my boss emails and texts me at all hours

A reader writes:

I am a salaried employee. Is it ok for my boss to text me and email me all the time, even late weekends? Is it okay for him to ask me to call an hourly employee late at night to work?

I answer this question — and four others — 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.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My boss keeps missing our staff meetings
  • Helping an unhappy boss
  • Asking an intern to curb his out-of-control yawning
  • I don’t feel comfortable training new employees

{ 62 comments… read them below }

  1. Womper*

    Re: Yawning;

    I would say focus less on “don’t yawn” and more on “yawn professionally”.

    Also it’s a common misconception that yawning = bored and/or tired. Your brain will also force you to yawn when you are learning a lot due to the increased O2 consumption! I know when I am new to a role I yawn, a lot, and it’s because my brain is in overdrive learning all these new things. It’s perfectly normal.

    1. SJ*

      Ack, I wish that were true for me so I could use it as an excuse! I just get super tired around the 3:00pm hour, and having meetings during that time is murder because I spend the entire time trying not to yawn obviously or let my eyelids get too droopy.

    2. fposte*

      It’s also really easy (for me, anyway) to develop associations with yawning; there’s a particular task that now makes me yawn all the damn time, and it’s not especially tedious.

      1. hbc*

        Ha, I have mine around a certain person. He can be a bit of a windbag, granted, but I can be totally interested and yawning away. It’s like his voice triggers it now.

      2. Kate*

        Yes! There is a song I sing for my kids at bedtime, and now if I sing it at any time I start yawning! Apparently my kids aren’t the only o es who’ve developed a sleep association with this song.

    3. Lilibet*

      Agreed, definitely focus on the yawn professionally. I tend to yawn a lot and it’s not related to being tired/bored. It’s something I’m really conscious of but there isn’t a lot you can do to control the yawning itself. I had a supervisor at an internship point it out in a passive-aggressive way, but there wasn’t much I could do to decrease the actual yawning (I do cover my mouth and try to minimize it as much as I can).

    4. Catalyst*

      I agree about the “yawn professionally”. Sometimes you can’t help how often you yawn and it has nothing to do with being tired. I yawn uncontrollably for hours before I get a migraine, I cover my mouth and try as mentioned to “do it professionally” but I can not actually stop the yawning, even with extra sleep!

      1. jamlady*

        I was going to say the same thing. Any pressure changes and my head sends out 75 warning yawns a minute all day letting me know a migraine is heading in lol

    5. Elle*

      Is anyone else yawning after reading this? :)

      Also, wanted to point out that I started on a new medication over the summer, and one of the side effects was excessive yawning. It was so embarrassing! I can’t tell you how many times my boss asked if they were “keeping me awake.” Thankfully that particular side effect has gone away.

      I do agree that this young man, whatever the reason, needs to learn how to yawn professionally.

    6. Honeybee*

      I was coming here to say this. Obviously, the stretching and back cracking is undesirable, but please don’t frown on the frequency. I yawn very frequently, including I’m not tired. I am embarrassed because I know so many people code it as tiredness or boredom, but it’s not!

    7. sssssssssss*

      I wish I knew that! When I had a new job about a year and a half ago, I would have touch base meetings with my new manager around 3:30 and it was all I could do to not yawn during this end of day meeting (shift ended at four). I was learning a lot but I was also tired by this point!

    8. Wildflower*

      Yawning is more easily controlled than a lot of people think! I trained as a ballet dancer for a very long time and we were strictly not allowed to yawn during ballet class. It’s a respect and discipline thing. If someone yawned, the teacher would usually stop the class and call the girl out in front of everyone. We all learned to control it pretty quickly! Granted, this was a fact of my life from first grade onward, so maybe it helps to learn it young, but now I almost can’t yawn without consciously telling myself it’s okay. Anyway, if excessive yawning bothers you, just kind of squeeze your throat and clench your teeth and take deep breaths until it passes, but practice in a mirror so you can hide the expression! Eventually it’ll become second nature.

    9. JessaB*

      Also, I know that I yawn a lot when I’m having trouble breathing. I have asthma and if I’m in trouble it shows up as yawning so as to try and get more oxygen. I too would go with “yawn quietly and with discretion, and try not to be so obvious about it,” and a gentle check as to whether the employee isn’t sleeping enough vs has issues with breathing.

    10. Dare*

      Agreed on yawning professionally. I have medical issues that cause yawning and it drives me crazy when people keep commenting on it. I cover my mouth. But I can’t bloody help it!

