtain” between work and personal time. Respondents reported checking work emails on weekends (53 %), weekdays outside of office hours (52 %), when they take time off due to illness (54 %), and when taking vacation (44 %). Nearly three-quarters of employed adults surveyed said they work in their off time by choice. This survey data begs the question, “Why are so many people engaging with work when they are not at work?”
According to the APA’s survey, more than half (56 %) of respondents said working outside of working hours makes their workload more manageable during the week; however, many people (36 %) concurrently reported that the various avenues available to tether oneself to work has also increased their workload. The increasing connectedness outside of work has reportedly made it harder for 34 % of employees to disengage their minds from their “to dos” at work or even take a break (35 %).
The feeling of not being able to take a break from work stems from many perceived and salient barriers, as reported in research from the U.S. Travel Association. In their publication titled, “State of American Vacation 2018”, the U.S. Travel Association reported that over half (52 %) of Americans are not taking all of their vacation time, which means a whopping 705 million days of paid vacation time was essentially donated back to employers. While the use of vacation time has raised little by little each year for the last three years studied (there was a nearly half day increase between 2016 and 2017), there were more unused days (53 million more) in 2017 than in 2016. Interestingly, the study found the three biggest reasons respondents were not taking their vacation were: fear of looking replaceable (61 %), high workload (56 %), and staffing issues (56 %).
Based on the vacation literature, there appears to be a trend in employees taking some of their earned time off, but using some of that time to complete work related tasks; perhaps, working while one is supposed to be out-of-theoffice is one of the ways many employees feel free to take time off without affecting their workload and employment status. The combination of technology making it possible to work while one is not at work and employees not taking all of their available paid time off equates to more opportunities to engage these employees in B2B electronic marketing.
LIFE-WORK & LOYALTY
One may wonder, “If employees are using some of their vacation time, and some of the vacation time they use is spent working, why would those employees have any motivation to engage with B2B electronic marketing?” According to the literature, creating “brand love” in your B2B consumers will create the bond and motivation required for a consumer to engage.
For over a decade, researchers have been studying the complex and oftchanging demands, desires, and expectations that feed consumers’ “brand love”. The definition of brand love varies by study; however, the definitions all suggest that brand love involves an intense emotional and behavioral connection of a brand by its consumers, and that connection motivates them to invest more resources (e.g. time, energy, money, communication/personal endorsement, and loyalty) than they would for lesser-liked brands.
The dynamic construct of brand love is thought to be achieved through inciting passion-based behaviors in consumers, finding ways to integrate the brand into a consumer’s individual and social identity and the values consumers believe give life meaning, instilling a positive emotional bond between the consumer and the brand.
When a consumer integrates the objects or services a brand offers into their personal and social identity—thus, establishing their brand love—the consumer is practicing what is referred to as “brand identification”. In other words, consumers are internalizing, integrating, and overlapping the values and image behind the brand with their own personal values and image. As such, many of today’s consumers develop brand love with organizations that go beyond high-quality customer service or products and also work hard to project as ethical, community-oriented, involved in the welfare of their employees, as supporting companies with those qualities increases the emotional payoff and connection for the consumer.
While many brands seek to make their values and positive actions explicit or public, consumers also draw conclusions about organizations via indirect routes, such as interacting with employees, which can impact their brand love. For the scope of this research, the authors sought to understand how often employees were checking emails when their “out-of-office” auto-reply was active, which is an indicator of employees being engaged with work when (theoretically) the employee should be engaged in other spheres of their life.
RESEARCH & RESULTS
Emails were sent to 21,115 people during a four month period, which commenced December 2018 and concluded April 2019. The recipient’s behavior and engagement with their emails were measured with several behavioral science constructs.
All recipient emails in the study were privately-owned by for-profit organizations, non-for-profit organizations or government organizations. Personal email clients, such as person Gmail, Yahoo and AOL email accounts were not included in the study.
Number of people who opened and did not open their email when their out-of-office reply was active
Percentage of people by email domain who opened their emails when their out-of-office reply was active
Weekday and weekend email opens while the recipient’s out-of-office reply was active
weekend opens by email domain
weekday opens by email domain
Average time spend viewing emails when the out-of-office reply was active (seconds)
People who replied to emails while their out-of-office reply was active
Average character count per reply when the out-of-office reply is active
Employees of private industry are more likely to open their emails when outof-the-office because of their fear of missing out, fear of not being relevant and fear of losing their employment. There are two significant factors to consider when seeking a life-work balance solution. First, employers should create a corporate culture that supports a life-work balance, not a work-life balance. Secondly, the employee should identify Small, Attainable and Sustainable (SAS) lifestyle changes that remove work from their living space.
