my boss expects me to work too much

A reader writes:

I’m having a workload issue that I’d like to bring up with my manager, and I’d love some advice on how to frame it. I’ve been at my job for a little over a year, and it’s my first job since getting my master’s degree. I work for a biweekly magazine—I’m often working on short deadlines and juggling a lot of projects at once, but it’s not the sort of publication that covers a lot of breaking news. I’ll usually work 9-10 hours a day at work and then often send emails/do small tasks at home in the mornings or evenings or on weekends. All of this is fine.

Even though we all work a lot, the general culture at my office is not one where people are expected to be on-call all the time. But lately, I’ve been getting many last-minute demands for things to be done urgently when they don’t need to be, to the point where it’s frequently causing me to cancel plans I’ve made in advance for my out-of-work hours. Sometimes they’re concrete commitments—I’ve had to miss classes that I’ve paid for in advance. Or sometimes they’re commitments to myself—like, I blocked out this evening to go to the gym and cook a healthy meal that’ll feed me for the next few days. If I don’t take this time to take care of myself, I know I’ll spend the rest of the week feeling behind, and will probably blow my food budget on takeout.

I work really hard, do far more than the minimum, and have never missed a deadline. My most recent performance review (from this manager, nonetheless) was glowing. I often do say yes to these requests. And of course, if something is actually urgent, I’ll attend to it promptly. So it bothers me that when I do say that I’m not available for something outside of work hours that’s not actually urgent, I’m made to feel like I’m being unreasonable.

Right now, I say something like, “I have plans tonight, but I can get this to you by 10 a.m. tomorrow” or “Yes, I can do A by X time, but I already have B, C, and D on my plate. How would you like me to prioritize these things?” But often, the response is one of tacit disappointment that I’ve given anything other than an enthusiastic, unequivocal YES—even though I know she won’t look at the thing until 10 a.m. the next day anyway, or that there’s no way I can reasonably complete A, B, C and D in the timeframe she’s asking for. I want to please my boss, so I usually end up taking on everything. But then I feel overburdened and end up skipping out on the things that I know make me a healthier, happier person, and frankly, a more productive employee.

My boss definitely has a bit of the “I worked my butt off and worked terrible hours to make it in this field, so the next generation should too!” attitude. But I don’t see other employees at my level being asked to meet the same demands. How can I communicate more effectively to enforce some semblance of work/life balance without coming across as unmotivated?

Yeah, that’s annoying. If you were working a strict eight hours a day and refused to occasionally stay late when needed, I’d tell you that you needed to be more flexible — that many jobs, especially the interesting ones, will sometimes require that you deviate from a strict schedule.

But that’s not your situation at all. You’re routinely working longer hours, plus doing more work from home in the evenings and over the weekend, and you’re getting great feedback. And it sounds like you’re flexible when something is time-sensitive or important — you just don’t want to give up more of your own time when something could easily wait.

That’s all incredibly reasonable.

The fact that you don’t see other employees at your level being pressured in the same way is interesting. I’m curious about whether they do the same type of work as you do, since if their responsibilities are different, that could explain the disparity. But if they do roughly similar work to you, then the plot thickens! It could be that your manager has come to expect more from you — that you’ve been so flexible in the past that she now holds you to a different, higher standard, possibly without even realizing it. Alternately, it’s possible that your manager thinks you’re not pulling your weight in some way — for example, that you’re working at a slower pace than others — so she’s leaning on you harder than she’s leaning on them. But given the glowing performance review she gave you, I’m skeptical that that’s the case.

Whatever the explanation, the solution is the same: talk to your boss. Sit down with her and say something like this: “I want to make sure that we’re on the same page about how I’m managing my time. I put in a lot of hours and often work from home in the evenings or on the weekend. And when something is time-sensitive, I try to be flexible and accommodate it, and a lot of times have canceled existing plans to do that. So, I hope I have a good track record of being reliable and responsive!” (This part is important — you’re reminding her that you’re not someone who’s shirking work.) Then say, “Lately, though, I’ve been getting a lot more requests at the last-minute that would require me to stay late and cancel previous plans — which I don’t mind doing on occasion when something is truly urgent, but it seems to be happening more often. When I’ve tried to prioritize things, like telling you that I can’t do it that night but can have it to you by 10 a.m. the next morning, or that I need to reprioritize other work to fit it in, my sense is that you’ve seemed disappointed in me. But I didn’t want to assume that without talking to you about it directly.”

Stop there and see what she says, because it’s possible that you’ve been misinterpreting her signals. It’s possible that, yes, she’s a little disappointed when you push back on a timeline, but it’s still fine for you to do it. It’s also possible that your desire to please her is causing you to over-correct and cancel plans when she actually doesn’t expect that. If that’s the case, then the solution here doesn’t lie with your boss; it’s about you getting comfortable with the idea that it’s sometimes okay to say no at work, even when people aren’t always delighted by it in the moment.

But if that’s not the case, then say something like this: “I want to make sure that I don’t burn out in the long-run, and so when something can wait until the next day without real harm, I’d like to be able to make that call — and not have you think that I’m shirking my work! If you ever have a concern about my judgment in that regard, I hope you’ll tell me. But otherwise, I want to make sure that I can make responsible decisions that balance the needs of the work with my own need to have some down time.”

It’s possible that your boss just hasn’t stopped to think about how her last-minute requests for non-urgent work are coming across to you or how many of them she makes, or that she hasn’t thought about how often you are available after-hours. People in your shoes usually figure that their boss must be aware of these things — but as a manager, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of just throwing work at people without thinking too deeply about where the boundaries are. To be clear, good bosses don’t do that, but it’s a really common pattern for managers, and sometimes an explicit conversation will solve the problem.

If your boss is at all reasonable, the two of you should be able to get better aligned on how you should be prioritizing. But even if your boss isn’t reasonable, this will still be a useful conversation, because if it turns out that she does want you to be on-call 24/7 with no time for yourself, that’s important for you to know. At that point, you can decide if you want to stay in the job knowing what she expects (which still wouldn’t mean that you should bow to those demands, but you’d at least be prepared for her to be disappointed when you don’t).

Assuming your boss is reasonable, and that she agrees you shouldn’t cancel plans unless something is a true emergency, then after that some of the work shifts to you. You’ll need to believe that it’s okay to set boundaries and decline to cancel plans for non-emergencies. Your manager still might be disappointed in the moment when you say no, but you’ll need to resist whatever pressure you’re feeling (from her or from your own desire to please), and know that her momentary disappointment is not the same as thinking you’re not doing a good job overall. Hopefully, it will be a lot easier to do that once you’ve had an explicit conversation with her about it and laid out where you’re coming from.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 235 comments… read them below }

  1. SC Anonibrarian*

    I’m using a cuss word so this flags moderation – it looks like the link is broken? fuck nooooooo! i wanted to read it! ;)

    1. Annonymouse*

      Do we know of the OP is exempt or not exempt? That is a big labor issue if she is working off the clock and should be receiving OT over 40 hrs or if the OP is working in a state that requires OT after 8 hrs.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        This is a good point! If the OP is hourly, I really hope she’s recording all that overtime.

  2. Mike C.*

    My boss definitely has a bit of the “I worked my butt off and worked terrible hours to make it in this field, so the next generation should too!” attitude.

    This attitude is toxic and vile. Just because things were carp when you were young doesn’t mean that they have to be carp for everyone else. Unless of course you want to go back to having to bite down on a leather strap during surgery instead of going to sleep.

    1. Strawmeatloaf*

      What are these “typewriters” that everyone is using? In my day we had to hand-copy written texts to make more versions of it and we LIKED it.

      Seriously, do not get this attitude unless it’s just a resentment of “well, I had to suffer so they have to too!” thing.

      1. boo*

        Hand copies? You were lucky! We had to chisel everything we wrote onto stone tablets!

        Stone tablets? You were lucky! We had to remember everything in our heads! We memorized epic poems, just for an evening’s entertainment by the fireside!

        Fire? You were lucky!!!

        … so it goes… :)

        1. daniel piggy*

          i have always said it,there is corruption everywhere ,we should stop this, my wife cheated on me, i had to consult FIRMHACKER at GMAIL . COM to help me track her and hacker all her device, i found out she has been extorting me and using the money to finance lavish lifestyle of her boyfriend, can you imagine that?.that is bad

    2. Lil Fidget*

      It’s also really hard to do this when your boss is an overworker themselves, who doesn’t believe in work-life balance, because they just can’t hear you and often don’t respect your reasoning.

      1. It's all Fun and Dev*

        Oh my god so true!! My boss literally came to work with bronchitis, pneumonia, and a double ear infection (at the same time!) so he gives me the side eye when I stay home with the flu. So frustrating, especially when it’s something like sickness that could actually impact others.

      2. NW Mossy*

        I have a friend grappling with this very situation right now, and it is beyond terrible for her. Her boss says things like “I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t working,” which my friend is thinking about how to balance her long days with being able to spend more than zero waking minutes with her small kids. The concept of competing priorities just doesn’t connect.

      3. Blue*

        My boss is a textbook overworker and likes it that way, so I was very worried when he was moved to management and I was put on his team. To his credit, he tries not to expect that of others, but it clearly requires a deliberate effort on his part. It’s like he’s intellectually aware that other people need work/life balance and tries to respect that, but he’ll never really *get* it.

        1. Maude Lebowski*

          Sounds like it sucks because he’s not figuring it out, but I do like seeing bosses try.

      4. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        Yes!! I work closely with one person who is senior to me (and older than me) but who is not my boss. She thinks absolutely nothing of working until 9 or 10pm on a daily basis. I don’t mind working long hours on occasion or when there’s an urgent deadline, but otherwise I really want to have some time away from work. I’ve learned to push back — if she calls me to start working together at 4:45 (when I normally leave around 5 and our appointment was for 3pm) I will sometimes just tell her I have plans that evening and can’t stay late. Not always, because I don’t want her to think I’m inflexible, but at least once out of the 2-3 times per week she does this to me. I know she gets annoyed/disappointed, but I have to set some boundaries and leave work before 7pm some days. I also make less than half her salary.

    3. Archie Goodwin*

      If things were carp, I’d get out right away. That sounds like a real fishy situation, there.


      (But not very.)

