my coworkers come by my desk to check on emails right after sending them

A reader writes:

I am hoping that you can shed some light on the best way to deal with my most dreaded work pet peeve — people who send an email and call immediately afterwards to see if I received it, or who send a non-urgent email and then follow up no more than a few hours later.

I work in a mostly client-facing role, so the majority of my day is spent on the phone or meeting in person with clients. I’m often away from my desk or, if I am at my desk, working on urgent time-sensitive matters for clients.

However, I also work with our accounting team and administrative team for support with client invoicing, etc. The admin staff has this habit of sending me emails and then calling or coming over to my desk immediately after (usually no more than 10 minutes) to ask if I’ve seen it, and usually when I am right in the middle of something.

Is there a nice way I can tell them that yes, I have seen their email, but it is not a priority, and I will get to it when I am able? The nature of our roles are very different, in that I need to be “on” and available to clients during the day and responding to clients and often catch up at night/after hours on administrative work. They work 9-5 and have a much more routine day to day.

If it makes a difference, the items that they are asking me for answers on are items that will ultimately be delivered to me, such as a final client invoice. I understand they want to check the item off their to-do list, but I am aware that I am holding up my own deliverable and am okay with that, as there is something I’ve deemed more important that I need to take care of first.

Is there a nice way to say give me some space and I will get to it when I can?


Try saying this: “You often send me an email and then call or come by to check on it pretty soon afterwards. Can you plan to give me at least a business day to get back to you? I focus on client work during the day and catch up on administrative work in the evenings, so usually won’t be able to give immediate responses. If something is more urgent than that, let me know, but otherwise assume I’ll get back to you within a day or so.”

(You could also say “a few days” if that’s more in line with the expectations you want to set.)

With some people, you could skip the big-picture conversation above and just say this a few times: “I won’t be able to look at it until I’m done with some other projects today, so it’ll be a while — possibly tomorrow or Friday.” Some people will hear that a few times and get the message. But with other people, you need to be more explicit.

{ 208 comments… read them below }

        1. chocolate lover*

          Agreed. Seeing the email arrive isn’t the same thing as being able to read/process/respond to it, and I”m not necessarily going to get to it any faster because you tried to “shame” me with a receipt.

          1. banzo_bean*

            Yeah, but when the point you’re trying to send is “I’ve seen the message, thanks” that’s what it’s there for.

            1. I Worked in Email Hell*

              In my last job, I worked in an office of more than 100 people. I often was responsible for sending office-wide emails. It was office norm for every single one of them to REPLY ALL to the office with a message like “I’ve seen this, thanks!” Reply. All.

              I probably spent an hour each day just moving pointless emails out of my main inbox and into folders. (I was, of course, required to save all of this.)

              1. I Worked in Email Hell*

                To clarify: these were not read receipts. People typed out replies to each email as they read them. Then they spent forever sorting other people’s replies into folders.

              2. banzo_bean*

                Yes, I would more to suggest op say to the serial offenders of this sort “hey can you ask for a read receipt when sending an email where it’s important to know if I’ve seen it or not?”

          2. WellRed*

            If people are going to immediately follow up sending an email with an in person: “Did you see the email I just sent” they deserve all the read receipts.

            1. Indigo a la mode*

              I think you’re looking at it the opposite way other people are. They’re saying it’s passive aggressive to *request* read receipts because they’re basically saying “I can’t trust you to read my Very Important email, so prove to me that you did.”

              In this particular situation maybe it would prevent people from walking over, but if OP is anything like me, they purposely leave these messages unread so they know they still need to address them, so the receipts wouldn’t preempt their impatience anyway.

        2. She's One Crazy Diamond*

          I was onboarding a new employee who is a very nice person but came from an industry with norms that are super different than most offices. I started to notice that every email from him asked for read receipts even though I sat right next to him. I asked him about it and he said he had his Outlook set to automatically ask for them for every email. I think I told him to stop that ASAP to avoid everyone in the office hating him, but I was flabbergasted anyone would think that was reasonable.

          1. CMart*

            Read receipts are very common/expected in a lot of messaging apps. I can easily see someone reasonably assuming the same concept would apply to e-mail communication.

    1. Yorick*

      But if I read the message in the preview thingy and then try to move away, all the request does is annoy me

      1. Pants*

        Nor will I. I have it ticked in Preferences to never send them.

        Of course, I also have a coworker who has a line in her signature that requests a reply to confirm receipt of her email. She wants an email that says “I got this email you just sent” for each of her emails.

        I don’t send those either.

