What to do about those middle-of-the-night emails.
“On call.” It’s not just for doctors and IT workers anymore. Too many employers now expect all employees to answer email, field phone calls and respond to texts at all hours of the day and night— even weekends, vacations and holidays.
Is this happening to you? Is there anything you can do about it?
Here are a few approaches to try.
First, make sure you are correctly interpreting your boss’s expectations. Yes, she may send you emails on Saturday nights but perhaps she doesn’t actually require an immediate response.
Ask. For example, say, “Of course I’m always available for emergencies, but am I correct in assuming that it’s OK to respond to emails on Monday morning?” The answer may surprise you. Your boss’s Saturday night emails may just be her particular work style.
However, some bosses do indeed expect you to be available all the time.
Now you have a different set of choices.
You will first need to consider if this job or field of work or particular boss is a good fit for you. If you decide it is, then you might offer a compromise. For example, promise to put in extra hours in the evenings if it means having weekends completely free. Or offer to check and respond to emails at a set time (e.g., every evening at 8) but not at other times.
Do consider the possibility that your boss’s need to have you constantly available may stem from his own anxiety, possibly even insecurity. Try to allay that anxiety (without belittling it). Be reassuring. Deliver totally reliable performance in all that you do. Always keep your boss in the loop about the status of your work. Get as much done as possible during regular working hours. Project a hardworking image.
Once your boss realizes that the sky doesn’t fall if people take off nights and weekends, you just may be left to enjoy your free time.
In some fields, long hours are the norm. Startups, political campaigns and many tech jobs involve crazy hours. You are probably also willing to pitch in during emergencies. But round-the-clock work generally leads to less productivity, not more, as well as errors, fatigue, burnout and even potential health and family issues. It’s not worth it.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.