    4. AnonNurse*

      Working in a field in which we get a lot of, “well, we had 20 patients each and never slept and worked all the time, and so should you!”, this definitely hits home. And your comment about biting on a leather strap. Ha! I have actually looked at a nurse with 30 years of experience who was telling me why I need to pay my dues and said something along the lines of “look, just because you had to do things the hard way, doesn’t mean we should continue doing them the hard way. We have a less labor intensive process, we’re going to use it. Unless you want to go back to wiping butts with your bare hands”. Yeah, that shut her up. Sometimes, people just need to be called on it.

        1. always in email jail*

          ^they really do. (raised by a nurse, MIL is a nurse, work in a government agency full of nurses)

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            So true. Mom, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, step-sister, niece, niece-in-law…all nurses. I spend an inordinate amount of time saying things like “yep, I get it, she’s just like my mom was…:

        2. banana&tanger*

          So, so much. Got out of clinical settings and it’s so much better. I work an insane amount of (exempt) hours, but get treated with respect by colleagues and superiors and partners. It continues to baffle me how awful so many nurses are to each other while still managing to garner the respect of the public.

      1. hbc*

        Ugh, it’s the worst in the medical field. Can they please find some way to haze that doesn’t involve my life being in the hands of someone who’s been up for 46 hours?

      2. MLB*

        Not in the medical field but in IT and the “we should do it this way because we’ve always done it this way” reason is so obnoxious.

        1. But you don't have an accent...*

          We’ve jokingly banned that at work….we instead tell people to say “The historical methodology for this…”

        2. Jennifer Thneed*

          That’s actually a reasonable answer … if you’re an archeologist asking why a group of people does xyz thing in abc way. That might be the only instance where it’s reasonable, however.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Not to split hairs but while it’s true that archaeologists are anthropologists, they tend to not hang out studying groups of people as much as they do pottery and arrowheads…archaeologists work with artifacts.

            The way groups of people do XYZ…? That would be a cultural/social anthropologist.

            Source: Me, your friendly neighborhood anthropologist.

    5. Anony Today*

      “If I had to endure Mr. Boss calling me ‘Sweetie’ and slapping my rump, then you will too.”
      I’ve been wondering if the If-I-had-to-then-you-have-to mentality has contributed to the continued harassment of women in workplaces. I’ve been hesitant to even suggest it because it is such a hot topic. But I’ve witnessed it.

      1. AKchic*

        Yes. Very much so. There are many people who feel that it is “paying your dues” and “I had to deal/suffer with it, so you need to do it too” or my *favorite* “its a rite of passage”. Sorrynotsorry, but being sexually harassed, stalked, accused of trying to seduce the boss while he’s trying to grope you, etc. is not “a rite of passage”. It’s disgusting. Its criminal. There are so many things I could call it, but a “rite of passage” is not what I would call it.

      2. 2 Cents*

        Not just that, but also with maternity/paternity leave. The HR person at my work just said to me (at 30 weeks pregnant) that she can’t believe how much she has to pay me to “not work” because back when she had kids (like 50 years ago).. blah blah blah. Yeah, it sucked, and I’m sorry about that. Don’t make me feel bad because PROGRESS (what little there has been) has happened, so I don’t need to be typing with one hand while holding my breastfeeding baby with the other.

        1. Troutwaxer*

          The answer is “you paid your dues so I would not have to deal with this shit, and I expect you to support me when I tell you I AM NOT going to deal with this shit!”

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Exactly. While I resent a lot of carp I had to put up with, when I see younger women benefit from my (and many other women’s’) fight(s) against that bullshit, I am happy they don’t have to deal with just smiling and nodding.

      3. Indie*

        I had to listen to a lady at work complain that working women were no longer tough enough to give a slap in the mush when harassed, because they dare complain to the authorities. My point that men are allowed to report crimes and misconduct without resorting to violence kept meeting a wall of ‘but we were tougher’. Yes you were, oh mighty veteran, but anti harrasment ninja skills, as a daily requirement, need to go the way of fire making skills.

        1. disconnect*

          No, Felicia, you weren’t tougher. If you were you would have stood up to the harassers despite the enormous societal pressure to conform and go along, and you might have effected positive change in the world instead of contributing to the sad legacy of “toughen up”.

          1. LurkNoMore*

            She (Felicia) wasn’t tougher and she’s wrong to say that type of comment. However, it’s also wrong to judge women of the past that didn’t stand up to their harassers. You stood up and you got squashed! And most women couldn’t afford to be an ‘effected positive change in the world instead of contributing to the sad legacy of “toughen up”. Kid needed shoes or wanted to go on their 8th grade field trip next month and needed $800 the next day – the day to day had to be addressed before you could tell your boss to jump in the lake.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              This. It’s much easiER to tell the boss to GFY today than it was 40 or 50 years ago when women had pretty much NO recourse … no government support, not much in the way of follow through with protections that were already enshrined in the law, misinformation….etc., etc., etc. Judging past generations based on modern standards is seldom the best practice no matter the subject.

      4. Immersang*

        That’s a very interesting thought. I had a similar one before. Not on workplace harassment, but on the topic of women advancing in the workplace / advancing to management positions.

        I’ve been working for a global tech firm for the last couple of years and that firm has a women’s organisation (among a bunch of other organisations, like LGBT for example). It’s inclusive of everyone, so men are perfectly welcome to contribute and attend meetings. But the topics are obviously related to women in the workplace and specific challenges we face etc. I think it’s also a great networking opportunity because we have a couple of great women in higher-up positions, who attend these meetings and also speak in them.

        There’s a manager in my region, who’s thankfully not my manager, but who I occasionally work with. I don’t think she had a lot of support in her career before coming to this company and had to fight for herself constantly. I know she also had some particular issues with being treated differently than her male co-workers by former (male) managers. Now, she doesn’t see this women’s organisation as something positive, no, she has the “I had to fight for everything myself, so all women should” attitude. I mean, sure, it’s fine if she doesn’t want to attend and says it’s not for her. But she actively bad-mouths the entire concept openly.

        I hate that. There’s nothing better, especially in male-dominated fields like tech, than strong successful women supporting other women. Because you had to walk over legos to achieve your goals, I have to? That’s a bad attitude. Especially since men had these type of networks forever, supporting each other in getting ahead. Everyone thinks that’s perfectly normal. When women start doing this, the biggest enemies of this are in our own ranks. That sucks.

        1. Former Employee*

          I think it’s valuable to have the perspective of someone who was dealing with this stuff 30+ years ago, but that is very different from using what happened back when as a justification for why young(er) women should have to put up with the same treatment now.

          History should be known, but not repeated.

    6. RVA Cat*

      I also wonder how much overlap there is with bosses who are unreasonable like this, and bosses who are downright unethical. For example, in a recent op-ed one of Harvey Weinstein’s former assistants said that while he never harassed her personally, she was on call 24/7 such that she was expected to be ready for international flights on like an hour’s notice.

      1. Competent Commenter*

        Agreed. Abusive behavior comes in many forms. One of the things that astounds me about the Weinstein case is that everyone knew he treated people horribly, even if they didn’t know about the sexual harassment. Employees who treat people horribly should get fired if they can’t stop doing that. End of story.

        1. No Green No Haze*

          One of the things that astounds me about the Weinstein case is that everyone knew he treated people horribly, even if they didn’t know about the sexual harassment. Employees who treat people horribly should get fired if they can’t stop doing that. End of story.

          And I, on the other hand, am astounded that you’re astounded. Because the thing is, they don’t. Get fired. Abusive bosses are everywhere — there is by no means a social/cultural consensus that this kind of bad behavior warrants termination, because almost everyone has worked or is working with a terrible person with power who isn’t getting fired for it. How many letters do we read that conclude with “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change”?

          I love reading the letters, advice and comments on this site, but sometimes I have to wonder about the very idea of workplace norms when it comes to ethical conduct. It seems to me there are people lucky enough to work in places where workers are valued, and others — more? — who aren’t, and that’s it.

    7. kb*

      I think it’s common in human nature because people don’t want to confront the fact the dues they paid and sacrifices they made may have actually been unnecessary and meaningless. Especially if people made big sacrifices like allowing a relationship to fall apart, etc. Like, “Yes, you played by the rules, but it turns out the rules were made-up and silly– sorry if the rules altered the course of your life in a negative way! “

      1. Mike C.*

        Yeah, I think this is a really good point. It also doesn’t help that we have a culture where we worship work for the sake of work.

        1. kb*

          Not just work for the sake of work, but busy for the sake of being/ appearing busy! I have a friend who routinely stresses himself out to to the point of physical illness over things that are incredibly optional. He had a big purge of activities/obligations for the new year and he already feels so much better. I had to tell him, “Dude, if you are an adult who hates tennis, there is literally no reason to commit yourself to a league for it.”

      2. Editor Person*

        Yes! I see this in all walks of life, weightloss especially. Some of the most vile fatphobes are people who used to be bigger and lost weight. It reeks of “I starved and punished myself for being fat, how dare you love yourself as you are!”

        1. kb*

          Yeah, definitely. It would help everyone in society if we all took a few minutes everyday to remind ourselves to evaluate what is important to us and remember what we value isn’t changed by what someone else values.

      3. Betsy*

        I think in some fields people are prone to exaggeration too. I hear very similar things from more senior academics. While I know they have worked very hard for many years, it’s a far worse climate now, and much, much more competitive in most fields than it was 15-20 years ago.

    8. Where's the Le-Toose?*

      Technology has made the “old school I worked my butt off” boss attitude even worse, at least in my field (law).

      In the thrilling days of yesteryear, the hours might have been as bad as they are today, but the intensity wasn’t there because of technological limitations. When I started, almost all research was done by hardbound books. It would take you hours, sometimes days, to find that one case that you can find today in 5 minutes using a word search. The one page letter to opposing counsel was dictated to and transcribed by your secretary and might take a half hour where today you type it yourself and it flies off the printer in 5 minutes. And no one could find you when you were on vacation or even driving your car!

      Old timey boss might have worked 12 hour days, but those days were not as intense as an 8 hour shift today. But they all act like because they did 12 hours, you need to do 12 hours. Not an apples-to-apples comparison.

      Sorry for the rant!

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Well, don’t forget how they all walked to the office, in the snow, barefoot, uphill both ways!