  2. Womper*

    Re: Texting;

    I have found it very effective to ignore emails and texts in the evening. Usually no one complains.

    If someone does complain, I say in a bright/positive way, oh I don’t always notice messages. If you ever have an urgent matter please call my cell and I’ll get on it right away.

    9 times out of 10, that person will continue to text/email and never call. I have found people are less likely to call someone for fear of “bothering” them and thus only call if it’s really an issue.

    1. Fleur*

      I’d be very careful about giving them access and permission to call your cell. We have multiple people at work who have no sense of boundaries and will call at any hour of the night. We’ve had people get calls at 1-2 AM and we are not in any sort of emergency services nor are we on call.

      I’ve given them my Skype number and every time I see a missed call e-mail at some unreasonable hour the next day, I’m glad I had the foresight not to share my personal number at work.

      1. Lemon Zinger*

        This is definitely an area where you need to know your boss. My boss works at all hours, but she would NEVER call my cell unless it was a true emergency, and we don’t have emergencies in this job.

        Unfortunately I was forced to share my personal number for work because we use cells so much. *Sigh*

        1. Koko*

          Same here. My department all have each other’s cells but we use them only when it is called for:

          1) Calling someone during normal business hours who is working remotely and whose office phone doesn’t forward to their cell.
          2) Calling or texting a coworker who is attending the same conference or off-site meeting as you to see where they are and if they want to get lunch/dinner/drinks together/split a cab/etc.
          3) True after-hours emergencies – I’ve received maybe two of these calls in the 5 years I’ve worked here.

          We all have each other’s numbers because #1 and #2 arise pretty regularly, but we rarely do #3 because we have a culture that strongly respects people’s lives outside of work.

      2. Womper*

        I was definitely assuming that the texts and emails late into the night equated into having a work phone or a personal cell already connected to work.

      3. myswtghst*

        I like the Skype / Google Voice suggestions. Personally, I use the Do Not Disturb feature on my phone and have it set up with a few exceptions (family & husband, notify me of repeat callers) after a certain time, so if my boss were to text / call I wouldn’t see it until the morning unless I looked at my phone.

    2. Bonky*

      Oh dear: I am (a variant on) this boss.

      There’s one significant difference, though: I make it very clear to the people on my team that I will regularly email them after hours, because I usually work through the evenings once I get home so I can keep on top of everything. They’re not expected to do the same, and they all know they should not answer until they’re back in the office: I’m emailing them as I process my own inbox in the evenings but I have no expectation of an answer then, because I do not expect them to be working at night. And I would NEVER text anybody outside hours. (Or in working hours; there’s no paper trail and it’s an easy way for everybody to lose track of tasks.)

      1. DoDah*

        Well, whether you mean to or not-I suspect they see your emails as you “must respond now.” Or even if you don’t expect a response it is stressful to get emails at 2 or 3 AM. I genuinely don’t mean to be combative—BTW.

        My VP is the same way and it’s absolutely why can’t wait to quit.

        1. Bonky*

          Actually, I really think they don’t feel that way. When in the past someone has responded after hours, I’ll follow up with a conversation the next day explaining, face to face, why they shouldn’t do that: and subsequently, they don’t.

          With other C-suite colleagues, sure, I expect them to respond (and they expect the same of me). But for the people in my department who aren’t at this level, I’m pretty sure we’ve got protocol nailed down. It’s a good reminder to keep being as communicative as possible about the way we work, though.

  3. missj928*

    Re: Yawning

    All the habits that you listed are nervous / anxious habits and reactions. I’m sure you’re doing fine, but just remember to be sensitive when approaching these subjects. He’s a newbie in the professional world and of course he’s going to be nervous.

    1. fposte*

      I think kindness is appropriate in dealing with all employees, but I don’t think there’s any need for particular sensitivity–he’s a person in a workplace getting told how he should do stuff. That’s what happens in workplaces.

    2. Jersey's Mom*

      “Stopped speaking while he is arching his back/grabbing oxygen, waited until he finished, then asked “Are you OK?” Commented “My, you really need to get to sleep early tonight I guess.”

      Those comments seem a bit passive aggressive to me; not a trait you want to instill in an intern (fledgling employee). I’d even add to AAMs script as tell him that your comments are not personal (and may be ok outside of work) but this is behavior that is expected of everyone while in the office/at work.

      1. missj928*

        Yeah that’s what I was getting at. They also seem borderline sarcastic (though it’s hard to tell without tone). I would be embarrassed if someone commented things like this to me, especially if they were not said privately.

