my boss keeps emailing me on the weekend

A reader writes:

I work a 9-5 job in the creative industry. I am fairly low down in the pecking order, so to speak. The company recently hired someone to be my new boss. He has now started emailing me on the weekends and expects me to reply to him immediately. I get work email on my own personal cell phone (which I pay the bill for), but can I really be expected to respond to work issues on the weekend that could honestly wait until Monday? How do I approach this issue with my boss without causing aggravation?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. Collie

    Might this cause additional issues if LW is non-exempt? (I hope I’m remembering which is which correctly. — I mean hourly.)

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yep, that’s non-exempt. They’d have to pay her for any time she spends on this stuff, including overtime pay if it took her over 40 hours for the week.

      1. fposte

        That is going to be one of the big changes around here when a bunch of exempt employees become non-exempt with the threshold change. We have a lot of flexible and remote work, so we’re used to emailing each other whenever and having random email chats at odd hours; I’m going to have to talk to my staff about keeping their emails to established and clocked work periods, even if they see they got an email from me.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          The other change that’s going to be painful is what it means for their in-office time — like if you have a culture where previously it was no big deal for them to do personal stuff at work for half an hour, how do you approach that once it’s potentially costing you additional money (if it means they’re more likely to do overtime later in the week)? It’s going to be a real culture shift for a lot of places.

          1. Pwyll

            I’m not sure I understand how that’s necessarily an issue, though. You can still pay your non-exempt folks a salary and give them the ability to do personal stuff at work for half an hour. They’d have to track that half hour as non-working time for the purposes of overtime, but nothing would require them to stop the practice. (Though, I suppose I see the optics of that being bad.)

            1. fposte

              If we had the option of salary, that would be one way to approach it; unfortunately, we don’t.

              1. Pwyll

                Ugh, that stinks. I’m honestly surprised by the number of companies intending to move people from salaried exempt to hourly non-exempt because of the overtime change. We’ve had clients argue with us that the law says they CAN’T pay a salary anymore, no matter what we say.

            2. Ask a Manager Post author

              It would mean you still have to pay much more attention to it though. If I walk by Jane’s desk now and notice she’s on YouTube, I don’t have to care if her work is good. If she becomes non-exempt, and I see that a few times in a week, and I know she’s submitting for overtime too, now I have to start caring about it.

              1. Pwyll

                I understand what you’re saying, but arguably if Jane becomes non-exempt and she’s submitting for overtime, you need to start caring about it either way, wouldn’t you? I mean, many employers are not going to want to be paying that overtime, so managers are going to have to be more on top of their staffing obligations ether way, methinks.

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For

      I remember having to have an awkward conversation with one of my non-exempt employees when I noticed that she had sent a couple of email around 8pm. After explaining that even if she didn’t see it as “working” the federal government did and I had to pay her overtime or have her leave a half-hour early one day, she understood, but in a place where most of sent emails all night (traveling consultants) it felt very rigid.

    3. NotAnotherManager!

      Yup, non-exempt mobile email access was the bane of my existence a year and a half ago. It took six months of negotiating with an employment lawyer and writing a damn good policy that has to be signed by staff and supervisors to get it done in a way they were comfortable complied with FLSA and compensated the employee for ALL time worked.

  2. nofelix

    Maybe this is too passive aggressive, but I have always just ignored any weekend emails until monday. The very few times anyone has commented then I’ve said I didn’t see the email and it hasn’t been an issue. There are so many valid reasons why you wouldn’t see an email while away from your desk. Phone could be out of battery; someone borrowing your phone; you had to do a factory reset; you were in an area with no signal; you missed the notification; you were at a concert; you were in a movie; you were playing sport; you were on a date.

    1. Pwyll

      I’m not sure it’s passive aggressive unless you’ve specifically been told to check e-mails on the weekend. I think it’s perfectly fair to say “Oh, you were expecting me to read and respond over the weekend? It’s never been a requirement before, I had no idea.” With a confused, serious tone.

      1. I'm Not Phyllis

        I think this would work if it’s a new thing, but since it sounds like the OP has been responding for at least the past little while s/he may be better off raising the issue with the boss.

    2. INTP

      I do this as well – I assume that if something is urgent, it will be specified, and otherwise it can wait until Monday. (I should specify that I’ve never had a boss explicitly tell me that I need to respond quickly to non-urgent emails over the weekend.)