        (And yes, I think these things are related.)

      2. AC*

        This is so accurate. Even just 20-30 years ago, even highly paid professionals did a lot more “clerical” grunt work during the day, and that helped break things up a bit.

    9. LordofFullmetal*

      Also, a lot of what they say just isn’t accurate. Financially at the least, it was a lot easier to get by back then. Back then you could work an entry level job, attend university AND save for a house at the same time. As the cost of living leaps up, and wages/salaries aren’t going up to meet it, things are only becoming harder as time goes by. So I feel like these people need to drop the “when I was your age” spiel; the world that they grew up in no longer exists, so any experience they have isn’t really relevant even if it was good information back when they were younger.

      There’s also the fact that we’ve now learned that mental health is important, and things like that.

  3. Lemon Zinger*

    Great advice from Alison per usual. I was in a similar situation when I started my job. After being awoken by a text from my boss at 3 AM (!), I scheduled a sit-down conversation to clarify what she expected from me. She didn’t think about how her all-hours schedule affected me, and I made it clear that I am not available on weekends without two weeks’ notice and that when I leave the office, I leave my work there too.

    She is a workaholic, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be too.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      True, I used to have a boss who emailed at all hours, but it turned out she didn’t actually expect me to be on email to get those emails. That was just her style and her way of clearing the desks. Still, I felt crappy coming in at 9AM and seeing twelve missed emails from her, some of them building off of others sent a few hours before :(

      1. Ophelia*

        I have to admit I’ve BEEN that boss, but I did have a chat with my reports that I did NOT expect them to read emails in off-hours, and that it was my way of making sure things didn’t slip through the cracks. I got better about it, and instead of sending a ton, would keep one running email to drop a bunch of thoughts/follow-ups into, and just sent that one thing as the “hey, this is my list for us to discuss tomorrow once you’re in.” I think that helped? I hope?

        1. Lil Fidget*

          One longer email would be better, but it’s still hard to tell employees “do what I say, not what I do” – just knowing my boss spends all night and weekends on emails makes me feel like I ought to be doing the same.

            1. Jesca*

              This is what I was going to suggest! It is something that works well in my company that is massive and very global and everyone travels all the time.

              But it is nice that you spoke to your employees about expectations prior, though. That is the missing link with OP’s manager here.

          1. Snark*

            It does carry an implicit expectation of reciprocation, and there’s always the weight of the boss-employee relationship behind an email.

        2. SarahKay*

          Ophelia, I can’t speak for everyone but your system would (and does) work for me.
          I know that my site manager deals with all his emails in the evening, so will send out a number of questions, things to read, etc. However, he’s very clear that we are *not* expected to read them until the following morning. He won’t object if we send a response through there and then, but he has never *ever* called someone out for not answering the same evening.
          I think for me, because I trust him and know that he (quite reasonably, although a year of reading AAM has made me realise how rare ‘reasonable’ can be) doesn’t expect us all to be night-owls just because he is, this causes me no stress at all. I guess it depends on how much you trust your boss, and how much these things tie in with how you like to work – just because I’m not stressed by it doesn’t mean others won’t dislike it.

          1. Snark*

            “I know that my site manager deals with all his emails in the evening, so will send out a number of questions, things to read, etc. However, he’s very clear that we are *not* expected to read them until the following morning.”

            Then why not send them in the morning?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Because you’re doing the work right now. You could save them as drafts to send in the morning, but if you’re up at 3 a.m., you may not be up at 9 a.m. to send them, and that might be when you need people to see them by.

              (And yes, there are ways to time emails to go out at a specific later time, but not everyone has those.)

            2. essEss*

              Postponing the send time seems silly to me. You want them available whenever the time is that the coworker arrives in the office. I might have things I’m working on now but I don’t expect that my coworker to read the email after hours. It’s most efficient to send the questions/information as I get to them. There is no benefit to scheduling the email to go out later when the whole point is to simply have it available to the coworker when they are ready to read it. If it arrives in their inbox at 2am or 7am, it would still be there waiting for them when they arrive. By having it there ready for him/her when they arrive, they can scan through the emails they’ve received the previous evening and prioritize what they need to work on or respond to instead of getting constant interruptions during the day to juggle into their current work if you deliberately delay the ‘send’ to work hours only. When I get in the office, I rarely ever look at the actual “send time” on the emails in my inbox.

            3. Penny Lane*

              Because that makes no sense, snark. I’m thinking something through, I want to pass on my thoughts to my coworker. I fully get that she’s not going to read it til the next morning and that’s fine. What a silly waste of time it would be to then have to manually set some thing that wouldn’t deliver it til 8 am the next day.

              1. Cats and Dogs*

                Now that I’m in a position of defacto management (at least until one of my bosses returns from maternity leave) I find that I more regularly delay the time when I send emails (I use an app to schedule their delivery time). I do this for two reasons: one is for the colleagues in my department, so they don’t receive an email from me at 11pm and feel pressure that I might be particularly invested in a topic (when I’m not). The second is to hide the fact that I’m working at 11pm for people in more senior positions. I don’t really want them to know that I’m awake and answering emails at 11pm.

                1. sam*

                  I don’t delay delivery, but I will sometimes preface a message that I’m sending at an odd time or late on a Friday with a caveat along the lines of “I’m sending this now because I was thinking about it and didn’t want to forget, I don’t expect you to respond tonight/this weekend”.

                  Given that I’m a lawyer working with other lawyers, I’ll often still get responses (my outside law firm lawyers will often be working on other stuff and just add it to the pile – I don’t miss those days!), but it still takes some of the URGENCY pressure off.

                  I’ve had bosses for whom *everything* was a fire drill, and that was just a terrible existence. Even when they were workaholics themselves and weren’t pushing everything down to you, it just left you on edge all the time. There’s a difference between the occasional night/weekend email (and real emergencies!), and working in an environment where you could never make solid plans – a friend of mine actually commented recently that it’s so nice that I don’t “hedge” my plans anymore (aka, make plans with a “unless something comes up at work” caveat at the end).

                2. Stormy*

                  Yes, my insomniac friend had to start delay-sending his e-mails because people were getting nosy about why he was constantly using e-mail at a million o’clock at night.

                  On the opposite side, if you work in a crazy environment, I guess you could write all your e-mails at the end of your day and delay-send them in the middle of the night so you look like a midnight rockstar!

              2. Marillenbaum*

                I mean, I sometimes use Boomerang to schedule emails to send at a specific time–not because I don’t want something to think I’m working in the evening (gasp!) but because I want to ensure it’s closer to the top of their inbox, and timing it to arrive closer to 9 AM makes that easier. Or, when I had a boss that assumed you couldn’t possibly know you were going to be out sick the day before, I’d schedule those emails to go out at 4:28 AM so it would look suitably spontaneous and I could sleep without worrying about it.

            4. Llamarama (Ding Dong)*

              I send them when I write them because I’m working with 4 global time zones and a 24/7 team schedule. The time it would take me to figure out when someone is next going to be in the office and schedule accordingly is mind-boggling. I make it clear repeatedly that when I send things is not indicative of when I need a reply unless otherwise indicated I do not need/want an immediate response.

            5. SarahKay*

              Well, he knows that I’m also an owl rather than a lark, so if I’m still here he may get an answer fast, which – bonus. Plus, he’s a serious owl and most of his team are larks, so by sending them at night they can get a start on the emails long before he’s in.
              But all of this is fine with me (and the rest of his team) because he is a reasonable person who makes his expectations clear and those expectations absolutely include the fact that we know that email from him is for as-and-when we get to it, not as-and-when he sends it. If there’s a fire (hopefully metaphorical) he’ll phone us.
              For less reasonable bosses who mix ‘Fire!’ emails with every day ones, I would be far less happy about it.

        3. Snark*

          “I have to admit I’ve BEEN that boss, but I did have a chat with my reports that I did NOT expect them to read emails in off-hours”

          I’m glad you did, and I’m glad you stopped sending them multiple emails. But if anybody else is reading this and does this….most employees assume that if their boss is emailing them things off-hours, boss needs them to act on those items off-hours. Don’t abuse it. I’ve worked with bosses that used emails as their task/action item management system, and just spammed me anytime they had a stray thought about something regarding one of my projects, and it’s terribly frustrating and anxiety-inducing to get 15 emails on Saturday from your boss that amount to random notes and errata that don’t need dealt with till Monday. It’s literally impossible to relax or focus on anything else.

          1. hbc*

            I would say that’s not at all universal. At a lot of companies, there are flexible work schedules, and I don’t expect the person who took a half day on Thursday for a doctor’s appointment to jump through hoops just so I don’t see when he’s catching up at 9pm. Nevermind all my colleagues six time zones away–we’d have a two to three hour window where we could possibly email each other and not cause disruption.

            I think it’s much more usual to have an understanding that email is a medium for Within A Business Day type stuff and texts or calls are for immediate issues. And wherever I’ve worked, if someone had a problem with emails in off-hours, it’d be up to them to disable notifications or otherwise manage their anxiety around this.

            1. Snark*

              The issue arises when some items are on-fire, need your review and reply now, and some items are “totally fine to deal with on Monday,” and there’s no differentiation between the two because the boss just hammers out an email every time something crosses their mind.

              1. Natalie*

                I think it sounds like there are some issues with how email is dealt with at your current office (I would not email someone if something was on fire, literally or metaphorically) but I don’t know that it extends to any universal rules about email. What you’re describing sounds frustrating, truly, but it hasn’t been anywhere close to my experience with work email at any office where I’ve worked.

                1. Snark*

                  This was past tense – my current job is very different, thankfully. And I’m glad you haven’t experienced it, but it’s not unheard of – and misuse of email and weird norms around it often go hand in hand.

                2. Natalie*

                  I’m not saying it’s not unheard of, but your initial statement was “most employees assume that if their boss is emailing them things off-hours, boss needs them to act on those items off-hours”. I think that’s a stretch.

              2. Penny Lane*

                Snark, it seems like your problem isn’t necessarily with off-hours email per se, but in your manager’s inability to distinguish between “Here’s a thought for you on the Purple Teapot account, think about it when you have a chance and let me know if it makes sense” and “Urgent, urgent, all hands on deck, client deliverable’s been moved up by 2 weeks.”