      2. The Other Dawn*

        Same here. I don’t request them unless absolutely necessary–very rarely is it necessary–and I NEVER respond to them; it’s so annoying. I’ve worked with several people over the years that request them and I just close that dialog box.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      FWIW, you can set up most email agents to send delivered receipts/read receipts automatically. You don’t need to deal with pop-ups all the time.

      A lot of this issue is people not learning to use the technology appropriately and then not trusting that technology as a result. We’ve had email clients for over four decades. Good grief! This is not cutting edge technology.

      1. Yorick*

        Sure, the email agent can automatically send a read receipt every time. But it doesn’t actually know if I read the message, and certainly doesn’t know if I read the whole thing or read it carefully. It only knows I clicked on it. And even if I have read it, I may not have had time to think about what the response would be or to start on the task the message prompts me to do. So I’d rather not send a read receipt. I’d rather wait until I have some sort of response for the sender and then actually reply.

        1. Yorick*

          But I’m glad you condescendingly told me about this super old technology feature that I didn’t know about, so I could set it to never send a read receipt. Now I’ll never have to see another of those pop-ups! Thanks!

          1. Pants*

            I discovered it by accident. It’s now one of the first things I do whenever I have to set up a new email account in Outlook.

          2. Jedi Squirrel*

            My advice was not directed at you, but at all these people who keep asking “Did you get my emails?”

            This is how I’ve dealt with these people in the past: I’ve taught them to automatically ask for read receipts. My client automatically sends them. The process is seamless and invisible to me.

            But it doesn’t actually know if I read the message, and certainly doesn’t know if I read the whole thing or read it carefully.

            That is an entirely separate problem.

            1. Yorick*

              But this is why people don’t want to respond to read receipts, and why people are saying that you shouldn’t request them.

        2. KH Seattle*

          Just turn on read receipt responses and let people think you read them or actioned them. When they are confused. Email was never supposed to be an immediate communication medium. They will figure it out eventually.

          1. Emily K*

            That’s a good solution if you’re just concerned about setting the wrong expectation or annoyed by the process, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who objects to them in a larger sense because it feels intrusive to have my email activity monitored by another person (even if they’re asking for permission). I don’t ask people for their age, weight, fertility status, or the exact timestamp at which they read my email… it’s none of my business!

      2. Grapey*

        You are factually correct, but the meat of the problem is that the sender really wants a “did you digest and come to a decision about the contents of the email” receipt.

        Let us know when email clients have that one figured out.

    3. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      I always click ‘no’ when I get the message asking if I want to send a read receipt.

    4. rayray*

      Now I’m curious what people think of read receipts. I definitely don’t send them to coworkers over little questions, but I do sometimes send them to outside vendors and such, just to make sure they got my email about an order, bill adjustment etc. Is that seen as annoying?

      1. Angelinha*

        Yes, I think because it comes across as skeptical of their ability to read/respond to/address it. It’s very rare that you would send an email that wouldn’t actually arrive to the recipient.

      2. Jellyfish*

        Yes, I personally find them annoying and a bit passive aggressive. I usually open direct emails pretty quickly just to see if they contain anything urgent or important. If not, I prioritize and come back later.

        I don’t like read receipts because I want to be able to open an email without reading it carefully or responding to it right away. The receipt makes me feel pressured to deal with a low priority email immediately, which then feels like the sender doesn’t respect my time or ability to respond reasonably. That’s probably overthinking it, but that’s my knee jerk response.

      3. londonedit*

        Yeah, I hate read receipts. It may not be the sender’s intent, but to me sending a read receipt says ‘I don’t trust you to read this email so I’m going to check up on you to make sure you have’ and it also intrudes on my way of managing my own time. Your email is probably not the most important thing I have to deal with right now, and crashing into my inbox with a read receipt that effectively says ‘drop everything and reply to this right now or I *will* know that you’re ignoring me’ is seriously annoying.

      4. Emily K*

        99% of the time when I get a receipt request, it’s from a salesperson using those pushy insincere sales emails, where they write as if you’ve ever talked to them before and ask presumptuous questions that I think they think sound “confident and conversational” but are actually just way too aggressive, like, “when would be a good time this week to schedule a 30 minute call for me to pitch my product to you?” in the first email without having even established my interest first. And they keep replying back to the thread using language that seems to demand a response they think they’re entitled to in a way that an ordinary marketing/sales email doesn’t require if you’re not interested. It just feels like more of the same inappropriate pressure tactics they’re trying to use to push me to reply, like they think I’ll be shamed into replying if I know they know I’ve seen it.

    5. Aurion*

      Ugh, no.