      I do usually answer phone calls over the weekend, but I’ve only gotten a few weekend work calls in my life and most were urgent about my timecard that needed to go to payroll on Monday or the like. The one weekend boss call I missed, it turned out my boss wanted me to come help look for an offsite employee’s mentally unstable young adult daughter who had gone missing from the hotel room while coworker was in town for a work event. Maybe this is cold but I’m glad I didn’t see that one until after they found her – looking for missing people is police business, not your coworkers’ job.

      1. nofelix

        The coldness imho depends on how vulnerable the daughter was and whether you could help safely. No point you scouting a sketchy area of town at night, for instance, if she’s probably just chilling in a bar somewhere.

    3. aebhel

      Same. I am usually not by a phone/computer on the weekend, and I rarely check my email when I’m not at work (unless I have something extremely time-sensitive going on, which is rarely). I just don’t operate from a starting assumption that I should be checking my work email when I’m not at work.

    4. Bob Barker

      I’m an hourly employee with a big boss who sometimes wants things out of me on the weekend (and is allowed to ask that, if he doesn’t abuse it). But I am NOT gonna check email all weekend just in case he might need me: waste of my time, waste of overtime wages.

      So I set up a system with the boss: if it’s urgent, if he really needs it done before the next time I’m in the office, he texts me to tell me I need to check my inbox. I go check my inbox, I handle the matter, I record my overtime, done. And what I really like about it: it puts the onus on him. He’ll sometimes send me 10 emails marked urgent over the weekend, but obviously they aren’t THAT urgent, because he didn’t text me to let me know about them.

      (I don’t do work email out of my personal phone, not nobody, not no how. A previous big boss, he didn’t even have my cell phone number to call, because he had boundary problems and would probably abuse it. He asked for my cell phone and I told my supervisor, if he has my cell phone then I am effectively on call all the time, so I’ll be charging every hour that I’m awake as overtime. She gave him her own cell phone number instead.)

  3. Audiophile

    I was nonexempt and fell into the habit of answering emails with my last job. I was told it wasn’t expected and that I didn’t have to, which I should have listened to. But I felt I was being a team player and everyone else seemed to be chained to their phones.

    1. Anonymous Educator

      It’s not just a matter of whether it’s expected or not… they could actually owe you for overtime if you’re answering those emails past your 40 hours in the week.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

        This!

        We had to report emails sent after hours by non-exempt employees as at least a half-hour on their timesheet, so that we never got into an unpaid overtime position.

        1. anncakes

          Wish you could talk some sense into my employer. The majority of staff is hourly, non-exempt. We’re expected to be able to access our email from our phone because that’s how they communicate important things like closings for inclement weather or shift changes. Everyone’s schedule is different, and staff have different weekdays off, so a manager might send a request to a department in which half the people are at work that day and half are off. I’ve sent many emails from my phone during off hours even though I try to let things wait. I don’t think any of my coworkers even realize they’re supposed to be paid for this, just like no one had any idea that it’s illegal for our employer to prohibit discussion of wages among employees (and they actually put this policy in writing). Ah, the joys of working for a small company of people who don’t quite know what they’re doing, where everyone is so low on the ladder that they wouldn’t dream of rocking the boat.

          1. Bob Barker

            My job has an (opt-in) text-alert system for weather closures and emergencies, and I like to grouse about how I’m sitting at my desk, I get a text alert about a bomb threat (these are now basically annual), and then I also get an email about the same thing. Sometimes it feels like my workplace is competing in the drama Olympics, alert after alert, hello anxiety, and it’s annoying to get all these different alerts all in a row.

            But having the two systems, one phone-based and one email-based, means that it’s possible to separate work and life if you choose to do so. Which I appreciate.

      2. Audiophile

        Well, at that job they didn’t have a 40 hour work week. And I’m sure someone would have questioned whether I “should” be paid for answering emails on weekends or evenings.

  4. PoisonIvy

    I get my work email on my personal phone but I switch off the work account at the weekend (you can do this on iPhones – I’m not sure about other devices). That way I can still check my personal account without seeing the work account. Of course this may not work if OP’s boss is emailing on her personal email address.

    1. Anonymous Educator

      I just switch off notifications for my work account. That way, I can come to it, but it can’t come to me. Android phone here, but I’m pretty sure you can do this on an iPhone as well.

      1. Allstonian

        This is what I do, too, with my iPhone. I don’t mind looking at my emails outside of work, but on my schedule. What I don’t like is the notifications, because I’m one of those people who can’t ignore a notification.