            2. EW*

              I used to have a very strict rule not to send emails out during my “non-work” hours. I sometimes read them, but I really didn’t want anyone to know I read my emails when I was not at work so I wouldn’t respond until the next day.

              Then I got a global position. Often times a quick email response here or there can save DAYS of back and forth emails. I’ve changed my tune. There’s not an expectation unless it’s an urgent email, but I’ve found it’s not as important to me to protect my off hours as it is to be responsive to my team.

              1. Penny Lane*

                Absolutely! I had a position where I communicated with global vendors and clients, and a quick email response, whether it was at 9 pm my time while I watched TV, or at 6 am while I was lazily contemplating getting out of bed, saved tons of back and forth and kept projects going. Really, it’s not as though I was performing brain surgery on my off hours — if I’m just sitting with my spouse on the couch watching Big Bang Theory, I might as well have a computer open and move along a few things. That’s efficient.

          2. Ophelia*

            I think that’s totally fair – I also should clarify that this was me doing daily clean up after work hours, but not super-late, and my employees generally did not have/were not expected to access their work email outside the office, so the issue was one of seeing several emails at 9am, not getting constant smartphone pings. I definitely see where you’re coming from, though.

          3. Risha*

            I don’t know that _most_ employees do that. I’m sorry it apparently freaks you (and it looks like many others!) out, but perhaps it’s because I’m an old fart (at 41), but if I walk into a bunch of emails in the morning, I’m not attaching any assumptions to that other than that maybe my boss works too hard.

            Email is by definition meant to read at a later time. If it’s an emergency, she’ll text or IM me instead.

            1. essEss*

              bingo! If it’s urgent, then normally it would have a title that says “urgent” or “Action requested” or some other key phrase (but not as urgent as getting that text or phone call). Otherwise, it’s an email that is simply dumped into the pile to be read when you are ready.

            2. Ophelia*

              I do think this really gets at the point that the existing relationship between boss and employees, as well as corporate culture around expectations for checking email make a BIG difference here. I think particularly in industries where people are working across time zones, or have project-based work that isn’t on a set schedule, the culture of “email is for putting stuff out there for others to pick up when they get in” is more prevalent, whereas in places like Hamlet’s first BigLaw job, getting an email at 3am meant, “You had better be awake to answer my email and respond to my every whim.”

            3. Snark*

              I’m not a great deal younger than you, but my work email goes straight to my personal phone, because there are occasionally things that they need to get to me on Saturday. I’m fine with walking into a packed email on Monday morning. I’m not fine with “da-dink!” every 20 minutes on Saturday.

              1. Penny Lane*

                But snark, no one is making you have a “da-dink” response on your phone to the arrival of email. (Besides, honestly, that’s just no way to live in general, whether the emails are personal or work-related.) The whole POINT of email is that you get to choose when you engage with it; having the “da-dink” turns it back into texting, essentially, because it signals “hey, something’s here, better look at it.” That’s on you if you’ve set your phone that way; it’s not at all mandatory.

                1. Snark*

                  You’re not wrong, but you’re assuming all workplaces cultivate a healthy use of email, where it’s actually understood that the recipient may not immediately engage with it, where it’s understood that it’s not like texting, and where you can generally count on “thoughts on XYZ project” not including a budget proposal that needs your immediate review and response. And many workplaces are like that! But not my previous one. My boss used email for urgent needs, for random brain droppings, for task management, and to ask if I’d seen the hole puncher, and you had to actually open every email to figure it out. Those types of workplaces do exist, and while I’m aware they’re not ubiquitous, we need a lot fewer of them.

                2. Cristina in England*

                  I think Snark’s point is that there were sometimes urgent emails on a Saturday that genuinely needed attention but there was also a lot of low level stuff that could wait. But, and this is the key, because he knew that one of them might be urgent, he was particularly attuned to them and had to look at them all to make sure an important one didn’t get ignored.

            4. Penny Lane*

              Exactly. What difference would it have made if she’s sent those emails at 5:15 pm (after I’d left for the day), at 8 pm because she logged on after dinner, or at 2 am because she’s pulling an all-nighter? Why would I even bother looking?

          4. Risha*

            Also, the bigger question here is, why are you checking your work email on a Saturday?

            If it’s attached to your phone, does it actually have to be?

            I’ve never yet worked a job where I was _required_ to hook my work email up to my phone, and if I have my druthers I never will. When and if I need to check mine after hours, I can pull up a web browser. All that having your phone automatically notify you about any random thing that drifts in after hours is good for, is making people anxious.

            1. Natalie*

              And on the iphone, at least, you can turn off notifications (including badges, the little red number icon) for individual email accounts. When I had work email on my phone I turned the badges off (because I am a lemming for badge notifications) and it never bothered me but was still conveniently available when I needed it.

            2. Snark*

              “If it’s attached to your phone, does it actually have to be?”

              If it didn’t need to be, would I have allowed it to be? As I said above, I would get a completely undifferentiated salad of urgent action items and miscellaneous low-priority crap, and I’d need to sort through that myself, because it was usually just a reply to some other email or didn’t even hav ea subject line.

              1. Risha*

                Honestly, and I say this with the complete sympathy of one who has been on many an on call rotation and loathed it, it sounds less like late night emails are inherently an issue, and more like your specific job has a crap method of notifying you about urgent after hour issues.

                1. KellyK*

                  Yeah, that sounds like the case. If the expectation is that urgent things are going to be communicated by email after hours, then either those should be the *only* emails people receive after hours or the urgent emails should be sent as high importance or have “URGENT” in the subject line.

            3. Windchime*

              Yeah, I always wonder about people who are constantly checking their email. Does it really need to be on your phone and available constantly? I’ve never put my work email on my phone (and I never will do so as long as it’s optional). My boss will text or call me if there is a problem, and if I’m on call and something comes up, there is a little app on my phone that will notify me.

              I know some people really do need to be connected to work at all times, but I would guess that most of us don’t really need that level of connectivity.

              1. Birch*

                At the very least it should be optional! TBH I think individuals need to take more responsibility about whether they should be interacting with email after hours, and make sure bosses and colleagues understand those personal boundaries. I have my email notifications on my phone because for me personally, I find it very stressful to open email at 9am Monday and finding an email from Saturday changing an event to 9.15 Monday. Or that a deadline has been missed or whatever. It helps me relax having the knowledge that there is nothing urgent in my inbox and I can choose when to respond to the rest. I’m also in academia working with people over 17 time zones, so everyone is emailing at weird times! But if I ever felt pressured to reply off hours, I would take it off my phone just make a plausible deniability!

                OP here needs to say no to taking on this extra work. Maybe making the point that it’s not possible to keep up the same level of quality on all the projects, so they need to set a limit. And if it’s possible, set some kind of “not available” signal on email etc. Or just make sure the boss knows OP is not available at certain times after hours. And be firm about it.

              2. FD*

                At a healthy work culture, no. I’ve been lucky to be able to set boundaries at my current role–I don’t check email from my phone, period, and if people have an emergency they can call or text me. After a while of training, people know that I am very good about responding to email, but I won’t do it after hours.

                That said, I understand what Snark is saying too in that I worked one place with a boss who spammed emails at all hours and would get testy if you didn’t respond. It was very frustrating to get the same ‘ding!’ for a “IT’S THREE IN THE MORNING AND I AM HAVING THOUGHTS ABOUT TPI REPORTS THAT I EXPECT YOU TO DEAL WITH RIGHT NOW” and “Hey, I just wanted to touch base with you regarding whether you had considered our llama shearing proposal.”

          5. limenotapple*

            I send my staff emails at whatever time I am working, and I have let them know that I don’t expect them to reply or *even check their email* when they aren’t at work. If management expectations are clear, this shouldn’t be a problem. I hope I am not causing anxiety because I have let them know my expectations. I don’t see the problem with this (and also don’t see the problem when my boss sends me weekend email). Perhaps other situations have more anxiety-laden communication than mine.

          6. MCMonkeyBean*

            I don’t assume that at all. I sometimes get emails from people late at night or at like 6AM but I don’t see them until I’m back in the office around 8:30. I know that they know I won’t see them until then, so I don’t assume they think it’s urgent. If they really needed me to look at something urgently they could call or text me, but and email is just something that is there, available in my inbox, for me to look at whenever I next get on my computer.

      2. Kelly L.*

        Yeah, I’m guilty of this sometimes–just firing off emails when I think of things, rather than when it makes any sense for other people to be logged in and reading them. LOL

        1. Snark*

          It’s not really that funny. It can cause a lot of stress and anxiety on the other end – consider finding a different system.

          1. ChiAnon*

            Huh. Although I don’t manage anyone, I have also sent emails outside of regular work hours because I didn’t want to forget to send them later. I have always assumed that people wouldn’t check their work email outside of work hours, and if they did, it’s their decision whether or not to act on my email immediately (I certainly don’t ever expect anyone to respond immediately and nothing in my emails gives a sense of urgency). It would never occur to me that simply by sending an email, I’m encroaching on someone’s time off (as opposed to, say, a phone call or text, which seem harder to ignore).

            I wonder if this is a byproduct of how I generally handle my work email inbox (notifications for it are disabled on my smart phone, and I’m pretty good about only checking it during work hours). I know my husband is more inclined to respond to emails right away, even if he’s not at work, because it bugs him that he saw the email and didn’t respond.

          2. CarrieT*

            It shouldn’t cause stress and anxiety to receive emails when you’re not even supposed to be checking your email. The general assumption in my office with emails is that, if no deadline or urgency is noted, we have 24-48 hours to get back to the person. So why does it matter whether I received the email at 3am vs 10am? It’s not the sender’s job to coddle the recipient and send the email at the perfect time.

            1. Snark*

              And while that may be the assumption at YOUR office, the situation I’m describing is when I WAS expected to be responsive to the occasional high-urgency email, interspersed with errata and brain droppings. And there wasn’t any indication as to urgency or deadline. So I’d have to check every email to see if it was hot, and it usually wasn’t, but if I just blew them off, it’d be a problem.

              and, coddle? That’s oddly condescending phrasing. It’s not coddling to make sure you’re not bugging people at all hours strictly for your convenience.

