Email etiquette and expectations for night owls?
March 30, 2016 5:26 AM   Subscribe

After reading this WSJ article about two types of responders to the work-life balance (the "integrators" who mix up work time and home time, and the "separators" who try to draw a line between the two), I realize that I fall firmly into the first camp. I often write emails at midnight or later, after the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. But is this unfair to the recipients of my late-night messages?

I'm not talking about the quality of my messages; I think my emails at 1am are about as legible as my messages at 1pm. I'm asking about the implicit expectation I might be sending to my colleagues or my students when I send them a note that's timestamped in the wee hours of the morning. It's not like I expect an immediate response, but I think that there is some pressure along the lines of "I'm working around the clock, so why aren't you?"

I've gotten messages from my supervisor (a notoriously talented and hard-working woman) that were sent at 2am or later, and I'm always impressed (and a little intimidated) by how many hours she puts into her job. I imagine that others feel the same. But on the other hand, I don't want to stop sending late-night messages, because there are plenty of days (after playing with the kids, helping my wife with dinner, walking the dogs, doing laundry, paying bills, and so on) when that's the only time I can catch up with work.

I've tried putting the late-night messages in a queue and then sending them out at 8am when I'm back at work, but then I don't get the immediate pleasure of sending out an email and clearing it from my inbox (and it really is better, I think, to just send them and be done with them). So, what do you do?
posted by math to Work & Money (67 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
So long as you don't expect others to respond right back send them whenever you feel like it.

I work for a global company with lots of folks who are up at all sorts of weird hours. Everyone thinks I'm crazy because I'm an early riser sending out emails at 6:00 AM. But the folks in Pune think nothing of it.

So send away!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:30 AM on March 30, 2016 [14 favorites]

I'm an integrator. I will send messages at 2 AM, but sometimes that's when I catch up from my "work flexibility" during the day. Others, including my boss, will not respond until their own time zone's office hours.

I don't think much about it, including if someone sends me messages in the wee small hours, but that could be because I work in a global firm. There's too much to worry about.
posted by heigh-hothederryo at 5:34 AM on March 30, 2016

I never notice time stamps.
posted by PinkMoose at 5:34 AM on March 30, 2016 [10 favorites]

From my personal experience where I am a separator for most of my career (with no negative impact as far as I can tell):

When it's from my superior it's unfair and sends out unnecessary and unfair pressure and I feel like I have to respond at least first thing in the morning.

When I receive it from a fellow colleague, I sometimes roll my eyes at them depending on the content of the email but otherwise no biggie. I don't think it really effects my overall impression of them unless this type of work practice bleeds into all other aspects of our interaction (like being overly demanding of my attention and thinking my work revolves around their work when it doesn't).

I try not to send such out of hours messages to my subordinates. If I do it's because it's urgent or we're in some weird time zone situation, like I'm travelling or something.

I do not send such messages to my boss because I think it looks a bit kiss assy and like I said I'm a separator and I'm probably trying not to work during those hours anyway.
posted by like_neon at 5:35 AM on March 30, 2016 [26 favorites]

It's only 'unfair' if you insisted on or expected immediate responses, but I think that's true of anything (texts, emails, voicemail etc.) where you leave someone a message. As long as your recipients know and understand that no, you don't expect them to answer on demand, it's okay.
posted by easily confused at 5:36 AM on March 30, 2016 [7 favorites]

I think context is important here. It sounds like you are an academic of some variety. I think the only thing an email from an academic at 1:00 AM communicates, beyond its specific content, is that you are busy and work when you can. For the record, I both send and receive emails to and from colleagues and students in the middle of the night all the time. While some people are good at separating their work life into the hours they are in the office, not doing so seems to be a norm in the context of colleges and universities.
posted by jamaal at 5:37 AM on March 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you are really worried about it you can probably schedule the emails to actually send at 8 AM, regardless of when they were actually written. That way you write when it's convenient for you and you don't have to worry about what message that may send.
posted by COD at 5:41 AM on March 30, 2016 [36 favorites]

For lots of people who own smartphones with push notifications an email is as "invasive" as receiving a text message. It depends on your audience if this is an issue or not, but an angle to consider.
posted by chrispy108 at 5:52 AM on March 30, 2016 [8 favorites]

I strongly agree with COD - especially if you have direct reports who have the sort of personalities where they'll feel like they must respond ASAP.

(I actually assume the really bad awkward time email senders that don't suffer from insomnia or have small kids at home are actually scheduling those emails to make it look like they are working around the clock)
posted by JPD at 5:52 AM on March 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

I notice time stamps, and agree with COD that you should set up messages to send during business hours.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:53 AM on March 30, 2016 [7 favorites]

As separator, I sometimes identify people I'll have to hold my boundaries a little more firmly against by time stamps - like others have said, I don't mind if YOU want to send me emails at all hours of the day, but I may start bracing myself to turn down 8 pm meeting invites from you or to make it clear I won't be responding at 3 am or on Saturday, if I get the feeling that's what you're expecting. Otherwise, as long as you're doing it just because that suits you and not because you're hoping to have an effect on others (often I just feel sorry for the sender - it doesn't really strike me as impressive or intimidating), I don't see a problem.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:03 AM on March 30, 2016 [8 favorites]

Last year, a big law firm announced a new policy prohibiting night and weekend work emails. It was an April fools joke; it didn't go over well.
posted by thursdaystoo at 6:06 AM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

That's a very interesting article. I tend to the integrator side as well, but I really appreciated that my boss explicitly told me that she likes to use the Wi-Fi on her commuter bus home to catch up on emails, but that I shouldn't take that as an indicator that I need to be doing work beyond work hours. We've also had discussions about working styles - working late vs putting in an hour after dinner etc. I don't think it matters so much for students our colleagues, but those directly reporting to you might appreciate such a conversation.
posted by peacheater at 6:10 AM on March 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

There are email tools that queue messages for you and send whenever you want. Boomerang is a free one for gmail. I'd try it--I know some folks that do notice time stamps and depending on who the sender is it could influence the response if they see it was sent at midnight the night before.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:15 AM on March 30, 2016

Late-night email is a very Ask thing: go ahead and send it to me, but don't expect me to reply (unless it really is an emergency -- in which case you should text or call).

