What Lies Behind Your Urgent Need to Answer Work E Mails?

Answering work emails immediately isn't a harmless act. In fact, it hides psychological processes related to stress and anxiety that must be controlled.
What Lies Behind Your Urgent Need to Answer Work E Mails?
Sara González Juárez

Written and verified by the psychologist Sara González Juárez.

Last update: 01 March, 2023

You’re on your day off, or on vacation, but your phone notifications are still coming in. You see that a work email has arrived, open it, and feel the urgent need to answer it. This happens even if it doesn’t really correspond to you. In addition, you know that they know that it doesn’t correspond to you. So, why do you do it?

There are many answers to this question. In fact, it’s really important to analyze what lies behind your urgent need to answer work e-mails, since these implications tend to extend beyond the individual field. They’re often linked to society and technology.

Therefore, to try and avoid the deterioration of your mental health caused by your urgent need to answer work emails and your inability to disconnect from work, we’re going to see what causes it and how you can overcome it.

Woman at the computer at night
The fear of dismissal or negative consequences is usually behind the urgent concern to answer an email.

Your urgent need to answer work emails

Unfortunately, many people work in environments where productivity means putting in overtime, skipping breaks, and eating in front of the computer. Immediacy, commitment and, on many occasions, fear are required on the part of the employee.

It’s the stress and anxiety caused by these contexts that often lead you to an urgent need to answer work emails, even on your day off. Let’s find out more.

The urgency bias of email

A study conducted in 2021 revealed that, with emails, we tend to overestimate the urgency with which the person who writes to us wants an answer. In other words, when a worker receives a work email, they consider that a reply is needed more urgently than is really the case.

Behind this bias, which the experimenters call the email urgency bias, lies the increasing equating of productivity with always being connected, even outside of working hours. In addition, they also found a correlation between this bias, high-stress levels, and reduced overall psychological well-being.

The never-ending days

It can never be said enough times that you must disconnect when you leave work. Those who insist on staying connected are often subjected to work cultures that encourage endless hours of work. It causes a continuous state of alert in them when they receive work notifications.

This kind of pressure usually comes from those in positions with greater responsibility than the employee. For example, bosses and team managers. Although there may be no direct pressure on their part, when the employee sees them connected 24 hours a day, even on their vacations and days off, they feel pressurized to do the same.

The sense of responsibility

Feeling an urgent need to respond to work emails can also occur when there’s no pressure from superiors. For example, you may be genuinely interested in getting things done. You also might have a sense of responsibility to your colleagues. For instance, when you’re on your day off and a co-worker needs help, you answer their email.

Although these actions are born from empathy and camaraderie, they continue to have an impact on your well-being. While you’re not afraid of being fired or harassed by the company, you’re afraid that your colleagues will suffer negative consequences if you refuse to answer their emails.

Improvised teleworking

The COVID-19 pandemic promoted teleworking. Indeed, it forced companies to adapt quickly, with many consequent losses. Companies were encouraged to apply the same criteria of a physical office to a computer in a quarantined home. This gave rise to a multitude of complications. In turn, they affected the mental health of workers.

In this regard, a survey was conducted by the WHO in coordination with Carlos III University (Spain). They found that 32 percent of the participants reported a significant deterioration in their mental health since the start of the pandemic.

Teleworking is already on the way to being regulated in a more effective and healthy way. That said, there remains a great deal of work to be done.

How to overcome the urgent need to answer work emails

As you may have noticed, sometimes, leaving a work email unanswered requires an exercise in self-care that goes beyond mere resistance to responding. Here are some tips to balance your emotions and your actions:

  • Remember that the company you work for has the obligation to respect your breaks. There are laws in place that mean organizations must impose limits on their use of communication technologies. Moreover, they must guarantee the right to rest periods for workers. Therefore, they shouldn’t contact you when you’re not working.
  • Separate your devices from work and your daily life. If you have the possibility, use a computer, cell phone, or another device apart from your personal one for work purposes. Then, when your rest periods arrive, you can effectively cut communication with the company you work for.
  • Control your use of digital media. Your brain’s reward circuits are activated by devices such as cell phones or tablets. This means, to a certain extent, your attention constantly diverts to those non-stop notifications. Consequently, reducing your use of technology will help you feel less panicky when you receive a work email.
  • Go to a psychologist. If you constantly experience the urgent need to answer work emails, it’s highly likely that you’re also suffering from stress, anxiety, burnout syndrome, or other disorders linked to excessive work. A psychology professional will provide you with the necessary resources to overcome this. Moreover, they’ll help you restructure your thoughts regarding these unhealthy practices.
Man doing therapy with psychologist
Psychological therapy helps manage work stress and burnout syndrome.

Digital empathy in companies

Finally, if you’re responsible for a work team, bear in mind digital empathy. Don’t forget that there are thousands of ways to contribute to a healthy work environment. For instance, you can schedule the sending of emails or indicate that a response isn’t urgent, among many other actions. Above all, remember that no one performs 100 percent if they never disconnect.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • COSMO-SPAIN. (s. f.). https://portalcne.isciii.es/cosmo-spain/
  • Giurge, L. M., & Bohns, V. K. (2021). You don’t need to answer right away! Receivers overestimate how quickly senders expect responses to non-urgent work emails. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes167, 114-128.
  • Becker, W. J., Belkin, L. Y., Conroy, S. A., & Tuskey, S. (2021). Killing me softly: Organizational e-mail monitoring expectations’ impact on employee and significant other well-being. Journal of Management47(4), 1024-1052.
  • BOE.es – BOE-A-2018-16673 Ley Orgánica 3/2018, de 5 de diciembre, de Protección de Datos Personales y garantía de los derechos digitales. (s. f.). https://www.boe.es/buscar/doc.php?id=BOE-A-2018-16673

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.