              1. Penny Lane*

                I truly don’t get why you’d have the “ding” notification on 24/7 for email, though.
                Don’t you get general personal email at all times of day and night? I don’t want to hear the “ding” every time Nordstrom sends me a notification of a sale or the Democrats want me to contribute or a Nigerian prince has a new offer I must take up — so why would I keep the “ding” on for email? I get that offices might require you to do so *for work email* *while sitting in the office* but if we’re talking about being off hours, I don’t see how one can complain that email is intrusive when the power is fully in your hands to turn off the notification and check email when *you* want to.

              2. Jesmlet*

                If there’s an understanding that no one is supposed to do anything in response to these emails outside of work hours, I don’t see what the problem is with sending them. I just ignore them and deal with what I need to in the morning.

                Coddle is probably not the politest word to use but if getting an email outside of working hours that you don’t even have to look at is anxiety-inducing, then the issue is more with the recipient than the sender. It’s really not that hard to not check your email. Your response seems more about your specific office where there were unrealistic expectations than the practice in general.

              3. Jennifer Thneed*

                You’re assuming that all mail automatically gets delivered seconds after it gets sent. This is not the case at all.

                I get it, Snark. You had a crap boss who behaved in a crappy way. It sounds like you’re not defending that method of behaving, you’re just saying that in the real world, this kind of crap happens.

              4. Jaybeetee*

                This seems to be a work culture issue – what others are saying is that while they may send/receive emails at weird hours, it’s understood across the board that people don’t have to read/act on those emails outside of regular hours. So it has been at my workplaces as well – even if I receive something at a weird hour, no one expects me to do anything about it until business hours (and like others here, I also occasionally correspond across time zones, where this understanding is even more important). You’re quite right though, that at your former workplace, mixing urgent and non-urgent emails during off-hours, with no easy way to tell the difference without opening and reading each one, is terrible practice.

                1. Betsy*

                  It really depends on your work culture. I once had a boss who admitted to me that she really couldn’t help but judge employees who didn’t respond to emails on the weekend.

          3. Natalie*

            Oh, I very much disagree. That’s the whole benefit of asynchronous communication like email. I’m sympathetic if someone has a lot of anxiety around it, but I don’t think the solution to that lies on the sender’s end.

            1. Penny Lane*

              If people are dumb enough to have their phone ding every time they receive an email so they hear me sending something whether it’s 5:15 pm, 8 pm, or 1 am, that’s not my problem.

              Anyway, most professional people I know get up and scan their email in the morning before leaving the house anyway, so they can respond to the easy questions (“yes,” “no,” “3 pm,” “by next Tuesday,” “$1,500 plus shipping”), clear a lot of that accumulated email, and know what is in store by the time they hit the actual office.

              1. Snark*

                “If people are dumb enough to have their phone ding every time they receive an email so they hear me sending something whether it’s 5:15 pm, 8 pm, or 1 am, that’s not my problem.”


                1. Lil Fidget*

                  The issue is that for many people they have an in between situation where some emails are expected to be responded to urgently, and others are not. The result of this system is that you have to be constantly checking. I resolved this with my workaholic boss by setting up a system where he would text me if it really was urgent and needed to be addressed right away, as I warned him I would not be able to do this constant checking. Usually I dislike texts in a professional context, but this saved my sanity.

                2. Elizabeth H.*

                  I agree with Penny Lane. If it is reasonably clear at someone’s workplace that they’re not expected to act on emails they receive on the weekend, I think the onus is on the email receiver to disable their work email notifications or whatever if they know it is going to stress them out to see work email. I get my work email on my phone, once in a while will respond to something on the weekend if it’s easy/genuinely urgent/more useful to do it right away, and it doesn’t bother me. Sometimes I remove my work email shortcut from my home screen before a weekend or vacation.

                3. Long time lurker 99999*

                  I don’t mean this as an attack, but Snark as a LTL your comments are consistently adversarial. People have different opinions and the constant doubling down is highly annoying on Every. single. Thread. There are lots of commenters on this site who I don’t agree with but you are the only one I feel compelled to remark on

              2. Risha*

                Yeah, no. Some people aren’t given a choice on the matter, and some people set that up before realizing that it’s a terrible idea even though they don’t really need to, and some companies have a culture of setting it up even though it’s not technically required. I’ll tell everyone who’ll listen not to attach their work email to their phone if they have that choice, but I don’t know that calling them ‘dumb’ if they do is in any way helpful.

                And I’ve heard about people checking their email before work, or even getting out of bed, and remain incredulous. What the hell, get some f-ing work-life balance, people.

                1. Penny Lane*

                  Ok, sorry for the “dumb,” but it’s a simple setting to turn off the “ding” for a new email.

                  I don’t see anything incredulous about checking email before work or in the morning. That’s often what distinguishes people and organizations who get shit done, who are responsive to their clients/customers. So many things we deal with could so easily be answered if someone would spend 10 minutes at night or in the early morning going through their emails and responding “yes,” “no” or “got it” and keeping things moving.

              3. SarahKay*

                But that does rather assume that you have a reasonable boss who won’t mix urgent and non-urgent at all times of the day and night.
                I’m lucky enough that this is true; Snark isn’t (or wasn’t); not sure that calling him dumb for being unlucky in his boss is entirely fair.

        2. many bells down*

          I will do this so that I don’t forget to reply to something later, but I always try to make it clear that an immediate response is not needed. I don’t assume people are even checking their emails at 9pm.

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I think this is a good way to go. My boss comes in later than I do, works later than I do, and has 1000x more on his plate than I do, so he will often send emails in the evening. He also responds to clients later in the day, especially if clients write to him in the evening (our clients tend to work odd hours). It took a few months for us to get used to each other, but he started including, “Please take care of this first thing in the morning,” or, “On Monday, please do X.” It’s not because he expects me to check my email at 9pm– he doesn’t– but he knows that I will often check my email at 9pm and he wants me to know that I don’t even need to respond.

        3. KellyK*

          I don’t think that necessarily hurts anything as long as you make sure people know you aren’t expecting them to read and respond right away. If they’re your coworkers, that might be obvious. If you’re their boss, you should tell them that explicitly. Email is asynchronous communication, and if it takes just as long to send the email as to write yourself a note so you’ll remember to send it later, you may as well send the email.

      3. Ugh*

        I have one of these managers. Unfortunately, he also had a tendency to attempt to joke or be sarcastic in emails which of course is a terrible medium for sarcasm. Two weekends ago he emailed our team on Saturday morning to let us know he was scheduling a staff meeting for the next week and made it sound like it was due to a problem when in reality it was just a routine thing. I knew he was joking because I had talked to him about it on Friday, but one of my coworkers freaked out.

    2. CBH*

      Lemon Zinger – I’m curious, how did your boss take it when you laid out your terms – not available on weekend, needing 2 weeks notice, leaving work at the office. What was her response?

    3. RabbitRabbit*

      Agreed with all of this. Fortunately my higher-ups are great with our workload management and priorities; it’s the other departments that can freak out.

      In my job we handle tea and teapot regulatory submissions for other departments in our institution, who want to study the various effects of certain teapot designs or teas on people. Sometimes it’s an emergency situation, like “we have a person we just diagnosed and the Teapot and Tea Administration agreed that they need this medicinal tea to hopefully save their life!” and we’ll go into overdrive/stay late/etc to handle the submission, get it reviewed and approved.

      But then we have the people who are always sending in ’emergencies’ that are more like things they put off, mismanagement of their workload, etc., and we just can’t go the extra mile on every other tea study. We tell you to submit your tea project renewal 4 weeks in advance and you give us one week and a heads-up e-mail? Sometimes we can’t get someone to look at the renewal in time and you need to stop working with that tea until we can get it renewed. That’s not on us.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        Forgot to add – the worst one will be e-mailing at any given hour of the day, sending in tea and teapot usage applications on holidays and weekends, and cc’ing everyone a level or two above her when she asks us about where on earth the update to their tea submission is.

    4. Snark*

      “She didn’t think about how her all-hours schedule affected me”

      This is the kind of thing that makes me want to scream. HOW? How the hell does it not occur to someone that texting their report at 3AM is bonkers? I don’t care if you ARE a workaholic, you’re insane if you’re texting people about work at 3AM.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Eh, I don’t agree. If that’s when you’re working, then that’s when you’re working. It doesn’t indicate a terrible culture; it could indicate that you’re a night owl (me) or that your sleep schedule is messed up or that you just like to work weird hours in a culture that encourages you to set your own schedule. It’s crucial that if you’re doing that as the boss, you need to be very explicit with people about why and that it doesn’t indicate you expect anything remotely similar from them, and you need to ensure that you’ve created a culture where that will be believed. It’s really about the broader culture and broader expectations, not the timestamp on any one email.

        1. Annie*

          This may be a quirk of mine, but I expect others may feel the same: an email at 3 a.m. is acceptable to me, but a text would not be. It’s more similar to calling someone, since it alerts/pings them at that very moment, than it is to sticking a post-it note on their desk.

          1. Windchime*

            Honestly, my phone is on “Do Not Disturb” while I’m sleeping. I don’t even get texts at that hour. Most of my family knows that if they need to get ahold of me after bedtime, they need to call and the “whitelist” will let them through. But texts and email notifications? No way. I’m lucky enough to have the kind of job where it can wait till morning.

            1. What's with today, today?*

              This ain’t logistically work for most, but it does for me.

              I have to be at work (and chipper in front of an audience) at 4 a.m. Friends, family, colleagues…know if they text me after 9 p.m., while I’m asleep, the reply will come between 3:30 and 4 a.m., while they are asleep. A few early morning replies is all it takes to train people. It’s effective.

        2. animaniactoo*

          I disagree with this strongly. There’s an entire different set of etiquette around texting than e-mail. I agree that e-mail is just when you happen to be working.

          But texting? Many people sleep with their phones nearby and are likely to be woken by a text alert. Yes you can set the notification to silent, but many people don’t use that option (unless it’s a separate work phone), because they need people to be able to call/reach them in case of a true emergency. If you’re *texting* people at 3 am (in the same relative time zone), it is almost as bad as calling them at 3 am and there is something very very wrong.

          1. BeezLouise*

            Yeah, if you’re texting me at 3 a.m., you had better be in the hospital AND need me to cover something for you first thing in the morning. Otherwise leave me alone.

            But emails in the middle of the night are a completely different animal.