I have four kids, so I am busy in the evening: for example, I know when my favorite stores close, and how late I can leave and still get my shopping done. But if I email someone after the house is quiet (like after 10:00 pm), I don't expect them to reply. Similarly, the Scoutmaster for my sons' troop is an early bird, and regularly sends out his emails right around 5:40 am -- but that's just because that is the time he has to do Scout stuff. *shrug*

If I do see a note from my boss I will most likely read it, but I may or may not close it up again right away to reply the next day.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:16 AM on March 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm an academic. I send emails whenever I get to them.

Personally I keep a work address and a for-fun address. If I don't want to respond to work emails, then I do not check that address.

It seems to me separators should do this, rather than expecting everyone who might email them to bend to the separator's schedule.

The exception is if some of your emails (or some of those the people you're writing to get) *are* urgent. Then it would seem unfair.
posted by nat at 6:16 AM on March 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

I don't like to see emails at ridiculous hours, particularly if they're emails that involve multiple people. I feel like it sets an expectation that all participants should be doing email all the time, particularly those of us on the lower rungs. (I hope you aren't emailing an admin at 1am! I often get, like, ten emails from a difficult to reach faculty member all at once at some weird hour, and it makes things difficult.)

Another thought: are you accessible for time-sensitive stuff during normal business hours? I really, really hate it when someone is "too busy" to deal with urgent stuff during the day and then sends "ZOMG take care of this Frowner" emails at 2am - if I see them out of hours, I feel like I have to respond to them because we're already behind-hand.
posted by Frowner at 6:17 AM on March 30, 2016 [19 favorites]

(Please know that people who are junior to you may not have the option of waiting to deal with your emails until they are at work. If I get an email from a senior person at darkness-of-the-soul o'clock, I have to deal with it, will I or never so, or look like a bad admin.)
posted by Frowner at 6:19 AM on March 30, 2016 [17 favorites]

Counter point to a lot of the responses here ... I've been on teams where one person started sending messages late at night, and over the course of a year the whole team escalated to being perpetually online. It really really sucked.

You should absolutely broach this in conversations with your colleagues - if you have casual conversations with them, ask how they feel about your late night emails. Tell them you don't expect a response, and explain why you work off hours.

You can also add a short note to the end of your emails saying "sorry for sending this off hours, this isn't urgent and can wait until next business day."

I'm also assuming you're not a manager - if you are JUST STOP DOING THIS. Just like never taking any vacation, it sets a bad example.

Last, some people might judge you on your timestamps, even if you think the content of your messages is totally normal. I've privately wondered "Wow, A must really not have their life under control right now if the only time they can get to this email is at 2AM ... "
posted by hyperion at 6:19 AM on March 30, 2016 [26 favorites]

If you are the boss of anyone you're sending emails to (or there is any expectation that you would be requesting the recipient to do something for you), I would be very careful with this. I have definitely witnessed someone checking their emails on a Sunday evening (yeah I know, personally I wouldn't even check them outside work hours) and going "oh god, why is [work guy] asking for this NOW? Can't it wait until the morning??". Even if you're not saying "hey can you do X now/ASAP/whatever", if you're not saying "hey can you do X at some point on Monday [or any other explicit during work time thing]" there's an implication that YOU are working on a Sunday and so the RECIPIENT should be too.

that's the only time I can catch up with work.

You have too much work. Doing it at home during unpaid overtime should not be the solution to this.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:22 AM on March 30, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'd just like to note that you're considering a change in your own successful work habits in order not to exert implicit pressure on others to change their own work habits. I'd say keep working in the way that works for you, and have the conversations peacheater mentioned above to ensure they keep working in the way that works for them.

Don't worry about other people getting email notifications on their smartphones at late hours; managing their own notifications and do-not-disturb settings is their responsibility.
posted by ejs at 6:23 AM on March 30, 2016 [16 favorites]

My standard job hours range from 9 am to a little bit after midnight. I usually must respond immediately.

I prefer my emails come in hours that I'm not likely to be asleep. I do watch email up until I fall asleep about 1 am, as well as through the night if I wake up even a bit, and I'll wake up fully to respond to email at 4 am. Yes, timing is REALLY important in my job.

You know what I think about the people that send me requests at 11:30 pm? That expect a response right then? It sucks. It really sucks. I still look bad because I didn't answer one from about 2 months ago. And the writer was drunk.

I have no problem answering anywhere from 9-9, and on the days I'm on the computer all the way till midnight it's fine. Outside of that, I will answer but you will go on my list of "assholes that require I wake and work for them."

It sounds like you aren't sending urgent things that need a middle of the night response, nor do you want the recipients to wake up to read it or respond. But your timing suggests that they should be paying attention right then.

