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Disconnecting from work email

Jeremy Rachlin

Jeremy Rachlin

A recent health and fitness article featured on Washington’s WTOP radio perked my ears – “Checking work e-mail outside office is killing your mental health.” The article discusses the findings of a study from Virginia Tech University titled “Killing me softly: electronic
communications monitoring and employee and significant-other well-being.”

The thesis of the story did not surprise me. Nor will it surprise many practicing lawyers: “researchers recommend more boundaries between office and home life.” The study concluded that not only are employees adversely affected by frequent checking of work email from home, but the relationships between these employees and their significant others also suffer.

I’m certain that my experience is not unique. I am frequently told by my wife and daughter to put my phone away at the dinner and breakfast tables. In fact, I was apparently so guilty of checking my phone at breakfast that my daughter established a rule that breakfast time is a no-electronics time. Yes, child became parent. So for those 15 minutes when she eats “Mr. Waffle” (a Jeremy Rachlin culinary-plating-creation involving two Eggo waffles, a blueberry, and a banana) and I eat my daily bowl of oatmeal, we talk about school, soccer or anything else and just spend quality time together.

Lawyers are a client service industry. Our job is to serve and represent our clients. We frequently tout our “client responsiveness” when we market ourselves. And, yes, smartphones certainly make that job easier. But there is a certain balance that we can (and should) strike. We can (and should) set reasonable expectations for responding to email. I respectfully suggest that barring an extraordinary circumstance (i.e., a true emergency, trial prep, or something along those lines), it is reasonable that an email sent to us at a late hour long after dark not receive a response until the following morning.

Again, I, too, am guilty of violating this rule. It eats me up when I go to bed with unanswered work emails in my inbox. I don’t sleep well nor fall asleep well. The solution for me should not be to clear my inbox every night right before bed. The solution for me perhaps should be to set my
iPhone so that it only “pushes” work email to my phone when I check the Inbox – not a constant
“push” anytime I am connected to Wi-Fi. And, in turn, perhaps I should not check the Inbox and
push work email to my phone at any time after a certain reasonable hour.

Candidly, in our profession I seriously doubt we will ever be at a place where we do not check work email at home. It’s just not possible given what we do and who we are responsible to. But perhaps all of us (myself included) would do well by ourselves and our families to try to establish firmer boundaries so that we minimize the disruption to our home lives by constant monitoring of work email. To quote the great Lester Freamon from “The Wire,” “The job will not save you, Jimmy. It won’t make you whole, it won’t fill your a** up.”

Jeremy Rachlin is a principal at Bulman, Dunie, Burke & Feld Chtd. in Bethesda, where he practices estates and trusts and civil litigation.