          2. The Person from the Resume*

            Do not disturb mode is your friend. Mine is automatically set since I sleep next to my phone. But of course you don’t need to sleep by your phone either.

            1. animaniactoo*

              Did you actually read the entirety of my post on reasons why people would NOT want to set their phone to DND?

              1. Jesmlet*

                What I’m about to suggest places too big a burden on the recipient, but it is something that works for me… You can hide alerts for specific numbers. I toggle this on and off for my one main work contact that I get messages from outside of work hours, so technically there is a way around that even if it’s supremely annoying to have to do.

              2. Samata*

                I have my phone on DND from 8p-6:30a but with the option for double calls to be allowed to go through. Chances are if someone close to me is calling about an emergency between those hours they will try a 2nd time if I don’t answer because, well, sleep.

          3. CarrieT*

            I agree that texting others at night is a no-no, but I also think it’s the individual’s responsibility to silence their phone at night. There are ways to allow only a few key contacts to ring calls through. No silencing your phone is just asking to be woken up by some random drunken friend, someone in a different time zone, or an auto-text from various programs you’ve got set up.

            1. Natalie*

              Personally, overnight texting still bothers me because I’ll check a text or voicemail immediately when I get up, but I wouldn’t do the same thing for an email. Not that it’s the end of the world or anything, just a pet peeve.

            2. animaniactoo*

              That is provided that you are only willing to hear from a few key people in case of emergency. I have at least 20 friends that I would be fine with calling me in case of emergency, and I am not okay with limiting myself “in case of a drunken friend”. If a drunken friend calls inappropriately at that time of night/morning more than once, I have no problem blocking *them* from calling during those hours.

              So I don’t agree that not silencing my phone is “asking” for anything other than being able to answer it in case of a true emergency.

          4. Penny Lane*

            Texting implies emergency and drop-everything-now. Email has no such expectation.

            Texting at 3 am would have to be a real emergency (“the factory is burning” or “I’m in the hospital and can’t make the client meeting in London”) – in which case, heck, why not just call already.

      2. LCL*

        Or it just indicated that the person is working at 3AM. This is more a reflection of the way people use their phones. You can text me all you want at 3AM, I have all texts and email alerts off so they don’t bother me. I do keep the company phone within reach, sometimes I have to respond to middle of the night emergencies, in those cases someone will make a phone call because there will be a need for a discussion and an immediate reponse.

        1. Penny Lane*

          Text feels more intrusive into my personal time / space than email does. Because I can’t help but see a text (and have to read / respond to it to use my phone), whereas I CHOOSE whether I’m going to go into email while I’m sitting watching TV or whatever.

        2. KellyK*

          I think the upshot of all of this is that if you’re working at 3AM, you absolutely *must not* contact people with routine stuff using the same method you would use to contact them if there was an emergency that required an immediate response. And you should have that conversation with the people you’re likely to contact in emergencies, so you’re on the same page.

          In your situation, you can turn off text and email alerts because you know people will call in an emergency. Someone whose boss texts or emails with a 3AM emergency isn’t able to filter like that.

      3. Mrs. Fenris*

        I used to work in a 24-hour animal hospital. I was one of 6 vets, and we commonly texted the entire group with quick case summaries or photos of X-rays and asked for input. (The first time I got a text from a young vet with a photo of an x-ray and “Do you think this looks surgical?” my first thought was “wow, I wish I’d been able to do that when I was new.”) It was understood that some or all of the rest of the group would be sleeping, and nobody was required to answer. I have my phone on DND from 10:30 to 6, but the rest of them knew that I wake up at least once during the night and check my phone. So sometimes I would chime in on these, but not often in real time. I checked my phone once at 3 AM and found this text, left by my coworker for whenever I happened to see it: “Your [critical case’s] [specific vital sign] is normal. She looks great. Now quit worrying and go back to sleep. :-)”

  4. CatCat*

    Great advice and good luck to the OP. Definitely have this conversation before your burn out and see what actually happens. If the boss ends up not Getting It with her behavior (may be subtle, like saying it is fine, but then making little remarks later suggesting it’s not reeeeally fine), look for something new before you burn out.

  5. Lil Fidget*

    I have come to realize that I do this to myself, and I totally imagine my bosses disapproval and disappointment (or just way overreact to a minor moment of adjustment). I’m not making a conscious effort to assume it’s fine and act as if it’s not a big deal.

  6. Jenn*

    Good luck to the OP. From my experience this is endemic to the consumer-focused publishing industry as it continues to grapple with 21st century funding realities, especially if you are in a traffic cop role like managing editor or a final-print role like in the art department or a copy editor. There’s an even greater need for a superior product, and even fewer advertising and subscriber dollars to pay for it. As a result, the staff get squeezed. I had many conversations with supportive and unsupportive bosses over the years and finally just switched careers.

    I hope people will disagree with me and that there are still decent jobs out there.

    1. Anonymous pub date*

      I’m in publishing as well, though in a non-editorial role, and I’m getting out for these same reasons.

      1. I'd Rather not Say*

        Also the case in broadcast media, and it will probably continue because so many people want these “glamorous” jobs.

    2. Letter Writer*

      I agree. And it’s a challenge as someone who is new-ish to the field to distinguish between what problems are specific to the industry versus the particular job/workplace you’re in versus you, as an individual.

  7. an infinite number of monkeys*

    In the most toxic place I ever worked, the owner/CEO once sneered at a room full of exhausted, demoralized employees, “When I see you here working until 8, 9, 10 o’clock at night, that doesn’t tell me you’re dedicated. It just tells me you don’t know how to manage your time.”

    That would be an example of an UNreasonable boss. Hopefully yours is better!

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      I don’t know. I kinda agree with that sentiment. In some places, people think that whoever stays the latest is working the hardest. In many cases, the truth is the hardest workers are done the soonest.

        1. Snark*

          The read I get is that the employees were actually that ridiculously overloaded, and then the boss had the gall to take a shot at them doing what was necessary to get it all done.

          1. ragazza*

            That was my sense too. I would be so tempted to say, “Well, it tells ME that this company has no idea how to manage our workflow or strategize for workforce needs.”

          2. an infinite number of monkeys*

            The particular circumstance leading up to that meeting was an effort to land a new client, so the entire staff was working very long hours for a two- or three-month period preparing design comps, coding, writing copy, etc., while getting in trouble for not keeping existing clients happy. At the time I was there the company had a sales staff of about 30 and a production staff of, maybe, 8?

            We were all salaried. One account manager noted that if she calculated hourly, she’d actually been paid more for bagging groceries when she was in high school.

            It’s been a very long time. I can laugh about it now!

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Then you never had a boss that gave you 60 hours of work for a 40 hour work week?
        My experience is that bosses like this have no idea about the details of the work. They also refuse to admit that they aren’t the experts and therefore can’t guess the amount of time a task would take.
        My favorite example? Creating a test case for integrated test. My clueless lead gave me a 7 hour budget, which included review and sign off from other departments. She refused to change the task even when all other groups showed an average of 40 hours per test case.

        1. Earthwalker*

          As a project manager for a wide variety of efforts, I wasn’t the expert in every technical area involved in my projects. I didn’t always know how much effort went into a task. I’d ask the team members, of course, but sometimes things didn’t go as expected. I counted on people telling me, “It’s too much, it’s unreasonable.” Sometimes they would and we’d renegotiate the timeframe or scope of work. Other times I’d overhear them grousing to an officemate about how clueless and unfair I was before I knew there was a problem. I came to believe that an unreasonable boss is the one who won’t adjust your workload when you speak up, not the one who isn’t an expert at everything or who can’t read his employees’ minds.

        2. please*

          I’ve had good bosses do it. But here’s the thing – it’s once or twice a year, for legitimate, largely external, reasons that we cannot control and/or plan for.

          Consistent overwork due to bad planning is terrible. Overwork sometimes, rarely, is reality.

  8. Elizabeth H.*

    Wow – I hope the letter writer is well paid or at the very least, salaried for doing so much work outside of the “typical” workday. I was also curious about the different expectations for her versus other employees at the same level – it wasn’t clear to me if the other employees who are at the same level are also supervised by the same boss, or if it’s the issue that her boss is one who has (comparatively) outsized expectations. I care about my job but I cannot imagine missing, say, a yoga class I had already paid for in order to work (yoga is my true passion) – I’m sad for the letter writer that she feels the need to do this when she sounds like such a reliable employee who’s already putting a ton of hours in!

    1. Lil Fidget*

      OP might also want to ask themselves (I am very cynical) – is s/he, the OP, benefiting from doing all this extra work outside regular hours? In a low paid field, s/he may not being paid any better than the low wage their making, might not see any raises or promotions, and might find themselves in the unemployment line just as fast as their colleagues if the magazine folds. A good reputation and good work experiences to talk about is certainly valuable, but … if everyone else is doing the minimum, there might be a reason for that (such as an industry that will eat your soul for nothing, if you let it).

  9. Clever Alias*

    Please take seriously Alison’s advice to pause and evaluate whether you’ve been misinterpreting her signals. I have a young, eager to please coworker who sounds very much like you. In her case, it is definitively her anxiety around “disappointing” our boss that leads to her crazy hours. I don’t know how to make her see this.

    I’m not saying that this is the case with you. I mean, our boss is plenty demanding about a lot of other things that adds to this anxiety, I’m sure. But it’s definitely worth that moment of reflection as part of your conversation.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I do have some deeply neurotic coworkers who are always burning the midnight oil and “making it work,” and they 100% do this to themselves by being unable to prioritize effort and set reasonable boundaries. Every task seems to require full focus and hours of effort for them, no matter how minor.

    2. Letter Writer*

      Thank you for saying this. I *am* bad at saying no, and I’m working on building my saying-no skills. I don’t think it’s necessarily the full story, though? (I posted more about this below as part of a larger update in its own comment thread.)

  10. Archie Goodwin*

    Something else I’ve found that sometimes helps to draw a boundary is if you have a recurring appointment, say, one day a week, that you can’t miss but occasionally. It’s one of the reasons I joined my choir a few years ago. Not the only one…and at the time I was in a job that didn’t REALLY expect me to stay late but once in a while. Even so, having a hard stop one day a week has helped me to define the fact that I have a work-life balance. It’s something concrete.