Queue them up. Quit waking people up.
posted by littlewater at 6:23 AM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I notice the timestamps. It makes me think something a bit shitty, like "this person needs more fulfilling leisure activities" and "this person is ruining it for the rest of us [separators]." But for the most part it's not A Thing at all unless you come to me at 8am right as I walk in the door and start asking me about things from your 2am email. I just got to work, I haven't read it yet, and I'm eating oatmeal right now so please kindly fuck off.
posted by phunniemee at 6:26 AM on March 30, 2016 [31 favorites]

I firmly believe in the delineation of work and home, to the point where I find that WSJ article somewhat distasteful - instead of talking about individual "styles" we should be talking about workplaces' increasing expectation for people to be available after hours, with no added compensation.

Whether you mean to or not, you're moving the goalposts. One person's "this is just how I am" quickly becomes "well, that person does it." Even if nothing changes at your work, not everyone there will work forever. The more 2am emails someone receives over the course of their career, the more pressured they'll feel to do the same, the more it will seem like an expectation rather than just some "integrator's" personal style.

You admit to feeling intimidated by how many hours your supervisor puts in. I'm guessing she's just naturally a hard worker and doesn't actually intend to pressure everyone into working around the clock, right? Yet you're feeling the pressure.

Send those emails the next morning. It'll be a small inconvenience for you, but it may help avoid much larger future inconveniences for everyone you work with.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:40 AM on March 30, 2016 [30 favorites]

The more I read others' responses, the more I realize that the fact that I notice but don't care about time stamps is because I have the privilege of not caring - I'm not in a position where I'm worried that lack of immediate response will harm my advancement opportunities or put my job/paycheck at risk. So as you decide what you're going to do, I hope you'll give a lot of weight to the position of the people you're emailing - do they have reason to worry about such things? If you're dealing with students, are you tacitly teaching them that this is what professionals are "supposed" to do? Even with colleagues of the same level as you, are you contributing to a culture where late-night emails become the expected thing?

If the answer to any of these is yes, then I think your late-night emails can be causing harm, and it's on you to avail yourself of one or more of the strategies suggested here (auto-queue since you've already said that (manually?) queing didn't work for you, or else make sure it's very clear why you're doing this and that you aren't expecting immediate responses). It's good of you to ask, and I know there are legitimate reasons for some people to prefer writing late-night emails, but it does seem all too easy for that to cause unfair pressure or set a bad example.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:41 AM on March 30, 2016 [11 favorites]

In my organisation you are expected to explicitly note in your emails that you do not expect a response at the weekend or in the evening.

So someone (significantly more senior than me) sent me an email at 4pm on Sunday, and I didn't see it until Monday morning, but he literally underlined in the message that I should not do anything about it until Monday. And someone a little bit more senior than me was pulled up for not putting a similar message in an email he sent to me and others - in this second case he was 'on call' that weekend, but I was not.

We have found as an organisation that you can't just assume people know they don't need to work on weekends/evenings you have to make it quite clear that they shouldn't be. And that allowing people to do work at odd times shouldn't inconvenience people who choose to work in office hours.

I like this. I am a separator and I don't check emails once I leave the office. Because I do not work for the fourth emergency service.
posted by plonkee at 6:45 AM on March 30, 2016 [8 favorites]

I agree with the people who say you should queue them to send during business hours, unless there is a definite "we have no business hours and all co-worker interaction is asynchronous" work culture. Otherwise, you will possibly disturb people who don't turn off push notifications while they're having down time/sleeping (although that's really on them); or create conflict over expectations when and where people should be working; or put pressure on people junior to you to abandon their valid work-life balance rules.

At the very least, you're contributing to interpersonal conflicts--like noted above--where people have different opinions about whether employers should even expect us to be able to access work email when we're not on the clock, much less expect us to read and respond to them. That's certainly not your fault or even--really--your responsibility, but there is a simple, kind solution: write your emails when the fancy strikes you, but queue them to send when the work day begins. It's thoughtful and low friction.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:45 AM on March 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Totally use the queuing method. A disclaimer in the "signature" may be an option along with letting folks know your late night habit, but it just does not work for many. It's never bothered me personally, I can ignore or choose when to respond. Unfortunately so so many folks just can not resist that chime. Also some folks can not physically turn off the system due to a relative in a different time zone where a night time email response can be vital. Just don't contribute to the "email challenged" folks addiction.
posted by sammyo at 6:47 AM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Particularly with anyone who answers to you (anyone you outrank or students or what have you), I would say write them at night and send them in the morning. Whatever you intend, it's very common for people who get emails from bosses or professors in the middle of the night to absorb the message that perpetual availability is an objective good, and it's an almost impossible perception to entirely undo. Given that there's no particular urgency to them, send them in the morning (would be my vote).

It's like bosses who never take vacations and say, "But it's totally fine if my employees do!" You can't unsend the messages of your own behavior, and you can't persuade people you outrank that they shouldn't consider your behavior an example of what you consider professional and appropriate. You'll be doing people a solid if you separate the act of working (which you should do whenever you like, because who cares?) from the act of communicating, which involves both you and another person and therefore, I would argue, should respect their right to have work hours, whether or not you want to draw a boundary around your own.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 6:51 AM on March 30, 2016 [21 favorites]

I think several responders above are assuming you are in a corporate culture. Academia isn't the same, and I'm guessing it's what's relevant to you. In particular, it matters whom you're emailing-- admin staff do work 9-5 but many students work e.g. 11-7 (hah) and would be much happier getting a late night response than waiting for some arbitrary "but real people work 9-5" email queue to roll over.

Again, if there are people who cannot turn off their work email, then you really shouldn't be sending them non-urgent emails outside of regular hours. Emails to such people after hours had best actually be urgent.

