late night

Managing After-Hours Work Expectations

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: My manager sends me emails at all hours of the night and on weekends and expects an immediate response from me. What should I do?

A: You’re not alone—most professionals are dealing with this issue in one way or another, and it’s not an easy one to navigate. Certainly, you want to do your best to meet the requirements of your job, but I imagine you also would like some down time away from work. Sometimes that’s a difficult balance to strike.

Start by having a conversation with your manager. It might go like this: “As I’ve demonstrated for the five years we’ve worked together, I am totally committed to my work and to this organization, but I am having difficulty keeping up with emails I get from you late at night and on weekends. What’s your expectation of me regarding a response? I will do my best to meet your expectation.”

You may find out that your manager really isn’t expecting you to respond—she is just sharing an idea that floated into her mind at that moment, before it is forgotten.

However, if your manager expects 24/7 access to you and doesn’t seem to care if you have a life or not, you may want to rethink your commitment to that organization or manager. Maybe it’s time to look for a transfer to another department.

Certainly, you want to do your best to meet the requirements of your job, but I imagine you also would like some down time away from work. Sometimes that’s a difficult balance to strike.

If your organization is global, and you have team members around the world, this should have been explained to you when you took the job. You should have known that you might have to be on a conference call early in the morning or late in the evening to accommodate staffers around the world. But that’s different from getting a series of messages at midnight with a follow up at 3 a.m. that asks why you haven’t yet responded!

Also, depending on whether your position is classified as exempt or nonexempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act, your organization may be in violation of the law. This is a developing area of employment law, and there haven’t been many court cases yet on whether or not checking email after hours is classified as work. The U.S. Department of Labor is taking a look at this issue and is expected to address it this year.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

Career Development