Leaders Should Limit Email Monitoring to Improve Performance
We’ve all heard that it’s best to limit the amount of times we check our email throughout the workday, but this could be especially true for leaders. Researchers at Michigan State University found that managers are less likely to achieve their goals and be good leaders when they are constantly focused on incoming email.
“Like most tools, email is useful, but it can become disruptive and even damaging if used excessively or inappropriately,” explains Russell Johnson, lead on this research and management professor at Michigan State. “When managers are the ones trying to recover from email interruptions, they fail to meet their goals, they neglect manager responsibilities and their subordinates don’t have the leadership behavior they need to thrive.”
To combat the overwhelm felt by the onslaught of incoming email, managers focus on completing smaller tasks for the sake of feeling productive instead of exhibiting leader behaviors.
“Interestingly, we found that managers scaled back ‘leader behaviors’ more so than initiating ‘structure behaviors,'” Johnson says. “The former behaviors relate to motivating and inspiring subordinates, talking optimistically about the future or explaining why work tasks are important; the latter are more concrete and task-focused, such as setting work goals, assigning duties or providing feedback.”
To test how email demand affects managers, researchers collected surveys from a group twice a day for two weeks. In these surveys, managers reported on the frequency and demands of emails and their perceived progress on core job duties, as well as how often they demonstrated effective transformational leader behaviors and structure leader behaviors.
Johnson and his colleagues found that on days when managers reported high email demands, they reported less work progress and fewer effective leader behaviors. This lack of leader behavior causes subordinates to also suffer.
“When managers reduce their leader behavior and structure behaviors, it has been shown that employees’ task performance, work satisfaction, organizational commitment, intrinsic motivation and engagement all decrease, and employees’ stress and negative emotions increase,” Johnson explains.
For the sake of both employee and manager work performance, managers should limit how often they check email and set aside specific times throughout the day to manage their inboxes.
When you’re coaching clients who are working on improving their productivity and/or effectiveness as a leader, consider how their email habits may be impeding their performance and ask related powerful questions if you think it could lead them to some clarity.