(Do your students a favor though and be sure to indicate to them that you don't expect them to work at all hours.. for example, you might indicate that you are completely unavailable between the hours of A:00 and B:00 in the evening, and to not expect a response from you then. Respecting someone's right to have on-hours and off-hours does NOT mean arbitrarily deciding for them that those hours must be 9am to 5pm.)
posted by nat at 6:57 AM on March 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm pretty senior in my company, so I definitely have the privilege of being able to decide whether or not to respond to something without worrying about it impacting my career. But I still find it annoying when people send email at odd hours, unless I know they happen to be traveling or have some other extenuating circumstance. I don't feel an obligation to reply (and in fact I rarely look at my email off-hours anyway, so I don't usually see it until business hours), but I think it reflects poorly on that person's work habits and also risks sending the wrong message to others.

BTW, regarding this:

Personally I keep a work address and a for-fun address. If I don't want to respond to work emails, then I do not check that address. .... It seems to me separators should do this, rather than expecting everyone who might email them to bend to the separator's schedule.

Everyone should do this, completely aside from the work/life balance issues. DO NOT use your work email address for personal business. Ever. This gives your employer full access to your personal correspondence, and you will lose it all when/if you change jobs. There are lots of free email addresses available. There's no good reason to commingle your work and personal email.
posted by primethyme at 6:58 AM on March 30, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm an integrator, as is my immediate supervisor. I'm cool with that, but outside of emergencies I only ever send late-night emails to other known night owls because I know they'll get it. I assume that other people are like phunniemee in noticing timestamps and might be judgy about what me doing work in the middle of the night may mean about my personal life. Even though this isn't high school, you'll be seen as a gunner or keener if you're more of an integrator than your peers are.

This isn't necessarily an issue for everyone, but if you're like me and work at a company where your ability to command professional respect is strongly correlated with how Instagram-perfect and busy your personal life appears to's best to work late but actively give the appearance that you never do that. Perception's everything.
posted by blerghamot at 6:59 AM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I used to hate when my boss would send late-night emails that I'd see the next morning, especially because usually they were followed up exactly like phunniemee describes. In that case, they were just an aggressive act, especially in a roughly nine-to-five office. You could never do enough for that guy, and the emails always reflected that. I felt a lot of anger about it.

Now I'm in a workplace that is a lot more flexible, since the entire nature of what we do is fluid. I have the freedom to be out of office in the late afternoon, then come back at night to wrap up loose ends, take my time to think through and send email when it's quiet, etc.

You know what they say, though: Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. I'm no longer a separator, though I ardently fought for separation between my work life and personal life for years. And I'm OK with that. My 2 a.m. email is in no way a mandate to reply in the middle of the night or even first thing in the morning. It's just an artifact of my schedule and working remotely.

So I understand the hate of this in industries where separation is the norm or a late-night email pages someone, etc. I also understand not wanting to set a bad precedent, and I'm actually one of the first to urge people to maintain work-life balance. But everyone does that differently, and that means something different to me now than it did a year and a half ago.

If developers can commit code at 2 a.m. from locations around the world, I can certainly send email then. I don't expect that everyone else does this, and depending on my circumstances in a given week, I'm not always doing it, either. But I appreciate the flexibility to work when I can, rather than trying to stuff everything into a specific time frame. It actually removes a lot of pressure I used to feel when I worked in a more conventional setting, because even if I'm working late on a given night because I have a ton to do, 1. I can take a break and come back when it's quiet and 2. there are usually colleagues around in chat, so it's not just me toiling by myself in a dim room until late at night. That makes a huge difference in how I feel about it.

Of course, as in the example with my previous boss, I understand that reducing my own anxiety by working late isn't an unalloyed good. Sometimes it's better to reduce anxiety by setting boundaries and clear expectations for others. But in a situation where you're dealing with others' anxiety on a pressured time frame, late-night email is a valuable tool, even though it can sometimes send the unintended message that you're overloaded and can contribute to a feeling that those who work late are somehow throwing themselves on a grenade other colleagues won't. Oh well.
posted by limeonaire at 6:59 AM on March 30, 2016

Send them in the morning - if you are super-productive at night, this makes you look like you're super productive (and alert and at work) in the morning. It's win win. And don't make it 8:00 on the nose - make 8:47, if everyone starts work at 8:00am. Give them sometime to drink their coffee.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:03 AM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Another thing to consider is are the roles of the people you're emailing.

One slice of my job requires pretty constant low-level monitoring & availability. The rest doesn't. The availability isn't all from one source (that is, >10 people /could/ need to get hold of me.) So I have to look at every ping. I have a colleague who spends his Sundays organizing work and making requests of everyone and its _okay_ but man when that slew hits I sometimes feel the burn of having to look at all the tasks piling up. I wish he wouldn't but it's his right to, so here we are.

Basically, if the _only_ thing you're getting is a little skinner-pellet hit of joy on pressing send, it might be nice to queue it for 8 am. But I don't think you're being a jerk.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:04 AM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I disagree with the queueing suggestion.

For one thing, it eliminates the possibility that your recipient is another "integrator" who might appreciate seeing something and getting some work done overnight or very early in the morning.

As for people who have their work emails sent to their phone, they can turn off their notifications during non-working hours if they want.

Now, as for setting expectations, I think that if you are in a supervisory role, it's important that you communicate clearly that you may often work late, but you don't expect the same of others who have a more standard schedule. You can bring it up in a meeting now, and make sure you mention it to any new hires relatively early on.

Even if you are just communicating with colleagues at the same level, I think it makes sense to be clear in your messages that you aren't looking for an immediate response,as suggested above.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:04 AM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Strong vote in favor of queuing.

To some people, at least to people like me, the culture of constant contact is toxic. Please don't contribute to that culture.
posted by yesster at 7:21 AM on March 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

Doing it at home during unpaid overtime should not be the solution to this.