      I chewed out my most junior sales guy for swinging by to confirm my receipt of his email. If I haven’t responded in two hours, sure, swing by my desk. If you’re just checking if I’ve received it five minutes ago, don’t bother; if the email system has died for whatever reason, trust me, you will know. Everyone will know.

      Read receipts do nothing except to confirm the recipient inbox received the message and someone opened it. It doesn’t tell you if you sent it to the right recipient, if the recipient actually read your message instead of just skimming it, or if the request will be processed today vs next week. Unless you are a lawyer needing to prove after the fact that opposing counsel received the email, or something of that stripe, you do not need ironclad proof that your company’s email servers are working. If they are not, trust me, everyone will know.

      1. Eleanor Konik*

        My school uses read receipts… to confirm for legal purposes that the teacher received an electronic copy of the IEP/504 plan sent to us.
        Any other purpose is just annoying.

      2. TheSnarkyB*

        Right – in my work, sometimes we need written documentation of the email being received by the recipient, but we all know that, and for those emails, the person writes back, “received, thanks!” and then we have what we need. If they don’t write back, you get a phone call asking you to confirm in writing. Easy, confirms the right person, and no read receipts involved.

        1. Aurion*

          Exactly–sometimes in certain fields and circumstances read receipts and/or written confirmation of receipts are required for legal and regulatory purposes. I had a brief foray into law, so I sent plenty of read receipts and “received with thanks” emails myself during that time, and filed all the read receipts and emails afterwards.

          But that’s understood and accepted in that culture and for emails to/from outside the firm. If I had sent a read receipt request to a lawyer or paralegal? It…wouldn’t have been well received.

    6. Senor Montoya*

      I used read receipts when I had a colleague who deleted every email I sent out, because he felt that I had nothing of value to say. (Problematic since I was the lead on a central function of our office and he did in fact need to know what I said.)

      Another colleague ratted him out to me. So I started using read receipts. I gave 48 hours. If the email had not been read, I printed it out and put it in his mailbox.

      He threw the print outs away.

      I put them on his desk.

      He threw them away.

      I handed them to him at the weekly staff meeting. In front of the director. Who wanted to know why co-irker was getting printouts of emails. I kept quiet; co-irker mumbled something about asking for paper copies.

      HAHAHAHA! I WON! I out passive-aggressed him.
      And yes, he started reading my emails. So I stopped using read receipts.

    7. Dancing Otter*

      The only purpose I can see for read receipts is when someone is out of the office; sometimes, an “out of office” message is only sent once, and people forget, or people forget to turn on OOO when they leave.
      I suppose it’s possible to mis-type an email address, but doesn’t almost everyone use the company address book? And what are the odds of mistyping an address and not getting an “undeliverable” message?

      1. Yorick*

        You’d think they’d use the address book. Recently I didn’t get a meeting request because the admin typed my name in directly instead of searching, and of course spelled it wrong. If you type the first few letters and hit “check name,” you can pick me out of a pretty short list! Why type in the whole “” and then hit send?? And if you do that, why not double check the spelling??

    8. Thundersnow*

      I’d say an auto-reply that has similar verbiage to what Allison said above. That way, they have confirmation that the message was received and it reiterates that you’ll get back to them in time.

  1. Amber T*

    My boss does this. He’ll come by to check to see if I’ve seen an email we’re both cc’ed on (I have) or if I saw his email he just sent (I have). It’s incredibly frustrating, because I’ll be in the zone and working on something, then have to switch gears to think about something completely different. It’s especially annoying when I’m working on something that is time sensitive/priority, and he comes to check in on something due next week.

    1. Jack Be Nimble*

      Switching gears is the worst — if I’m focused on Task A and have to abruptly switch gears to Task B, it can take me at least 10-15 minutes to get back into the zone when I return to Task A, during which time I’m much less productive than I would otherwise be. If I get interrupted with a one-minute question two times in an hour, I’m looking at 20-30 minutes where I’m just not going to get very much done, and only 30-40 minutes of “flow!”

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I have a person in my work life (mentioned in an earlier, related comment this morning), who thinks beating you over the head will get something done faster. He wants something answered, he will bug you every 15 minutes till it is answered. If you call me, and I say I will do it, and I get another email and phone call within 30 minutes to see if I’ve done it, I’m going to be pissed off.

      Now, if you send me an email with 5 attachments, and then call to explain, that’s fine. It doesn’t bother me, even if you interrupt me. That saves me time from trying to figure out what you wanted if you can’t explain it clearly in fewer than 5 written paragraphs, and I have the email to remind me about the request. They could just call to avoid the negative perception of email-then-immediate-call, but then I have to wait for their email to look at the same docs they’re talking about, etc.