Behavior change is challenging. Many people resist change. Resisting change is natural to human behavior…it’s a heuristic for the majority of people.
The larger the goal, the more likely a human is likely to fail. Goals should be easily attainable to reduce cognitive and physical taxation. For example, typing emails after work hours and saving the emails to draft folder to send the following morning isn’t a solution to the life-work balance; however, this approach is a stepping stone in reducing the number of replies a person might receive after hours.
The goal should be designed in a manner that is achievable. For example, Clicksuasion Labs’ email policy is 7 am through 7 pm. Emails are permitted to be sent within this 12-hour window. Emails outside this window are likely to encourage late work hours or taking work home. A 12-hour window to send emails is sustainable because the average workday is 8-hours in length. This goal gives the end user a 4-hour window of changes in work schedule.
The goal should be completed over and over again. Otherwise we failed as leaders to create a happy and healthy employee. Replication is key for employees to maintain behavior change.
Furthermore, employees in academia, primarily those with a domain hosted with a .edu domain are significantly less likely to open their emails. Zero people in this study with a .edu email address opened their emails when their out-of-office reply was active. Bravo academia. The academia culture and behaviors that sustain this culture are an extension of this research and will be published at a later date.
A consumer of B2B products and services is willing to open their emails while their out-of-office reply is active because they are into one or several of three categories, (1) loyalty to the B2B brand, (2) FOMO, (3) fear of losing their employment and (4) fear of not feeling relevant. A B2B organization is likely to be grateful for this client’s business and loyalty; however, the B2B company will be happy to receive the same business during the following business day, during business hours. Clients of B2B companies are encouraged to avoid purchase decisions while away from the office.
The three fears, (1) missing out, (2) loss of employment, and (3) relevancy are likely created from a corporate culture that is focused on immediate returns and short term benchmarks. Additionally, it is possible a previous employer created these three fears for the employee. The burden of reducing these fears is the responsibility of the current employer and leadership.
Lastly, the majority of B2B organizations, B2B clients, B2C organizations and B2C customers prefer to collaborate, partner, and purchase from an organization who treats their employees as team members and family.
As a leader, do you treat employees the same as your grandmother?
Michael Barbera, chief behavioral officer at Clicksuasion Labs, is an award-winning consumer psychologist and business strategist. His clients include Fortune 500 companies, and have appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank, Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing, and Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Michael’s business psychology practice includes consumer behavior, emotions, and experiences, as well as social psychology, decision-making, behavioral economics, and behavioral finance. He shares his evidence-based insights as host of the Clicksuasion podcast and as a dynamic TEDx presenter. Michael is also a celebrated keynote speaker, and has addressed more than 100,000 people on four continents, earning more than 250,000 views online.
Stevie Peña is a personality researcher and advisor who understands how humans make decisions and how people collaborate with one another. Stevie applies qualitative and quantitative research methods to her projects and serves clients within the healthcare, public policy, and environmental industries. The pinnacle of her skillset is delivering clarity on the development and application of human personalities and motivations. Stevie’s unique background as a psychologist distinguishes her as an expert in relational skills development, incentives and social psychology. Ms. Peña holds a Master of Applied Psychology, a Master of Management and has recently completed course work for a Ph.D. in Business Psychology.
Ashley Gardner is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) in Chicago. As a behavioral health therapist, Ashley has been directly involved in helping hundreds of people from all stages of the lifespan and diverse backgrounds achieve their personal goals. She has used her expansive knowledge of human behavior and psychological theories to serve as a guide and collaborator in helping individuals become their best selves, achieve healthier relationships, and increase their functioning in all areas of life. For her doctoral dissertation she researched the topic of burnout extensively, which became an interest after seeing the detrimental effect burnout had on colleagues, clients, and employers. Through her experience, observations, and research of burnout, Ashley has developed a desire to use her therapeutic and psychoeducation skills to promote better health in the corporate realm.
Gavin Northey, University of Auckland
Vasiliki Andonopoulos, University of New South Wales – Sydney
Crystal Suetterlin, Clicksuasion Labs