If you're an exempt employee (and while it's nto a perfect litmus test, if a substantial part of your work involves sending or responding to email, it's more likely that you are), this isn't unpaid overtime or too much work, it's normal.
posted by pullayup at 7:27 AM on March 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Since you mention students:

I'm a grad student. One of my profs has small kids and send email after they go to bed. No one worries about it, partly because he always leaves at four to pick up the kids and comes in when he feels like it in the morning. If you're in higher education, nobody cares, it's an integrator atmosphere, undergrads are used to getting messages at all hours and the faster turnaround benefits them.

If someone has an email alert on their phone, that's their problem. Everyone manages their own tech as they see fit, there are tons of tools for this.
posted by momus_window at 7:30 AM on March 30, 2016 [9 favorites]

The thing about saying "please do this on Monday, instant response not expected" is by the time I've read that, I've read the damn thing. Not only does that mean I've had to open up my email, but it means that now I'm thinking about the thing. Especially if it's something stressful, that can really mess up my sleep.

Also, believe me, anyone junior to you will be busy hamster-wheeling over whether you really mean that they can do it on Monday, or if that's just one of those things that people say while really meaning that a truly dedicated staffer would churn out the work right now.
posted by Frowner at 7:30 AM on March 30, 2016 [19 favorites]

(Also, research PIs often do mean "respond to this right now" when they email grad students at weird hours; this may not be true in the humanities, but it's true of at least 30% of the research PIs I know.)
posted by Frowner at 7:31 AM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

A lot depends on context.

Are you the exception in sending emails at 2AM, or does everyone in the office do it? Where I work, there are people up & working at all hours, both from time shifting & from living in different time zones, so the fact that someone in the UK sent me an email at 4AM Boston time does not surprise or upset me, or imply they expect an immediate response.

Are you sending emails to your subordinates? If I check email at 10PM & our CTO has emailed me personally, there is some pressure on me to answer it immediately.
posted by mr vino at 7:36 AM on March 30, 2016

Also, believe me, anyone junior to you will be busy hamster-wheeling over whether you really mean that they can do it on Monday, or if that's just one of those things that people say while really meaning that a truly dedicated staffer would churn out the work right now.

This simply isn't true for any subordinates that you actually want . If you make your expectations clear, and your employees can't understand them in a case where you are explicitly not asking them for something, how can you trust them to do what you need when you do ask them for something?

Send your emails when you get to them, OP. Make sure the recipients understand what your expectations are for a reply.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:43 AM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I brought this question to my husband, one of two partners in a law firm. If he gets an email after 9 pm or so from the other partner, while both parties know he isn't expected to respond till morning, he will think about it all night long, even if it's just "where should we schedule the holiday party?". My husband is a terrible sleeper and any late email will rob him of sleep.

For those that claim workers can turn their emails off --- HAHAHA!
Last fall when an adversary in my position stopped responding at 11 pm instead of midnight, I ate the business and lawyers fought over it for 3 weeks. Expensive!

Of course my lawyer husband can't ignore things either.
posted by littlewater at 7:43 AM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am definitely an integrator - if I'm not sleeping, it's a better than 90% chance that I'm working. I used to send or reply to e-mail at all hours, weekends, holidays or whatever.

I stopped doing that because it sent the message that I am available 24/7, and people started factoring the extra time in my assigned workload/expected delivery times; working nights and weekends is for picking up the slack and own-time projects, not for catering to increasingly bizarre demands.
posted by Dr Dracator at 7:45 AM on March 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you're an exempt employee (and while it's nto a perfect litmus test, if a substantial part of your work involves sending or responding to email, it's more likely that you are), this isn't unpaid overtime or too much work, it's normal.

Ugh, no, it isn't. "Doesn't get paid by the hour" doesn't mean "should be expected to be responsive to email and available to work 24/7." Do not let the corporations normalize this.

Nthing people who say it's a matter of context. When I was in academia, I might not even have noticed a late-night email until the next day. When I was in a high-pressure corporate context, a late-night email from a superior might well mean working all night. I was getting paid enough that it wasn't a wholly unreasonable proposition, but most people aren't. When I migrated into my next job in a public-service context (similar job, pay a fraction of previously), I refused to check my work email at night/on weekends unless I had a specific project going urgently.
posted by praemunire at 7:53 AM on March 30, 2016 [17 favorites]

Introvert or extrovert? Asker or teller? Butter side up or butter side down? Integrator or separator? Just different personality types, right?

I don’t buy it. Being an “integrator or separator” isn’t just a style, there are enormous social and economic pressures that are bigger than us as individuals, and most of those pressures push us to be “integrators”, which in practice, means working basically 24 hours a day. As lots of people commented above, especially if our bosses are sending out 3AM emails, we feel real pressure to do the same in order to be seen as responsible, necessary workers. The consequence for not participating in this kind of “work style” is potentially losing our jobs (and therefore losing everything else).

As much as some of us get genuine meaning or enjoyment from our paid work, it is not the only thing in this world. Our families, our hobbies, art, music, connecting with friends, volunteer work, getting to know our neighbors, exploring a new culture or language, helping out an elderly family member, creating a new board game, or just giving ourselves mental downtime all have real value, even if none of those things are valued by capitalism. I personally want a world where there is space for those things, and I don’t want to be part of a system that punishes people for prioritizing those things.

So therefore, when I leave work, I leave my work phone in the office. I don’t open my work email account, and although I share a couple stories from work with my family and friends, I try to even leave my work stress, ideas, and questions at work. My evenings are for me, and I personally believe that by choosing not to send work email during the evening or weekends, I am helping to protect my coworkers off-work time. I am modeling an idea that not just me, but also my colleagues who I care about, should have the right to just watch TV with their kids uninterrupted.