    2. zora.dee

      My new job specifically asked me to put my work email onto my personal phone, but I’m super not happy about it. I am hourly , non-exempt, and I’m even a temp! So really there is absolutely no reason i should even SEE work emails outside of my work hours. I am considering disabling the account entirely on weekends, because I have two different personal email accounts, so in order to not see my work emails, I have to open each inbox separately instead of clicking on the All Inboxes folder. And even then, I can see by the number just the fact that there are new emails sitting in that account, and that really pisses me off. I don’t think I should have to think about work at all.

      I have notifications for that account turned off already, but honestly, that’s not even feeling like enough separation to me right now.

      1. Sharissa Monet

        That’s why I have a dumb flip-phone. I am not owned by the company store. We are not life-saving physicians on call. Nope.

  5. Paul S

    I can’t read your reply because Inc.com is forcing me to create an account, which I am not willing to do. Too bad, since I normally read all of your posts.

    1. Pwyll

      If you use Chrome, if you right click on the link and click “Open in Incognito Mode” it won’t ask you to register. This tends to work with most of the “registration wall” types of sites. (Except Forbes. Forbes drives me insane.)

    2. Parfait

      Or just disable your ad blocker temporarily on that site. I’ve never created an account for it and I can read it just fine.

    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      It will require that after the first two articles if you’re outside the U.S. or using an ad blocker. That’s because they otherwise aren’t able to earn any revenue from those page views, which they’re of course dependent on.

      (Note: I also get paid from them based on those numbers, so I’d ask people not to try to get around that. Turning off your ad blocker for that site is a better way to do it!)

      1. Pwyll

        Hmm, that’s interesting. I don’t use an ad blocker at work, and I’m in the US and I constantly get that message from Inc.

        1. Anonymous Educator

          I think it counts how many times you view the site, and if you view it too many times, they want you to create an account.

  6. Miss Nomer

    I’m not sure if this is the best advice, but I tend to limit checking work email to once per day on the weekend, usually in the evening. Then, I’ll usually reply with “thanks for the heads up, I’ve flagged this to follow up on Monday”. I’m still pretty new and a lot of people just never stop working here, so I felt like I needed to set up a bit of an expectation from the start. Also, I recommend turning off push notifications on the weekend. Best of luck!

  7. Seal

    As a manager, if I send my staff a message on the weekends I absolutely do not expect a reply until the next time they’re scheduled to work (usually Monday). The reasons I send email on weekends are either that I’m working myself and it’s easier to send a message about what I’m working on when I’m doing it, or it’s about something that I’m afraid I might forget to address the following week. My boss and our administration take the same approach. If it was truly an emergency someone would call me rather than email.

    On the other hand, I have a staff member that works on Saturdays who has to be coached regularly to not send messages marked urgent for issues that can wait until Monday. Ignoring her messages doesn’t help, nor does have explicit written instructions about what is and isn’t an urgent. Seriously considering taking her off of Saturdays at this point.

    1. Keepin'ItClassy

      I was just going to comment this same thing; I sometimes handle work on weekends but don’t expect any type of action on them until our “normal” work resumes. I wonder if OPs boss operates in the same manner or if he has specifically asked her to answer quickly.

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For

      Same here. I like to sit down and go through my email on Sunday night, but I have explicitly told my team that if I need them for an emergency on the weekend, I will call them.

    3. Shortie

      I am also a manager who does not expect a reply from employees if I send an email on the weekend. In fact, I hope they are not even reading their email. To make that abundantly clear, I usually add something like “please don’t read this until Monday” in the subject line and also before the body of the email begins. My team seems to appreciate it. (That won’t help the OP, but just thought I’d add it here in case it’s helpful to any managers reading.)

    4. Temperance

      Do you use Outlook? She could easily schedule those emails to go out on Monday AM and just draft them on Saturday.

    5. Gene

      You need to make it abundantly clear (if you haven’t already) to your employees that you do not expect a reply unless the first sentence in the message is, “I need a reply to this ASAP.”

      That’s the agreement I have with my boss, and it works well for us.

  8. AnnonaMomma

    Gotta love technology and the way it has made everyone accessible at all times.

    I used to just not set up my email to my phone and deal with emails only when in the office. Until the day a co-worker grabbed my phone out of my hand and said “Oh, I can set it up for you!” when I mentioned that I didn’t have my email synced. The assumption that I wanted it and just didn’t know how was infuriating. I just turned off all the notifications and would maybe do a spot check once a day on weekends to see if there was an emergency.

