Although an after-hours email ban can seem to be just a work-life balance initiative, research suggests that such bans can serve the greater purpose of keeping employees engaged and satisfied with their jobs. Recent research conducted by Marcus Butts, William Becker, and Wendy Boswell shows that people who receive email after work get angry more often than not and that their anger interferes with their personal lives.
Every day for seven days, the researchers surveyed 341 working adults on their feelings about receiving after-work email. Each day participants received an email sometime between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. with a link to that day's survey. Participants were instructed to complete the survey while thinking about the email they had received most recently after work hours, and to not complete the survey if they had received no emails after work that day. Participants were surveyed on a variety of items, from their perception of the tone of voice in the email, the time required to respond, the emotions they felt, and whether or not the email affected their nonwork life. They were also surveyed at the very beginning of the study on issues such as their perception of supervisor abuse and their preferences for blending their work and nonwork lives.
When they analyzed the collected data, Marcus Butts and his colleagues found that when employees received an email after work that they perceived as negative in tone, it was more likely to make them angry, decrease their happiness, and affect their nonwork life. When employees received emails they perceived as positive in tone, they were more likely to be happy, but that happiness was only fleeting. Regardless of tone, if responding to the email required a lot of time, it was likely to make employees upset. "The after-hours emails really affected those workers' personal lives," said Butts.
In addition to showing that after-hours emails interfere with employees' personal lives, the researchers also found a relationship between employees' perceptions that their supervisor was abusive or micromanaging and the likelihood that reading the email would make them angry.
In short, after-hours email can interfere not only with nonwork relationships but also with work relationships, specifically by increasing any preexisting tension between employees and their bosses. The researchers suggest that managers take these findings seriously and compose after-hours emails with caution, and also that employees who are angered by after-hours emails consider leaving and moving to a company with an email limitation policy (like Atos, el Mejor Trato, Learning as Leadership, or Daimler). Whether or not company leadership decides to restrict email, limit how often employees check it, or ban it entirely, both the research and the recent experiences of these companies make a strong case that email is not the most effective tool for communication. Beyond interfering with your work-life balance, it can also have a detrimental impact on your productivity. Clearing out your email inbox can make you
feel really good—like you're ultra-productive. But unless your job is to delete emails, time spent in your inbox may not be time spent wisely.
PUT CUSTOMERS SECOND
To better serve their customers, some corporate leaders have found that they must put their customers' needs second and their employees' needs first. They have basically inverted the hierarchy and aligned their companies with a well-researched model of customer satisfaction that comes through employee happiness.
In February 2006, Vineet Nayar, the president and CEO of HCL Technologies, made a shocking announcement to a global meeting of HCLT's biggest customers. In short, he told his customers that HCLT had decided that taking care of them was no longer his top priority. In fact, HCLT had decided to fire some of its customers.
Specifically, Nayar was announcing a reorganization of HCLT's structure and its priorities around a new strategy that he labeled "employees first, customers second." The announcement must have come as a shock to the assembly of 300 customer representatives, most of whom were from the senior leadership of their companies. However, Nayar's decision was the end result of a long period of thought and reflection by Nayar and his own senior leadership. HCLT needed to change to stay competitive, and Nayar's bold plan was to focus less on competing for customers in the short term and more on serving employees in order to win in the long term.
Nayar had taken the CEO seat after a long time with HCL technologies. He started with the company in 1985, when it was still a small start-up with $10 million in sales. Eventually, he founded a smaller, entrepreneurial venture called Comnet inside of the HCLT parent company, and Comnet would grow quickly, along with the rest of HCLT. In 2000 HCLT had grown to one of the largest IT service providers in India, with $5 billion in revenue, and much of that revenue came from HCL Technologies.
From 2000 to 2005, however, the company started losing ground to its competitors. Although, as a company, HCLT was still growing 30 percent a year, its competitors were growing even faster, at 40 to 50 percent, and HCLT was falling to the bottom of the rankings. In 2005, when Nayar was moved to the helm of HCLT, the company was stuck in the middle of the pack and facing lots of problems, including low morale and a turnover rate of 17 percent—far higher than its competitors.
The impetus for Nayar's transformation came from two separate but similar customer interactions he had. In both, Nayar met with a customer and with several HCLT employees to debrief. The first meeting was with the CIO of a global company for which HCLT had just successfully completed a significant and time-critical project. Nayar entered the conference room to find that the CIO and HCLT employees were already assembled.
To his surprise, the CIO nearly ignored Nayar's entrance. "I was expecting to get a big smile and a handshake from him, to accept a pat on the back, and to hear champagne corks popping," Nayar recalled. Instead, the CIO focused his attention on Nayar's employees. He praised their hard work, the quality of their service, and how enjoyable it was to work with them as a team. Then he briefly turned to Nayar to say how lucky Nayar was to have these employees on board at HCLT. "I was surprised and touched by the emotion in his voice."
In the second meeting, Nayar was again assembled with HCLT employees and another of their corporate customers, but this time to debrief on a failed project. Nayar expected to apologize, explain the reasons for the failures, and then outline a plan to correct their mistakes. But before he could apologize, the customer spoke up, looking Nayar directly in the eyes. "Vineet, your people did everything they could. The problem was that your organization didn't support them properly. If it had, I'm sure they would have been able to meet our objectives." Nayar was surprised by how angry the customer was with him and HCLT, but struck by the fact that he held no animosity toward the team he'd been working with.
These two memorable interactions, and a host of others with customers and employees, led Nayar to rethink how HCLT was creating and capturing value. Nayar started reflecting on what he called the "value zone," the place where value was created for customers. If HCLT was truly a service-based business, serving the IT needs of its customers, then the value zone needed to be on the front lines, where employees interacted directly with customers. Those employees played the most important role in bringing real value to customers, and the rest of HCLT, he realized, should be thought of as "enabling functions."
This excerpt ends on page 28 of the hardcover edition.