So in my opinion, I would suggest you queue your email for 8 AM. And further, although you didn’t ask, I suggest you ask yourself how much of your life you want to spend sending work emails.

Very few people lie on their death beds saying, “I wish I’d spent more time at work!”
posted by latkes at 7:55 AM on March 30, 2016 [39 favorites]

This simply isn't true for any subordinates that you actually want . If you make your expectations clear, and your employees can't understand them in a case where you are explicitly not asking them for something, how can you trust them to do what you need when you do ask them for something?

Hm, perhaps you're not from Minnesota. I've had many work situations where people tell you that it's "not urgent", etc, and then ding you if you don't do it right away.

Just idly - did you notice that you just said that no one should want to hire me? That's a pretty big statement to make about a stranger, and a bit hurtful.
posted by Frowner at 7:59 AM on March 30, 2016 [30 favorites]

The more I read others' responses, the more I realize that the fact that I notice but don't care about time stamps is because I have the privilege of not caring - I'm not in a position where I'm worried that lack of immediate response will harm my advancement opportunities or put my job/paycheck at risk.

This is me. I have a different sort of work/life balance where I'm an integrator but I'm also not in charge of anyone and I'll sometimes drop off of email for a few days because I'm doing something more important. So context is important here. We've all gotten those desk-clearing 5 pm on a Friday emails where people will say "Get to this ASAP/firs thting Monday" and I think that's dickish. Like, removing something from your own queue just to dump it in someone else's isn't cool. That said, maybe these are emails people want in which case you've maybe solved a problem by sending them off earlier. I also agree that any sort of implication, subtle or otherwise, that people should be doing email on nights and weekends is not cool. If ti works for you (it works for me, I feel you) that is great but it's important to be setting a tone that you expect people to reply when they're back at work.

Also be mindful about whether these emails are filling the space of some discussion on a topic in which case the people who get into it first may get what they want when the other people don't (this was corporate culture at MeFi under Matt and I hated it, they'd ask for feedback on a feature late some evening and take a few hours of feedback and then roll it out the next morning, so not cool.) You've admitted that queueing doesn't give YOU that same "It's done!" feeling but it may be worth looking at it from a communitarian viewpoint, all you've done is shifted that "It's NOT done" to someone else's desk. Maybe that's how things work in which case it's AOK but maybe it's not in which case reigning in your own impulses might be in order.
posted by jessamyn at 8:04 AM on March 30, 2016 [15 favorites]

I think it depends a lot on content. If it's answering a question, sure, any time is fine. If you are asking someone to do something, chastising someone, or basically writing anything that will keep someone up all night worrying about it, delay sending until the morning. (Speaking as the partner who regularly gets kept up with the tossing and turning about the week-destroying information that came in 10 minutes before bed.)

I'd also make a point of considering those emails to have been sent at 8am and not popping by in person for an answer at 8:05. I am on the receiving end of that a lot, and when it happens I drop that person to the bottom of the queue (for the most part I have the privilege to do so; again, go easy on subordinates.).
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:14 AM on March 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm a "separator" and have always tried to police that line as much as I can, regardless of workplace culture. But I agree with other answers here that the workplace culture is really going to determine how this plays out. Some have suggested that if people don't want notifications on their phones after work hours, they can just turn them off. That's true, but only if they're in a position where they will never be expected to respond to emails after work hours. I'm in one of those positions now, but in the past I wasn't so lucky. Then, I had a boss that fully expected responses to "Call me" emails at all hours. That meant that I couldn't turn off work email notifications even if I wanted to. So I had to skim through all emails to make sure it wasn't something urgent. Now, where there's an explicit recognition that employees aren't expected to field after-hours emails, I'd be less worried about sending something in the middle of the night.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:24 AM on March 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

This simply isn't true for any subordinates that you actually want . If you make your expectations clear, and your employees can't understand them in a case where you are explicitly not asking them for something, how can you trust them to do what you need when you do ask them for something?

Um, wow. No, this is not how managing works, although it is a start. I have been a manager who said one thing, and it was true ("take your vacation time! You've earned it!") and did another, no vacation, answering email on vacation. And my team suffered because they did try to keep up with the message my actions sent. Not because they couldn't follow directions but because they were smart, career-focused primates who read tribal behavior as well as email.

I've also had several bosses who were all "no one is expected to be on email all the time!" Until the One Thing happened and then it was weeks of drama.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:47 AM on March 30, 2016 [16 favorites]

Reading through this whole thread makes me realize that I may not have been clear about this issue with my own direct reports, so I just sent them a note saying, in part, "My awful schedule should not be your awful schedule."

Thank you all for reminding me about this differential in expectations.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:48 AM on March 30, 2016 [13 favorites]

Despite being young I am very old fashioned about this and feel it really depends on the recipient of the message:

-- Generally, I do everything I can (including inconveniencing myself) to not send after-regular-office-hours messages to anyone I am supervising or who is at a lower rung of the office food chain than I am. As a matter of politeness, as a matter of setting an example for office culture, as a matter of not taking another iota or even potential iota of time from people who should be able to fully experience and enjoy their leisure time.

-- I will send and respond to email after regular work hours if the email helps the recipient in some way (pretty rare), if it is a true emergency (very rare), if not responding creates unnecessary extra work for someone, or if the email is a response to a client who's asked for my attention.
posted by sallybrown at 9:26 AM on March 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

I will just note that no matter how many times you explicitly say "please do not feel the need to respond or even read my email until your work hours," there will be people (especially those you supervise) who will feel pressure to do so and guilt if they don't. Even if they shouldn't feel that way, even though that is in no way your fault or in your control. Some people just are that way. And I would rather not add to their stress if it doesn't impact me that much.
posted by sallybrown at 9:31 AM on March 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

I used to strongly resent a manager who sent email at all times of day and night - in my opinion it was both a cause and a symptom of him not really having a handle on his job.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:51 AM on March 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

I can't say I haven't done this but there is a lot to keep in mind.