      2. Middle Management Bob*

        Not to mention that they’re about on par with: “4 bathroom breaks, Kathy? You should drink less water”

      3. myswtghst*

        It definitely depends on the tone, but I don’t really see acknowledging the yawning in the moment by stopping talking and making a statement about it is passive-aggressive – you’re indicating the yawning is noticeable and acknowledging there may be a reason for it. I can definitely see how some of those comments *could be* passive-aggressive if the tone is sarcastic or rude, but they don’t have to be.

      1. JessaB*

        Yeh, the first thing I tell everyone at a new job is “I’m pretty much deaf, if I’m loud tell me to pipe down because I can’t hear myself so I have no way to self regulate volume,” then we get to “Seriously, I mean it I won’t be insulted, tell me when I’m loud dammit.” Because at first nobody believes me that I won’t go off on them for telling me to pipe down.

  4. Middle Management Bob*

    Training isn’t easy.

    That being said, you have the ability to lower turnover through good training.

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      Eh, I wouldn’t put it as strongly as that. Good training can certainly help retain employees, and bad training can contribute to turnover, but there is no amount of good training that can keep an employee happy in a dysfunctional or toxic job environment. It’s not the OP’s responsibility–or even in their purview–to lower turnover.

      1. Middle Management Bob*

        Employees are just as responsible for toxic work environments as anybody else. Plus, low turnover generally leads to a more stable environment for everybody.

        1. Isben Takes Tea*

          As I said, good training can certainly help retain employees, so I’m agreeing with you. My point is that it’s not the only factor that affects turnover.

    2. HeyNonnyNonny*

      Anecdotal support for this: I left my previous job because I was given little to no training– without the training, I was constantly stressed and confused, and since I wasn’t trained on my org’s structure, I didn’t even know who to talk to about any problems.

    3. Finman*

      I would recommend asking for a position bump/pay increase to role of Sr. or Specialist, and to ask for a reduction to your standard workload, but add training as an official job description.

    4. myswtghst*

      As a corporate trainer, agreed on all counts. :)

      I would recommend the OP (or anyone in their shoes) look into training on being an effective trainer. There is plenty of stuff out there (both in-person workshops and online / MOOC options) which vary in the investment ($$$ & time) required, but would be worth bringing up with the boss if continuing to train is a non-negotiable part of the job.

  5. CanadianKat*

    Re. emailing:
    I know that some people get email notifications on their smartphones, and so have the impression that the sender wanted to reach them in that particular moment and wants an immediate reply. But some of us don’t receive work email until we physically arrive at work or log in remotely from our home computer.

    In other words, just because I’m emailing you at 2am, it doesn’t mean I wanted to inturrupt your sleep or need a response before your usual work hours.

    With texting that’s probably different.

    1. Middle Management Bob*

      Exactly this. To get work email on my cell, I log in through the VPN, I don’t have it set to send me notifications directly. I have yet to ever have anybody complain that I’m not responding to 2 AM emails.

      Phone calls are a different story, but every 2AM call I’ve ever gotten has been a “everything’s burning down” sort of thing.

  6. Murphy*

    The question about late night emails/texting makes me really appreciate my boss. When I was transferred to him a few months ago, we had a talk about expectations. He warned me that he’s the kind of person who works all the time, so I shouldn’t be surprised if I get emails on evenings and weekends. I asked him if he wanted me to be reading and responding to these messages. He said he wanted me to be reading them at least. So I don’t get notifications about work emails on my phone, but I do check once in the evenings (I leave earlier than most people) and a few times over the weekend. If they’re time sensitive, I deal with them. If not, they wait. And he texts me if there’s something that does need my attention sooner than later, so I have a pretty good idea of what he thinks is important.

    tl;dr It’s important to discuss expectations with your boss regarding after hours communications.

  7. Moonsaults*

    I always flinch when the subject of after hours texts/emails comes up. I have always worked with small business owners, so things pop up at all hours and I respond immediately. I do have times when I have to say “That’s in the office and I cannot get you the info until the morning/end of the weekend” but my boss is also reasonable in that way. Sometimes he assumes I have things tucked into the email archives I can search and forward him or whatever. However he’s f’ing grouchy if anyone ignores his texts, as long as you respond with at least an acknowledgement or “I will work on this first thing in the morning” it’s all good.

    It’s really all about the culture of the business and expectations as noted above. Sometimes people are difficult to work for and their expectations are too high for you, that’s okay on both sides of things.

