If you’ve ever wondered if that out-of-hours email from your boss is a sneaky test of your loyalty and commitment, then you may just be right.
As CEO of US sports website Barstool Sports, Erika Nardini recently told The New York Times: “Here’s something I do: If you’re in the process of interviewing with us, I’ll text you about something at 9pm or 11am on a Sunday just to see how fast you’ll respond.”
She expects a response within three hours.
Nardini is not the only boss to adopt this little loyalty test. I used to work with a boss who was kind enough to share his genius employee test with me. He scheduled emails he wrote during the day to be sent later that night or on the weekend, not just to new hires, but also to keep longer-term employees on their toes.
The beauty of the email response test is its simplicity. None of this fretting over convoluted performance reviews, work styles or personality tests. It’s also a handy way to lead by example in creating a 24/7-all-or-nothing work culture.
There’s just one problem with this approach: it doesn’t work. It’s a disaster for both morale and productivity.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s raised my middle finger at a flashing email alert in the middle of the night, before dragging myself out of bed, all bleary-eyed, to indulge some non-essential brain-fart from my boss. Having had my sleep disrupted, I’ve then tossed and turned for the rest of the night while making plans to get onto seek.com.au first thing in the morning.
Another boss used to schedule mind-numbingly boring all-staff phone hook-ups on Friday nights. This only started after his wife left him and everyone suspected that the meetings were just a way to fill in the void.
If bosses cared about productivity they’d be booting us out of the office on Friday evenings instead of creating reasons to keep us working. The research is in and it all points in one direction: time away from work makes people more, rather than less, productive.
A four-year study conducted by Harvard Business School researchers Leslie A. Perlow and Jessica L. Porter, in several North American offices of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that enforcing employee time off, which included one day off during the week, actually improved job satisfaction, open communication and increased the value that employees delivered.
As Perlow and Porter write: “Beyond the intended work/life benefits, the participants reported more open communication, increased learning and development, and a better product delivered to the client.”
Similarly, a study published in a 2014 edition of Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes – yes, there’s a journal for everything – found that late-night smartphone use sapped employees of the energy to engage fully in work the next day.
The study’s authors found that when it comes to devices and sleep interruption, smartphones are in a league of their own. Smartphones are more disruptive to a good night’s sleep than computers, tablets and television.
I’m not suggesting that bosses should never send late-night emails or schedule out of hours meetings. Every now and then a business-critical issue will crop up that simply can’t wait. But if this happens more than rarely, then I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that your boss is a bit rubbish at their job and has got bigger issues to worry about than employee loyalty.
The notion that an employee’s value can be measured by how much of their life they are willing to sacrifice to the job is a product of a macho work culture, that values perception over results. It values the performance of busy work, rather than the quality of work. And everyone loses.
If you’re applying for a job with a boss who thinks that email responsiveness is a measure of your commitment and ability, then it may be worth considering your other options. It’s probably a better indicator that your future boss can’t manage his or her time, doesn’t have a life, doesn’t want you to have one either – or all three.