    Side note – you may want to clarify what is considered an “emergency” with your manager. In some industries this may vary, (a client reached out with a question, a possible missed deadline, warehouse power outage, etc) and the perception of what constitutes an emergency may vary between managers and departments. As far as I am concerned not much is a true emergency and can be dealt with during business house and the lower down the totem pole you are, the less you should be expected to deal with an emergency anyway.

    1. Kyrielle

      I’d have spat nails if someone had done that at either my previous or current job, since setting it up allows them (both technically, and by stated policy) to wipe my phone when I leave. I have no intention of leaving, but – no. way.

      (Actually, just don’t grab my phone anyway, people. It’s mine. You can offer, but that’s it.)

      I do occasionally view work email on my phone – using the browser interface, not synced – but only very rarely, for my purposes.

      1. Anonymous Educator

        Yeah, it’s wrong on so many levels—not just the assumption that AnnonaMomma doesn’t know how to set it up but also the nerve to co-opt someone private property and start using it without permission. Yikes!

        1. AnnonaMomma

          Yeah, it was a little annoying, though I know it was a well intention violation. More of an “Oh! I can help you!” than a “Get it together stupid” moment. But she was not my boss but a higher level employee than I was at the time and I didn’t really know how to react in the moment so I just let her do it. And then I went back to my desk and turned off all the notifications.

          I am someone who very much lives a separation of church and state (work and home) so I resent the assumption that people are only productive if they are working all the time that has taken over a lot of industries. Especially if it is someone like OP who sounds like they are at a lower level in the organization, I am sure OP is not paid enough to be on call at all times.

      2. Stranger than fiction

        Ha, yes, these days that’s like grabbing someone’s wallet out of their hands.

      3. Karen K

        Which is why I haven’t set up my new iPhone for email. I set my old one up when I got it, but the new “we control your phone and will wipe it if we want” aspect of this was not in effect at the time. I will not give my employer control over my new phone. I can check my email on the old one.

        1. Anonymous Educator

          While on a theoretical level, I’m not a fan of employers having the ability to wipe personal devices remotely, on a practical level, it ends up being a good reminder to people to always have their stuff backed up. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve run into who had hundreds or thousands of photos on their iPhones not backed up to anywhere else.

          I’ve never had an employer wipe my phone, but if I did, I know all my stuff is backed up elsewhere to multiple places.

          1. Marillenbaum

            I finally started doing that when I got a new iPhone and needed to import my old apps and information. Fortunately, I’m in a field now where if I’m expected to access e-mail outside of business hours, they provide a phone, so my personal data is more-or-less safe.

          2. Gene

            While waiting at the Genius Bar one day for diagnosis on my iMac, I heard that conversation at least 4 times. “We may need to do a full reset, is it backed up?” “No! Don’t lose anything, but make it work.”

            When I was asked if I had backups, my answer was “Yes, two different places.”

            Back up your devices, folks!

        2. Friday Brain All Week Long

          I’m also a hold-out. At my old job, I had my work email on my phone (in the days before remote wipe) and it was fine and I had a good work/life balance. I also have a good work/life balance at my current job and wouldn’t mind checking email over the weekend… but there is no way in hell it’s going on my phone. My phone is my calendar, my wallet, my life! I don’t even think I’d have room on there for all the large files my company emails back and forth. And current company mentioned remote wiping in the handbook. Hell to the no.

          My boss knows that I’ll happily carry a work-issued phone but she decided I didn’t need one. So, no worrying about work email over the weekend for me! If there’s an urgency, she texts me. And that’s rare.

          1. Elizabeth West

            Most people here have a work phone and a personal phone too. I would never ever let my work put stuff on my phone. No freaking way, Charlie; that’s a deal breaker.

    2. SystemsLady

      Yeah, we have that you’re either formally company on-call, on-call dedicated to somebody, or not expected to answer anything from your work phone at all.

      If an emergency by somehow pops up anyway (the on-call person needs info from you specifically, etc.), our personal phone numbers are listed for colleagues only. Some people sometimes individually give their number to clients they know they can trust, but not often. In my experience, it gets inevitably (and innocently) passed to another client employee you *can’t* trust to know what is an emergency…(and all I’ve ever done is limit who I give a business card too).

    3. I'm Not Phyllis

      I got comments like this all the time at old job. I was being a brat and flat out refusing to add my work email to my personal phone and they would tell me all the time “you know you can put it on there, right?” Umm, yes. But since I pay for my phone personally and have a crappy plan I’m not gonna do it (I explained it more professionally, of course). People there were chained to their email – everyone from the CEO to the receptionist was expected to check email multiple times throughout their weekend/vacation. There was zero work/life balance which spoke to the culture of the place.

