Email tips and tricks

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Under construction.png UNDER CONSTRUCTION: This article is incomplete and under construction. Direct questions to TLT (, 507-457-5240 Option #3, Maxwell Hall 130).

Sending and receiving work-related email when off the clock

Should you be spending significant time reading and sending work-related email when you are off the clock? Should you be sending work-related email to other WSU employees who you know are off the clock? Legally, the answer is, "No," particularly if you and/or the recipient are not exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). However, understanding labor law does little to reduce the psychological stress surrounding this issue. We all have multiple, deep-seated, and often conflicting attitudes and beliefs about working off the clock. Some believe it's expected of them (e.g., by their supervisor, the organization, or today's workplace norms) and they fear punishment if they do not behave accordingly. Some think they will be rewarded extrinsically (e.g., praise, promotion) or intrinsically (e.g., a feeling of accomplishment) by being a good team player and going that extra mile. We also have devices in our pockets that allow us to send and receive email anytime and anywhere. Here are some suggestions for dealing with this issue:

  • Don't spend time on work-related email when off the clock. When you feel compelled to send an email message during off hours, ask yourself two questions: (1) How much time are you spending on this uncompensated task? It may just take a minute to send a quick email message at night or on the weekend, but if you do that a dozen times a week, it adds up quickly. Second, will the recipients of your message feel the need to respond while they are off the clock? This may not be your intention, but it could be easily interpreted this way, especially if you are their supervisor or in some other position of authority.
  • Know who's on the clock and who isn't. While your official work hours should be crystal clear to you, it's often more difficult to track others' status. Take steps within your department to ensure that everyone knows who is on the clock and who isn't (e.g., those on vacation) during core hours. If your department provides services outside of core hours, the employees responsible for delivering those services are on the clock and should be identified clearly. If someone is on call outside of core hours, make sure everyone in the department knows the details.
  • Talk about off the clock email as a team. If you have concerns or questions about off the clock email, share them. Supervisors, Deans, Chairs, Directors, and others in positions to help set and communicate expectations should make a concerted effort to discuss and clarify email policies. This issue is stressful because so much goes unsaid. Break the cycle by talking about it directly, publically, and clearly.
  • Compose email drafts, but don't send them while off the clock. If you decide to compose a work-related email message while you are off the clock, save it as a draft and/or schedule it to be delivered during work hours.
  • Communicate your own practices clearly.
  • Consider the possibility that you have a problem. If you are spending a significant amount of time on work-related email off hours and you know you should not be doing it, no one is forcing you to do it, there is no legitimate reason to do it, you can't seem to prevent yourself from doing it, and it's beginning to interfere with other aspects of your life, then you might have a problem. This is not a joke. The use of social media, including email, can rise to a level where it becomes dysfunctional and maladaptive. There may be certain people who are more susceptible to this problem than others and certain situations that aggravate it.

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