    I know that won’t work for the unreasonable ones, but it’s something to keep in your back pocket, maybe.

  11. ragazza*

    It’s also good to discuss what things are truly “emergencies” and need to be taken care of asap. So many times in the past I busted my butt to get things done by a deadline, only to get an automated email that the person requesting the project was out of the office! Grrr. In the case of having to cancel things she’s paid for in advance, I might be like “so I can expense this nonrefundable ticket to Hamilton I bought weeks ago, right?” Maybe that’s petty but it gets the point across.

        1. LouiseM*

          The backseat modding on this blog is getting really exhausting. Does the “A” in your name stand for “Alison”? If not, I’d rather not see you telling other people how to comment. Thanks.

          1. LouiseM*

            That’s pretty unfair. People used the word “email” more than 100 times in this comment section and yet I don’t see 100 comments from snark.

            Maybe you’re projecting and should take a step back from the comments yourself.

            1. NaN*

              Nice bean counting, Louise. I think it’s important to try to keep up the discursive standards of the site. It’s not the open thread. I don’t need to hear about OldJob where Fergus the DramaLlama sent actionable emails at 3 am causing someone’s phone to chime. It doesn’t seem even remotely relevant to OP.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I deleted a string of replies here because I don’t want personal debates about other commenters.

          I’ve traditionally appreciated some amount of self-policing from the comment section, but it’s been heavier lately than I want, so I’ve started asking that people correct others only if it’s particularly egregious. Different people will use the comment section differently. It’s fine to say “I think this is really unkind” or “hey, you’ve made this point repeatedly and it’s starting to feel really aggressive.” But that’s really the limits of what I’d want people doing. (Beyond that, if you think there’s a problem, please flag it for me to take a closer look at.) It’s not cool to basically tell someone else to stop talking.

  12. Cordoba*

    Whatever it is you are willing to give, your employer is always going to want just a bit more.

    Unless you’re a workaholic they’re unlikely to set the work/life boundaries in a way that works for you; so it’s incumbent upon the employee to draw those boundaries and hold to them. Sometimes this will make the boss disappointed, but as long as the quality of quantity of your work is otherwise better than average it’s unlikely to get you fired so who cares? Do what you have to to have a life outside of work.

  13. Kramerica Industries*

    I had a discussion similar to this with my boss. She ended up telling me that while she appreciates how flexible and reliable I am, she doesn’t expect me to say “yes” to everything all the time. She recognizes that me taking it a step back would already be doing more than some others can offer.

    So, then I realized that my boss wasn’t the issue. It’s me! They’re my own expectations to over-perform and my own disappointment when I feel like I’m letting people down. So, whole ‘nother can of worms, but this could be good for the OP to think about.

    1. Samata*

      I was actually going to comment something similar. I have been know to say “yes” and then be burnt out by it all. As long as I was saying yes – people were asking. But having a frank conversation with my boss and some others revealed they were fine with me saying “no” – and that I should if I wasn’t able to balance it all.

    2. Letter Writer*

      For sure. I *am* bad at saying no, and I’m working on building my saying-no skills. I don’t think it’s necessarily the full story, though? (I posted more about this below as part of a larger update in its own comment thread.)

  14. Emi.*

    I would specifically mention that you’ve cut class. That’s a big deal! It means you’re making your job the #1 priority in your life, which is probably (hopefully) not what your boss wants. Pointing out that you’re canceling (not just rescheduling, or promising to reschedule) something that society tends to agree is a Big Thing will give your manager a better sense of the scale of this problem than just “stay late and cancel previous plans” (which might just mean hanging out with friends).

    1. BeezLouise*

      I think a lot of bosses DO expect you to make the job the #1 priority in your life, actually. It’s unreasonable, but I think it’s pretty common.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Yes. It’s like they expect them to be like the servants on Downton Abbey with those bells to summon them day or night, whether it’s for fresh crumpets or moving a corpse.

      2. argus*

        Agreed. Plus, I assumed that LW was talking about fitness classes, not academic classes. Since she just graduated and also is health-conscious. Don’t think Mean Boss cares about that so much.

    2. Samata*

      I think she should point it out because by missing the classes she actually could be harming her job or missing out on information that could help her do her job better – and he boss would likely want that.

      Not so much the worry about her putting the job #1; I think most bosses want that unfortunately.

  15. Pollygrammer*

    Can you make an offer to put in some work while limiting it?

    “I can get a start on this, but I have a commitment and I can’t work past 6:30 tonight.”

    “I can put in a few hours on Saturday morning for this, but otherwise my weekend is booked.”

  16. BeezLouise*

    Ohhh my boss is definitely one of the “I worked my butt off and worked terrible hours to make it in this field, so the next generation should too!” people. And she continues to work crazy hours. It’s completely unnecessary for our job, and not that it should matter, because everyone should be entitled to work reasonable hours, but I have really young kids (a toddler and an infant) and working late solely to work late means I miss out on the only time I get to spend with them during the week. If the job called for it sometimes, that would be fine, but expecting it as a matter of course is crazy to me.

    Put in my notice yesterday, and have never been happier.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah these things can go to workplace culture. We have a neurotic culture at my office of being overachievers who work to live, and the actual urgency (or not) of the task is almost besides the point. It’s irritating.

  17. LCL*

    OP, your boss does this because you have trained her that it is acceptable. I get that publishing will involve long hours and crisis mode around deadlines, but not all the time. It sounds like (not totally clear from what you wrote) that she is hitting you up near closing or on your way out the door. This is a classic tactic, at that time most people are thinking more about the end of the day and their time off than the job. So just one more job sounds small and not a big deal because you are going home, and it is easier to agree to do it than to push back.

    One thing that may help is to tell your boss that you aren’t doing text or email after hours, but she can always phone you in case of emergency. And stop doing work on your days off.

      1. LCL*

        I get that the media biz is supposed to be real time, slightly delayed. Why do my local news stations not update stories that happen on a weekend? I was excited to read that news is on a 24 hour cycle because of emedia. Turns out they are just rebroadcasting the same stories! For hours!

  18. Liz*

    This ended with me in the office past midnight a couple times a week, wishing I wasn’t too emotionally deadened to cry about it and lying to my friends about how much I was working.

    I now have a new job and it has truly saved my sanity. I was here at 7pm one night and my new boss was leaving and said in a concerned voice “leave soon, ok?” I could have hugged her.

    1. Natalie*

      People in my current office look at my funny for working until 5. Seriously. It’s a short work day here plus they all seem to be morning people (I am not).

  19. TotesMaGoats*

    So my mom has kind of worked herself into this situation even though she’s pretty high up the chain of command. For 22 years she’s always been extremely responsive and now it’s just expected and by people that shouldn’t. So, she’s anxious about how big her email box gets (and it gets huge) and works on the weekends and nights. She was on sick leave for bunion surgery and was still on email because knowing she’d be coming back after 6 weeks to a thousand or so emails was terrifying. We’ve tried talking with her about it and that she’s got to set limitations to regain her sanity. Slowly but surely. She didn’t even work this weekend and said she felt so much more refreshed. So, it’s hard especially when it’s your boss wanting immediate response. I get it.

    In my OldOldJob I was super anxious about responding to people and had really poor boundaries. It was hard after 8 years to reset. Having a baby helped. Changing jobs helped even more. So, there’s that nugget.

  20. WeevilWobble*

    I think a really difficult thing to learn is that sometimes you have to accept your boss’s tacit disappointment in things like this. It can be brutal to have the feeling you’ve not performed as your boss wanted. And if there is a real performance issue address it.

    But if you do all Alison suggests and it doesn’t stop you have to accept that sometimes people have unreasonable expectations but nothing will make them change. But you can’t cater to them.

    I know that was really, really hard for me. A born people pleaser.

  21. Pam*

    I’m wondering if part of the solution is to be a little less available out of hours. ‘Sorry, Boss, I just read your message from last night.’

  22. Peggy*

    Take it from an almost 40 year old who spent age 24-35 exactly like you.

    One day you may wake up and you’ll realize you prioritized a job over your health, your friends, your love life, and the best time period of your life for fun carefree adventures. And that job would never do the same for you.

    Be great at your job, but set those boundaries NOW. Run, do not walk, to the boundary store and spare no expense on the best boundaries. I have a good life now, but I look back on my twenties and early thirties and am SO ANGRY with myself – like painfully, deeply angry at myself – that I skipped out on so much living for my $48,000/year job that never showed me the loyalty that I showed to it. I have so many regrets. I didn’t take vacations. I didn’t go on dates. I didn’t take care of myself. I just worked – I worked till 11pm, I worked weekends, I worked on my days off. Please don’t do it. I could cry thinking about how much time I lost.

  23. Liz2*

    I had a toxic place where time off was only a vague suggestion- you could take it, but often as not you would be called on with some work related thing. And if you didn’t get on it right then, you were definitely not a team player.

    I do like when a manager says “When you get in” or “when you get time this week” just to explicitly state their expectations- very little effort to a lot of reassurance.

    But you just have to frame it and keep boundaries solid.

  24. AdAgencyChick*

    Oh, OP, do I feel you! Sounds an awful lot like advertising — and a lot of people in my industry just roll over and do everything that’s asked of them, then burn out and quit.

    I’ve managed to do pretty well by being aware of certain times of year when I truly *cannot* make plans more than, say, once a month. Other times, I make the plans and take action to get coverage for nights I can’t be around, if it looks like things are going to come up. With OP, the last-minute nature of the requests might make it hard to know ahead of time when things are going to be an issue — but maybe she can team up with another coworker who does similar work. “If you cover for me so I can go to the ballet on Wednesday, I’ll take Valentine’s Day.” And then you can notify the boss that day — “hey, I have ballet tickets, but Fergus can handle any stuff that comes up after 5 PM tonight.” (Of course, this doesn’t work if you’re the only person who does your job — but if that’s the case, then you REALLY have to be vocal about overwork!)

    Not saying this system is perfect — sometimes my coworkers are all “WE WANT ADAGENCYCHICK!” when I’ve arranged for someone else to take my place, and I have to politely but firmly insist, and there might be some ruffled feathers but I win at least 75% of the time!