      My new job? If my boss needs something urgently he’ll text me (and he’s very respectful of my personal time so it’s never been an issue) but I don’t ever check email on weekends. The occasional email is one thing if there’s an urgent matter or project that needs extra work, but I don’t feel like it’s reasonable to ask staff to put in 110% during the week, and then ask them to work during the weekend too. Everyone needs a break – it makes them better employees.

      1. Anonymous Educator

        I’m the opposite. Please don’t ever text me. Emails I can turn notifications off for and ignore. Texts will just pop up. I’d prefer everyone at work to email me and never text me.

        1. NotAnotherManager!

          Yes, and texting just opens up a whole new can of worms for non-exempt employees. It still blurring the lines on their “work hours”. It’s going to be a problem with any push technology that sends a message to the employee and relies upon their constantly checking the device to see it. Is the device-checking “work”?

          1. Audiophile

            That’s a really good question! Does texting an employee a work related question count as work? This may be one of those things that’s left up to the individual states.

            1. AcademiaNut

              I would think it would definitely be counted – the employee is spending their time on their job, so they need to be paid for it if exempt, whether it’s email, voice, text, or smoke signals.

    4. Amadeo

      Gotta love technology and the way it has made everyone accessible at all times.

      Heh, pre-iPhone (by a couple of years) I worked for a veterinarian (I was a CVT) that had this issue. Small, one doctor practice, we didn’t have any kind of ‘on-call’ for the techs set up or anything, so we went about our lives on the weekends as a matter of course.

      He’d call us without warning on Saturday afternoons or Sundays and ask us to go into the clinic and do a blood draw and run XYZ on a patient (we did have kennel workers doing kennels at least twice a day on weekends, but they couldn’t do lab work). If my time with him hadn’t ended abruptly I’m sure I’d have lost count of the times he pulled that, but also didn’t want to pay us any minimum for going in either, only for the time we were actually there and clocked in and refused to establish an ‘on call’ protocol for us.

      Needless to say I think he did a lot of out of ours weekend technician work by his lonesome.

  9. Master Bean Counter

    Honestly I would take over the expectation to sit at my desk after hours until a deliverable is due. Even if I have nothing I can do with it for two more hours while others review. Even though I can take my laptop home and finish up from there and get something to eat in the mean time so I’m not starving.

  10. Nunya

    At my workplace we are emphatically not supposed to work outside our allotted hours, but compulsive and unnecessary email checking is sort of a pissing contest thing amongst the wannabes. I think upper admin use it to screen for promotions, as they want people who break the rules in admin-advantageous ways while still preserving the illusion of complying with state regulations.

    1. NotAnotherManager!

      If you know that your non-exempt employees are doing things that violate FLSA, it’s incumbent upon the employer to fix that. Getting a usable mobile email for the non-exempt that need it on my team was a huge uphill battle on the right balance of legal compliance and attorney wishes. During this process, someone on the management team joked about turning a blind eye to it, and the employment lawyer working with us commented that if the non-exempts were emailing us at a time we knew they were not at work, we’d have to be idiots not to know how that happened — and the judge/labor law compliance division wouldn’t accept feigned ignorance as a justification if it became an issue.

      We have moved to a mobile device management system where users have to be affirmatively added to the system (you can’t hook yourself up via ActiveSync any more), and IS will not add you without management approval and appropriate policy forms completed. The added bonus of MDM software is that it can eliminate the full-phone wipe requirement for corporate email — it just wipes that mailbox off the phone.

  11. Anonymous Educator

    In my exempt positions, I’ve generally checked emails on weekends to see what’s coming up but then deliberately not answered them until Monday unless it seemed to me to be an emergency (or unless the sender designated it explicitly as an emergency—rarely were the two assessments not the same).

  12. SJ

    I have 2 bosses — J is below S on the food chain. J once told me one of his biggest regrets was immediately replying to a few emails S had sent late at night on the weekend, right after S was hired. He said it set the wrong tone because he had made himself come across as a guy who is available all the time. Which technically he IS — just given his role, he’s always “on call” for emergencies — but S often sends emails that can absolutely wait until Monday and then follows up with a call or email not long after, asking if J saw it. J has made it a point to avoid the late night weekend emailing now and has talked to S about it, but S will be continually annoyed about it forever.

  13. Lemon Zinger

    My boss works all hours and seems to expect me to as well. I DO NOT answer emails on weekends, though I do check them because I hate surprises. Can’t wait to become non-exempt!

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