Be mindful that some people have notifications turned on with sound overnight so that they can get that 5AM email that daycare is closed, or 3AM call or text about a family emergency. Not everyone has the luxury of silencing.

Be mindful that if you outrank anyone you're emailing, even in an unofficial capacity, this is an imposition. Especially on conscientious people, as they will feel they ought to respond, or they will worry about responding first! thing!, even if you haven't explicitly said you expect an immediate response. I always respond to my boss/counsel/execs ASAP and none of them have ever said (or implied) I should. It's just the done thing and part of what makes one a good, reliable, responsive manager.

Be mindful that to those who outrank YOU, this might been seen as an imposition as well, or odd, or a mismanagement of time (probably not as applicable in an academic setting, but everyone has a boss, right?)

Did you know you can set emails to send at a particular time in the future, without having to go log back in in the morning and remember to do so? There are apps/extensions, depending on which service.
posted by kapers at 11:08 AM on March 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

I work in a global organisation and everybody wakes up to a bunch of emails all the time. Unless I was expecting an email relevant for the day the first time I check my email is when I'm travelling to work waiting for my connection. I make a point of checking before boarding a train because people in my organisation are expected to cover a wide geographical area-at least at my level - and it wouldn't be the first time that I woke up planning to spend the day in place A and found myself reading about a change of plan and ended up moving to another platform and going to B instead.

Likewise I have no problem with my bosses responding to emails in the middle of the night - I send them emails I need to send in the full knowledge that they may have more burning issues to get to and will get to my less burning problem at the end of the day.

I also work with peeps who work part-time and those who are in different time zones or who are on study leave or vacation. I cannot keep up with everybody's schedule. So I start those emails with - on your next working day - or whatever it might be. Might even make that clear in the subject line if I know people are on vacation - with more junior people at any rate.

But it is fundamentally down to people to learn to manage these things for themselves. If the email is going to stop you from sleeping you don't read your emails after your cut-off point. You stop push notifications. You keep your personal messages separate etc. In my line of work nobody is going to die if there is no response for a few hrs. As long as the work gets done nobody cares when-within reason. Learning to manage that is one of the key skills our trainees need to develop. Some decide it's not for them and leave for something more prescriptive/less flexible but that's ok.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:09 AM on March 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm seeing a lot of people concerned that 2 AM emails contribute to a harmful always-connected work culture, and a lot of people judging the senders of late-night emails by impugning their character or competence. I work for an organization that promotes the adoption of flex-time work practices so that parents can balance their career responsibilities and their family responsibilities. The poster seems to be doing exactly that, and I applaud her. Sending an email at 2 AM probably means that she spent 6 PM with her children rather than at work. I hope future answers refrain from insulting her choices, and that people who consider receiving a 2 AM email to be an immediate demand look into how flex-time can work for them.
posted by ejs at 11:18 AM on March 30, 2016 [13 favorites]

It really just depends--on the specific culture of your workplace, on the overall understood culture of your industry, and on your superiors/subordinates themselves. Based on your description of your superior, it sounds like contacting HER at crazy hours should, at least, be just dandy. Would you be satisfied if you could knock all of her emails out before bed but schedule the remainder for "regular hours"?

I will say that ejs's post should be highlighted in blinking red lights for being awesome. Sending emails and posting files at 11:30 pm (or 1am, or from a bus, or on a train) is how I'm currently able to care for my ill parent out-of-town without losing my job and only source of income. I'm not trying to ruin my boss's day or aid in the corporate destruction of humanity, man, I'm just trying to keep like 86 plates spinning at once.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:45 AM on March 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

I set them to be sent the following morning using the delay send capability, which is probably called something different in your email software. I got tired of explaining that I don't mind reading email when I can't sleep, as my sleep habits are nobody else's concern.
posted by theora55 at 12:30 PM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

But is this unfair to the recipients of my late-night messages? (...) So, what do you do?

I both send and receive late night / out of office hours emails. I am an admin in an academic institution, some of the academic staff travel a lot internationally, some are just night owls like myself. Also I correspond with our guest speakers all around the globe so timezones can vary widely. With some I know that if I need a reply by start of our business hours I need to write at beginning of their office hours so we can actually have an exchange without a 24 hour delay.
And sometimes I wait till late at night to write, as sometimes I am just too busy during the day to gather my thoughts, and at other times I lay awake waiting for sleep and inspiration comes. Or I am nervous due to an upcoming conference and sitting there doing emails is better than tossing and turning.

I should explain that doing events, i have a lot of flexibilty in my work hours, and it is my own responsibility to manage my email. Certainly management does not expect me to monitor my inbox after I leave the office or before I come in. However, sometimes when my boss is travelling, I get the needed answers much quicker if I write when she is online herself late at night or in another timezone.

So it really depends on the context, and also on circumstances. As others have said, if you expect people who report to you to be glued to their smartphones 24/7, or they think you do expect that, I would think this very bad indeed. But if, depending on your relationship with the correspondent, you can be sure they know your expectations, and can handle it, I see no problem.

