It's your iPhone, buzzing with a notification from work.

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Your work email.


If you're like most people, you may become stressed when trying to stay connected to work after hours, feeling like you always need to respond to texts, calls or emails. Experts say that it is all about setting boundaries.

"You have to set restrictions for your own sanity," said Sheryl Broedel, a former human resources professional and now a UND lecturer on business communication and technical writing.

Setting boundaries early and clearly communicating them with coworkers and superiors is important to being an effective employee, according to Broedel.

But should you feel obligated to answer work emails, or work-related questions via phone call or text, off the clock?

In some businesses, being on the clock or on call all hours of the day is expected, Broedel said.

But, if you're working at a company that doesn't have that kind of culture, Broedel recommends deleting work email off of your smartphone entirely.

"My generation still thinks that a 48-hour turnaround time is the norm," Broedel said. "That allows for a weekend, to respond the next morning, a number of things."

The millennial generation tends to believe email requests should be responded to in five minutes or instantly, Broedel said.

It is acceptable to respond immediately with a note saying the message was received, but you are waiting to do work until you're on the clock again, Broedel said.

However, there is a downside to responding to every email and text message within minutes of receiving it, Broedel said.

Every time you break from doing work to check or respond to emails and text messages, it takes about 63 seconds to refocus on the task you were doing.

In a 40-hour work week, Broedel said, if someone is responding to emails every five minutes they are wasting nearly eight hours of their week refocusing on their work.

"Every time we check that smartphone we're using down time, wasting our time," Broedel said. "Humans think we are great multitaskers. We can work and communicate at the same time, but we are incredibly poor at it."

To combat this, Broedel recommends setting a window of time in the morning designated specifically for taking phone calls and answering emails or text messages as well as a time later in the workday.

And if you must be available after hours, Broedel said, set an evening time when you will also be checking emails, text messages and voicemails.

"That will limit distraction inside and out of work," Broedel said. "Smartphones are very intrusive technology."

Intrusive as they may be, smartphones can also help prioritize communication, Broedel said.

With the ability to "flag" or "snooze" emails, technology can help prioritize what to respond to first.

"In this increasingly disconnected world, how we communicate matters," Broedel said.

The richer the medium of communication, the more value the recipient of the communication will put on it, Broedel advised.

So a phone call may be taken more seriously or seen as more urgent than a text message or an email. Now that "snail mail" is not so widely used, emails are a more formal mode of communication in years past. They can be used to document business decisions, book client meetings and more, Broedel said.

"We become more stressed as communication loses richness," Broedel said. "We lose that richness of communication that establishes relationships, which is what business communication is all about."

Better communication

Broedel discussed several other key points for communicating in a more civil manner in the workplace:

• Slow down and take time when communicating in the workplace. Whether it's an email or a face-to-face interaction, try to plan it out thoughtfully, Broedel said. "We're always under pressure at work, always running late," Broedel said. "And when we communicate or respond off the cuff without planning, it does not always come across well."

• Be respectful by actively listening to a co-worker or manager. "We have to actively listen to what someone is saying, their tone of voice and body language," Broedel said. "It is so easy to misread nonverbal cues, so we need to cultivate the empathy skills to better understand."

• "Good old-fashioned manners matter," Broedel said. "Don't just shoot off emails. Run across the hall and give someone a message in person. It will be more meaningful."