If you're the boss, what you do (and don't do) sends a powerful message to your people. If you send emails to your people late at night and before sunrise on Saturday and Sunday, your most ambitious employees will respond to those emails right away. If you keep that up long enough, you might boost the stamina and performance of your best people -- or you might burn them out.

The "Sunday Scaries"

This comes to mind in thinking about a Wall Street Journal report that more business leaders are using Sunday night email missives to start their company's work weeks on Sunday night instead of Monday morning.

Is this a great idea that gives the company an edge on its competition or a prescription for sending your best talent out the door?

The Journal article seems to lean more heavily on the idea that starting work Sunday night is contributing to employee burnout. It cites World Health Organization research that describes burnout as a syndrome brought on by "chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." 

And the widespread use of smartphones and other technology creates pressure on workers to respond at all hours -- and that's particularly bad on Sunday nights. Last fall LinkedIn conducted a survey of more than 1,000 working adults and 80 percent said that Sunday nights they suffered a stress surge related to their jobs. What else, a whopping 91 percent of millennials said Sunday night was a stress booster, the Journal reported.

Chris Mullen, a former college administrator, used to spend the final hours of the weekend cleaning up his inbox, sharing thoughts with staff, and requesting status updates on projects. But according to the Journal, his colleagues felt Mullen was triggering the "Sunday Scaries." Mullen was puzzled when his staff would answer his emails right after he sent them. And they said, "[We respond to your email Sunday night] because you're the one sending it!'"

More Information Can Dispel The Sunday Scaries

I think starting the work week Sunday night can be a great idea -- depending on how you do it. When I read this Journal article, I remembered what Aron Ain, CEO of Lowell, Mass.-based workforce-management software provider, Kronos told my students last December.

Ain stops looking at his inbox on Friday evening to clear his mind and then starts looking at it again on Sunday night. I don't know whether he sends out emails then or not. But what Ain does with email reflects one of Kronos's deeply held values -- that family comes first and work should not get in the way. So when he takes the weekend away from email, I'd guess his employees feel comfortable doing the same.

If you take the weekend off and your employees follow your lead, then I think sending out emails on Sunday night can be a great idea that gives the company an edge over rivals who start work on Monday morning.

First of all, I definitely think workers need to clear their minds over the weekend and should spend time with their families. The reason is simple: I agree with Ain that family is most important and that taking time off from work will enable people to think and act more effectively when it's time to get back to work.

Second, if most people are feeling the Sunday Scaries already, you will help diminish their anxiety if you send out emails on Sunday night.

How so? I think free floating anxiety comes from a lack of information about what will happen when people get to work.

By sending out emails Sunday night, you are telling your people what's on your mind -- which may initially boost their anxiety. But it will also give your people a clearer picture of what problems they'll be expected to solve when they arrive at the office on Monday morning.

How Sunday Emails Can Give Your Company a Competitive Advantage

If your people are anything like me, they will start thinking in the background about potential solutions. And after sleeping on those problems, may well come in Monday morning with fresh solutions.   

Mullen -- who is now a director of Kronos's human-resources consulting arm -- has learned his lesson. He realizes that his position of power will make people feel that they need to respond right away. So he draft his emails on Sunday night but doesn't send them until the morning, noted the Journal.

I think it would be better if he sent them out Sunday night and told his people not to respond until Monday morning.

Published on: Jul 12, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.