Most Workers Still Check Email Over Long Weekends -- Do You?

Apr 02, 2015 -
“I’m away from my desk with limited access to email,” you type. “I’ll respond to your note when I return.” Then you sashay out the door on your way to a long weekend. False. Your automated response is a lie. You check email on your phone over the weekend, and everybody knows it. Eerie-but-awesome email tracking service Yesware studied open rates for an entire year to get a grip on how we handle email during long weekends and holidays. 23 million emails later, they pretty much have us figured out.

We’re all working over holiday weekends

Even if you’re not in the office, you’re probably keeping up over long weekends with the help of various devices. It’s so much easier to respond to an email when you see it, rather than dwell on it until you return to the office. Zoom! That quick email response from your phone might mean a to-do checked off your list. Memorial Day and Labor Day had the lowest results in the study, indicating that offices are still honoring these holidays by paying for employees to take the day off. “It becomes significantly harder to connect with anyone over email around Memorial Day and Labor Day,” Bernie Reeder, Content Marketing and Engagement Manager at Yesware, writes. “On average, users took about 50 minutes longer than usual to open and respond to emails.” Still, 50 minutes isn’t a huge lag time. But compare Memorial Day and Labor day to holidays like Columbus Day. (Note: If you get Columbus Day off, please raise your hand high so we can come work with you.) “We found that Columbus Day was by far the busiest holiday, with salespeople actually sending more emails on October 13 than regular days in the year,” Reeder reports. It sounds like we have some go-getters on our hands. What about before a holiday? Fewer emails get sent in the days just before President’s Day than on a normal Thursday and Friday. It’s likely that many people are headed out for an extended break on those days. The lesson: you have a better chance of getting your message opened if you send it just before President’s Day. On the holiday itself? More emails get opened than on a normal Monday. Those of us who work on President’s Day must be determined to get to inbox zero.

We’re addicted to email

An important factor to remember when considering this study is that many workplaces don’t give paid time off for MLK Day, President’s Day, or other federal holidays. Yet for those of us who do get those holidays off, there’s still a lot of pressure to stay on top of projects. No one has to remind you how bad it feels to come back from vacation and find 538 emails waiting for you. That constant urge you feel to refresh your inbox, whether you’re in the office or on the road, is all your brain’s fault. “It’s kind of like playing a slot machine.” Reeder explains. “We never know when we’ll get a satisfying email, so we keep checking again and again, seeking that rewarding ‘hit.’ This also explains why we might take time on holidays to check for new email, only to ignore it once it arrives.”

Takeaways for the modern email addict (Click here to tweet.)

  • Realize that we’re not all working on the same, steady 9-to-5 schedule. Holidays are fluid, and more workers are making their own schedules.
  • Plan to be prepared. If you expect to work on a project or deadline over a long weekend, contact coworkers or information sources well in advance of the holiday. If someone receives your email while at a family picnic, it’s probably too late for them to help you.
  • Be smarter with your email. Lean on tools like Boomerang for Gmail, which allows you to respond to emails but delay the send, so recipients don’t see your response for hours or days or even weeks later, depending on the time frame you choose. That prevents their subsequent response from hitting your inbox again five minutes after you’ve replied.
  • Step away from your email. Not forever — just for a little while, to help your brain reset. When you can take a moment away from your work, you should seize the chance to relax.
When are you most likely to tame the inbox beast? Are you able to truly step away over long weekends? Lisa Rowan is a writer, shop owner, and podcast host living in Washington, D.C