There are exceptions where I would not write to someone out of office hours, certain colleagues perhaps, whom I know would feel either pressured or think me over-zealous, but also donors and sponsors, or other officials. Basically if I feel it would appear either unprofessional or be read as exerting undue pressure on a colleague.
posted by 15L06 at 1:52 PM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I did this sometimes in my last job and regret having done it. I think the next time I am in this kind of situation, I will use something like boomerang or one of the other plugins to delay-send emails I write after hours. It just feels more humane to me.
posted by ch1x0r at 2:49 PM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Reasons the times tamp on an email might look weird to you:

- The sender has insomnia, or just likes working then.
- The sender is time-shifting due to family or other daytime duties.
- The sender is in a different time zone.
- The sender isn't in a different time zone now, but they were recently, and their laptop hasn't noticed yet.
- The sender's time zone or clock is misconfigured for any number of other reasons.
- Miscellaneous software bugs.

Reasons why the mail might arrive in your mailbox at an odd time:

- It was sent at an odd time.
- It was sent at a normal time, from a machine that was offline at the time, and was resent at some random time after the network came back up.
- Some mail server along the way between you and the sender was overloaded or otherwise temporarily broken.
- The host that receives your mail uses some kind of greylisting for spam prevention, adding unpredictable delays.
- It was sent by a spammer.
- It was sent by some other automated system that does batches of work like that at off times, or that thinks you're in a different part of the world than you are.
- More miscellaneous bugs.

If you have excellent spam filters, get all of your email from nearby humans with predictable schedules, and mostly through the same reliable systems, then you may be able to count on only getting email at certain times of day, and that time may mean something.

For my uses, the time is at most a source of curiosity, and I depend on other forms of communication for emergencies.
posted by bfields at 3:57 PM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

OP here. Thanks to everyone for your wonderful and thoughtful comments.

After reading your many arguments pro and con, I've decided to use the queuing option for my late-night emails. My email program (Outlook for Mac) has a "work offline" option which stores all the "sent" messages in a queue until I toggle the offline back to online in the morning. So, people will get a flood of emails at 8 am or so (all time-stamped at the same time), but that's better than getting them at 2am, I believe.

We all work in the same time zone and use the same system, and people do pay attention to the time that messages were sent. And as a tenured academic, I have the luxury of answering or ignoring emails at any time of the day or night. But some of my colleagues are not so privileged, as as many of you have eloquently stated there's an inherent pressure that I'd be applying to them if I sent them a message at 11pm or 2am. So, the queuing method is a nice compromise; I can still do my late-night work (like I'm doing right now) and clear out my inbox, and my students and staff members don't have to worry about off-hours messages from me.

I will save the actual late-night messages for actual emergencies, and in my line of work there's only one kind of emergency that I can think of: about once a year, a colleague suddenly comes down with an illness and needs one of us to hand out exams or to give an impromptu lecture in their 8am class the next morning. For that, I'll send out an email at 2am and hope that someone reads it when they wake up that morning. And if I'm not also filling up inboxes across campus with late-night requests for a syllabus or questions about a student, then those actual emergency messages stand a much better chance of being read and acted upon.
posted by math at 7:38 PM on March 30, 2016 [20 favorites]

[Just for info: if a supervisor sends mails at 2 in the morning, they've likely been on Netflix between 7:00 and 12:00 like everyone else (and feeling guilty). Nothing to be impressed about]

For freelancers (like we over here), some "integrator"-type behavior simply can't be avoided. E-mail response policy and e-mail timing becomes mostly a matter of self-training, de-self-guiltifying and a rational approach in general:

--If someone asks for something urgently and I am at the computer and can deliver in about ten minutes, I'm actually ok answering and solving the issue.
--If I'm not at the computer, I react as soon as I do see the message, and if its important, I include a shortest-of-explanations as to the cause of delay.
--If I can't deal with answering for time or complexity reasons, I always write a short answer as soon as possible about when I'll be dealing with the request.
--It happens regularly that I get a bunch of work-related influx at around the time when I myself try to wind down from the must-dos and want to go on to the fun-dos, or even simply quit working. Matter of having a lot of communication going on across time zones. So I have to train myself to do one of the above things, and especially, to not feel guilty.

--On the sending end, because of the time-differences and because I have trust in my normally pleasant tone, I don't give a honeybadger about when I post my own messages. I post when I work, finito, and if it's at three in the morning, fine with that too.
--If I need an answer relatively soon (most "I need this STAT" - requests are a result of the sender's bad time-management; I try to avoid sending this typ of stuff; if you receive this kind of stuff, just take it with a grain of salt. Usually, nobody will die no matter what you do, or when), I mention this in unthreatening tones (I have a history of sounding jolly-but-to-the-point--somewhat to my own disgruntlement, I admit--well into my third reminder, afterwards the next message typically gets flagged as urgent, or I move on to other means of communication--in the understanding that it is me who needs an answer and not them, and so I need to adjust myself to the person-who-is-answering's modes of communication).
--Finally, some people do raise the grump-level in me because they continuously dodge my well-meant attempts to communicate about issues that are also important for them. This is typically an around-the-clock phenomenon, and hence not important for this question (I tend to learn, and gradually decrease my cooperation with such persons).
posted by Namlit at 4:49 AM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I run my own business, and I'm a strict separator. I've often told my staff that I don't expect to hear from them, or about them, on weekends or after work hours. I feel they are more productive when they actually have a life outside of work.

As for me, I just leave my laptop in the office and my smartphone and only my personal address is setup on my smartphone.

The privilege of being one's own boss is that I don't even think twice about leaving an email unattended for a few days, so tough luck to business relations who expect to hear from me "by the close of business" or "ASAP" just because they think they have to pass over whichever pressure they're feeling at their work place.
posted by Kwadeng at 9:26 PM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older Is it possible get a "future proof" budget desktop...   |   Getaway weekend with dogs starting in Maryland Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.