  25. AnotherHRPro*

    As I read the OP’s letter it made me wonder how much of the pressure she feels to drop everything and get the work done is being put on her by the boss or by herself. I have found that I have a tendency to read too much into what I think other’s actions or words actually mean – especially at work and especially when it is the boss. I’ve learned over the years to just ask vs. assume. Maybe OP’s boss really is putting undo pressure on the OP, but it might be the OP, who sounds like an awesome employee, is very achievement oriented and might be putting too much pressure on herself.

    OP – talk to your manager. It is possible that she doesn’t expect you to drop everything and work late regularly.

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      Oh, and make sure your boss knows when you have to cancel plans to do what she is asking. It is ok to say I have tickets to the theater tonight, do I need to cancel those plans or would it be ok if I work on it in the morning and get it to you by 10am?

      1. Melissa*

        The OP indicates that she doesn’t feel that a lot of these are urgent requests. I wouldn’t offer to cancel plans that I paid for unless it truly seemed like a proper emergency/urgent issue. And I definitely wouldn’t be missing any classes, especially for degrees that cost thousands of dollars. At least not without expecting to be compensated. It’s fine to be flexible when it’s necessary, but by always being “available” to your own detriment, it trains the requestor that you will always be available and not delineate between “URGENT” and “can wait til tomorrow by 10am”.

  26. Melissa*

    reading some of these comments makes me very glad I work for a Federal agency. I come in, work my tour, and go home. While I occasionally choose to work late to finish a task, I am not expected to check email at home after hours or on the weekends/vacation. I have board of assistant directors that often work at all hours, and they just email things at all hours, with the expectation that we will deal with them when we get in in the morning.

    I will add that there are positions in my office that do have components of their jobs that require them to have to be available after hours/weekends, but A) they have work issued iPhones for this purpose, B) they are paid a higher salary, and C) they made aware of those expectations when they applied/accepted the job. At that point, you can’t complain that the job you applied for knowing these things is occasionally inconvenient.

  27. Althea*

    I feel this one. One of my jobs was mostly good, but had a top boss who would regularly tell me “everything is a priority” even after I clarified I could not accomplish A, B, and C on top of new thing D. At one point I was on and impromptu call with her and had to go catch my train, and she started to tell me that I had to be prepared to work extra time when needed. This was despite always working several hours overtime every week, regularly working a ton of extra time to complete projects, and being paid peanuts compared to the market.

    I ended up somewhat angrily reminding her of my hours worked and saying that all I needed was an hour’s notice to rearrange my post-work schedule if I needed to work late, which I did, a lot. She was somewhat abashed. But, I’ve always had enough of an ego and safety net that I’m willing to risk jobs that push my boundaries too much.

  28. argus*

    This sounds like a magazine I worked at right after finishing grad school. Worked 9-10 hours a day, in addition to weekends, produced “exceptional” work (their words) but was always made to feel like I wasn’t doing enough. (Once I was called into work on a day that I had requested off months before because I had family visiting. The editor wanted me in the office just in case he had any questions about a story I had fact-checked. It was not presented as a choice. I sat at my desk doing literally nothing for 6 hours until he finished working on the story and dismissed me.)

    Sorry to say it, but my guess is that your editor thinks you’re very very lucky to work for her prestigious magazine and believes you should be going above and beyond 24/7 without excuses. My experience is that these people are inherently unreasonable about demands they make on young employees. And if you try to use the script Alison suggests, there is good chance they view you as a delicate snowflake that’s not cut out for the work and doesn’t deserve the great privilege of being on their masthead. That’s what happened to pretty much everyone I knew who worked in this environment. Magazines can be very dysfunctional.

  29. Umvue*

    I’m going to push back on one aspect of Alison’s answer. I don’t like the idea that the OP’s willingness to routinely put in 9-10 hour days is what makes her a valuable employee, and the companion idea that people who must leave after 8 hours are not valuable. It’s normal for adults to have commitments outside of work they can’t easily get out of, and these commitments are important for social stability. I think it’s also typical (it’s certainly true for me) for work done at the ends of extralong days to be subpar. I don’t think we benefit as a society from encouraging bosses to expect more than eight hours from employees.

    1. N.J.*

      I agree with you. It’s disheartening, however, how much this idea is already entrenched in the working world. I just went through this recently with my boss. I am a salaried exempt employee expected to be in and out at a set time each day, with a half hour assumed lunch. Lately, if I have needed to come in early for a specific work activity or process, my boss’s attitude is that we can’t just leave after we are here for eight hours, there is still work to be done, and I should not dare to want to ask to leave an hour “early” if I come in an hour early. If I need to be in early to literally perform a portion of my job activities I should just stay until my regularly scheduled departure time. Yes—I should definitely donate 9-10 hours a day worth of work to my employer just because they are too rigid to offer even basic schedule flexibility if I come in with barely a day’s notice because that’s the only time I can perform a certain task. Asking a few days ahead of time to formally shift my schedule is approved, but making sure I am responsive to work process needs by coming in early regardless of the lead time is expected of me. I wish they would realize the absurdity of expecting flexibility from me but not being flexible with me unless I jump through any number of hoops.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah, weird how flexibility seems to go only one way. I’m expected to work nights and weekends as they come up (within reason, of course) and I never get comp time for any of those hours. But god forbid *I* need to work less than 8 hours someday … I would have to take a half day of my limited vacation time to do this.

    2. Letter Writer*

      I agree! And this is part of my problem–when I have to work late to do something non-urgent but my brain is tired after an already long day, something that would take me 20 minutes to do first thing in the morning can take me an hour. So it ends up feeling like a terrible use of my time all around.

    3. oranges & lemons*

      I agree, but this is pretty consistent with my experience of publishing as well (although I work in book publishing, not magazine). It seems like a pretty consistent expectation, so there might not be much to do about it in this field except to work as a freelancer and bill hourly.

  30. Yet Even Another Alison*

    If you have an office shared calendar, block off evening time slots with the title of unavailable and out of the office. Unless you are PAID to be on-call, I would add the word unreachable or out of access to the title of the meeting. Of course, we are all consummate professionals and there is nothing unprofessional about taking a night a week to completely unplug. It is understandable if you have a busy season or a true work emergency, otherwise, a night with no interruptions, even if you are curing cancer, is not unreasonable. Make no apologies. This is what I had to do and I simply told my manager that I was going to be unavailable at the following times. If they ask why, I say that it is personal and I would rather not talk about it. Then I immediately start to address the best way to tackle what is in the team que.

  31. MissDisplaced*

    I often work 9-10 hours a day. But when I leave work, I leave work and do not even look at emails. It can wait until tomorrow at 8am. If there is a true emergency then people know to call me on my mobile. Once in awhile that has happened, but not very often.
    Sometimes, you only think people want it urgently. I also tend to do this to myself, when in truth it’s not expected I do something immediately.

  32. debbiems*

    This is the perfect for me to read today. My boyfriend and I were talking about how many hours I work. Mon -Fri 7-5 PM and I also work as soon as I get home attending to emails and catching requests from my boss that come in after working hours. I have been looking at finding a new position because I don’t want to work these hours. Just the other day I worked 7-4 and then 6pm-12am. We don’t get paid extra! I’m slowly getting burnt out and I just need to find a new job. I can’t ask my boss for “less work” that looks like you can’t get all of your work done. Most of the time these extra hours are because my international suppliers are just starting their day. Please give me advice.

  33. It's-a-me*

    I really hope we get an update on this one a few months down the track, for better or for worse.

  34. Letter Writer*

    Letter writer here. Thanks for your advice, Alison, and thank you for the solidarity in the comment section. I actually sent this question in a few months ago, but I’m glad that Alison answered it because it’s an ongoing situation.

    Some people mentioned the possibility that I was misreading my manager’s signals. That could be contributing, for sure–I definitely don’t always push back on these things as hard as I could, because I’m young and inexperienced and feel like I have to compensate by being extra agreeable and enthusiastic. I don’t think it’s the full story, though, because even when I push back pretty hard and explain what else I have going on, the situation doesn’t always change, at least not without a heaping side of guilt. And if this was an occasional thing (“I have tickets to Hamilton!”) I totally would push harder. But when it’s a multiple-times-a-week thing, I feel guilty constantly saying “I need to leave by X time.” This isn’t a workplace where people turn down work–and I’ve somewhat corroborated this by talking with people who do my same job but have been here longer.

    4 months after writing this letter, I’m honestly not sure if I’m treated differently than others in regards to work/life balance. If so, I don’t think it’s personal. It seems to be better for the older, more experienced people. Many of the younger people in roles similar to mine have left recently, though, and I know they had complaints similar to mine. At the time they were voicing these complaints, I was too new in the role to really be feeling the crunch. Now, I get it.

    FWIW, I don’t have my work email set up on my phone (I sign in via the browser when necessary) and do try really hard to only check email on evenings/weekends when I’m specifically expecting something. So it’s not so much stuff popping up then–it’s usually stuff that gets handed to me at the end of the day when I’m getting ready to go home, combined with an overall high volume of work.

    Anyways, this situation plus a number of other things that have developed in the past few months have made me realize that even though this job is the kind of job that people who *aren’t* doing it think is super cool and glamorous, it’s not the right fit for me long-term. I feel like neither my time nor my skills are valued, which is pretty demoralizing.

    So now, I’m trying to get better at advocating for myself in this job to make things better while I’m here. I’m also applying for other jobs. Having this experience at my current job (and reading this blog) has been really helpful in figuring out what is important to me in a work environment and what sorts of questions I can ask during an interview to assess things like work/life balance. (I’m currently a finalist for a new job that I’m really excited about, though the hiring timeline is slow.)

    Thank you all, and apologies for crafting a novella!

    1. Lil Fidget*

      “it’s usually stuff that gets handed to me at the end of the day” –

      OP, this probably won’t help in your situation, but for anyone else out there reading – I had this same issue (stuff always came in at like 4, 4:30) and I was really frustrated for a while because I was working such long days. But then I … started coming in later! I thought it would be a huge deal with my boss, but it wasn’t at all – he barely noticed/cared. I now come in closer to ten, the work still comes in at 4, and it seems like that really has resolved my frustration. (In my case, mornings were slow anyway – YMMV).

  35. MommyMD*

    No good deed goes unpunished. It reminds me of the LW who finished all her tasks ahead of everyone else all the time. Your boss will see this as your baseline and demand more.

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