  8. M_Lynn*

    Re: Training your coworkers

    I think you can make this into an awesome benefit. Talk to your boss about being able to do a whole project to revamp/update/improve the training process. It is a great stretch assignment, and will give you a great bullet pt on your resume’s accomplishments section. Just make sure you arrange to do less time of your regular work, and frame it as an opportunity that will strengthen the company. This could make doing the training easier on you.

    Additionally, see if there are professional development workshops or Train the Trainer sessions your company could send you to. If turnover is so high, I imagine you really stand out and they may be more inclined to invest in you rather than others in your position because of your longevity in the job. And again, the company only stands to benefit from you training better.

      1. M_Lynn*

        Perhaps. I read it as the LW doesn’t want to be a trainer because 1. it takes time away from their regular duties and 2. They don’t have the tools or resources to do it well. I think both those can be fixed, and then maybe the LW would enjoy it.

      2. MillersSpring*

        Yes, I read it as the LW is 1), not interested in showing others/new coworkers how to do things, 2) believes perhaps mistakenly that she needs some sort of special qualifications or expertise to be a “trainer.”

        If I was the LW’s boss, I’d want to know that she really really does not like sitting with new coworkers and showing them how to perform the job. It would be a disappointment, but it would be a valuable insight about the LW’s interests and aptitudes. It would prompt me to ask if there’s any task that they actually would like to try or to do more of. In the short term, they might still have to do the training but maybe I could work out a better arrangement.

        In the end, this is a task that the manager needs someone to do, and it may not be possible for the LW to just beg off.

  9. MsCHX*

    Agree to yawning “professionally”. I am a yawner. I am also one of those people who has tears running no matter how lightly I laugh. It annoys me like crazy. But it IS one thing to cover your mouth, contain it than it is to act like you’re at home on your couch.

    For texting boss – OP, put your phone on DND.

  10. ArtK*

    About the training: Alison is right, what’s being asked of you is perfectly normal. It’s ok to ask for help with the aspects that you aren’t confident in, but if you’ve been doing this for a while, it’s likely you’re doing a better job than you think you are. As far as getting your own work done, you do need to speak up about that. Some managers feel that training activities are somehow free. The way to raise it is to discuss your own performance with your manager and perhaps talk about how much of your time you need to dedicate to training. Keep logs of your regular work and your training work, so that you can show the impact. Also, don’t be afraid of saying “no” to a trainee when your own work needs to be prioritized. Well, rather than “no,” try “I’m *really* swamped right now. Can we schedule some time later to go over this?”

    1. SusanIvanova*

      If they’ve been doing it for a while and yet the turnover is still high, maybe someone else needs to do the training!

  11. Nanani*

    Calls at all hours – If you’re using a smartphone, it can be set up to mute all incoming texts and calls for certain periods of time, either as a built in function or with an app.

    I mute my phone when I go to bed and since my clients are in other time zones, 3 am messages are a natural occurrence. They don’t wake me though, and no one expects a response until the morning in the relevant time zone!

  12. Workfromhome*

    Texts emails etc.
    I used to reply to these ASAP. But it got so that I realized that by doing so I was setting the expectation with people that I would jump on everything at all hours. I stopped looking at stuff after hours for the most part. If I did do work after hours I set a delay to send next day after 8 am. That way I looked like I only dealt with email during regular hours or at least that maybe I started my day early.

    It worked. Rather than getting raked over the coals for not responding to everything within an hour people simply got used to my work hours. Thy didn’t really need it right away..I had just trained them to expect it. If something was truly an emergency people would call. People often expect the worst because they have trained people to have unreasonable expectations. If someone does have the expectation of you being at their beck and call 24 7 (with obvious exceptions for on call type jobs) you probably don’t want that job.

  13. Cat steals keyboard*

    We actually have an email window set out in our employee handbook: no emails outside of 8am to 8pm.

  14. One Handed Typist*

    LW1 (texting/emails):

    My department is small (6 people) with varied hours and we all have iPhones, so we’ve created a group message on iMessage. It’s used for communicating who is going to be at the 6am event or who is running late or what we had to eat at some great restaurant. Mainly it is worthless and annoying. I had a very minor surgery two weeks ago and was away from my phone for 3 hours. I came back to 94 missed messages.

    And that’s the day I set that conversation to Do Not Disturb and changed my email to fetch manually instead of every hour. This has been the best week ever. I don’t check my email unless I have to, I can ignore the conversation because I get no notifications besides the red bubble. It’s joy. HIGHLY recommend it.

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