      1. [insert witty username here]*

        If I ever send an email that needs additional phone/in person explanation, I’ll send the email and say “calling to discuss” or “call me when you’re available to discuss” or “will pop by to talk in a few minutes,” so they know that I’m not just sending an email that I’m expecting them to interpret, but also giving a head’s up that I’m following up specifically on that item (I don’t do this often).

        1. Mr. Shark*

          I do that with a co-worker who is not in the office. Usually I’ll send him the original e-mail train with questions from other people, and maybe attach a file, which I want to discuss with him. But that’s when I want to have a quick discussion about an issue and need his input.

          If it was just a signoff, or something that required him to do something but I didn’t have questions about or we didn’t need to discuss, I wouldn’t call him and make sure he got my e-mail.

          That’s the beauty of e-mail…it goes through once you press “send” (outside of any technical errors).

      2. Jdc*

        My old boss. I once snapped and told him that asking me the same question every five minutes is not going to change my answer. I’ve mentioned him before but he could say “who won’t the World Series?” Id say I don’t know. He would keep asking me again and again worded different. I understand being expected to know my job but he did this with anything, random info, just ahhh. If I don’t know I don’t know!!

    3. Cat Fan*

      My boss does this, but it is to tell me that whatever he just emailed me about is not a rush. Grrr…

    4. Emilia Bedelia*

      This is my life, except most of the time, I have actually done something about the email, and my boss just hasn’t seen it yet…

      Boss, at 1 PM: Did you see the email I sent at 9?
      Me: Yes. Did you see my response to it?
      Boss: Oh, no, I haven’t had a chance to check email since then.
      Me: …


      1. Senor Montoya*

        This is my students.
        “Did you see my email?”
        Yes, I did.
        “So, what should I do about X?”
        Did you read MY email back to you?
        “Uh, no…”
        OK, read it and let me know if you have any questions.

        1. Anonapots*

          Me: Are you ready for thing tomorrow?
          Student: What thing? I don’t know what you’re talking about.
          Me: Did you check your email yesterday or today?
          Student: No.
          Me, internally: screaming
          Me, externally: It’s your job to check your email regularly. Please read the email I sent you about this and if you have any questions, come see me.

      2. ceiswyn*

        That was one of my previous bosses.

        He would come to my desk immediately after sending me an email, to say to me me in person exactly the same thing he’d said in the email. I had so many conversations of the form:
        Boss: Hi, I just sent you an email to tell you that you need to document ThingX.
        Me: Yes, and I replied saying that I already have.
        Boss: Because ThingX is really important to ClientY, so we really need to have it documented.
        Me: I know, that’s why I’ve already documented it. If you look at you can see that it’s marked as documented.
        Boss: Right. So can you get on documenting ThingX?

        Even before I got an offer to do postgraduate study, I was actively seeking to leave a job that was perfect for me in all other respects just to get away from his so-called management. And the immediately-following-up-emails thing was a huge part of that.

      3. nonethefewer*

        my current boss is like this. i genuinely struggle with not being snarky when for the Fifth Time In A Row he interrupts me to ask about an email i’ve ALREADY REPLIED TO.

    5. OP*

      OP here – I think this really gets to the root of why this drives me crazy. I have struggled in the past with focus but have developed systems that allow me to manage my time and tasks really well but I still have tendencies to be easily distracted. It’s hard enough that I have clients calling me all day but when someone sends an email and then calls or stops by to ask if I saw it, it can really derail me

    6. Annie Porter*

      This is probably at the top of my list of irksome colleague behavior. I had a guy at my last office who would 1. Send email 2. Leave voicemail about said email and 3. Wander over to mention the email and the voicemail. He did it so frequently he became a verb around the office (as in “I don’t mean to Fergus you, but the email I just sent needs immediate attention!”)

  2. alittlebriton*

    Can you set up a specific email file to auto reply to those precise people saying thank you and I’ll get back to you when I can?

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I think that would be fairly annoying for the recipients. I have worked with a couple people who do the check email 2x per day thing (i.e. they are logged out except 2x per day and don’t see an email). They have an autoresponder that says they are doing this and will get back to the sender when they can. Then they are probably going to call you. Or stop by. They are not going wait for you to do it on your schedule.

      1. OP*

        Hi! OP here – I wish I could but one of the worst culprits is my assistant who sits right NEXT to me. Even more annoying than having someone call is having someone pop their head around the cubicle to ask questions. I’m working with him on that, and will think about whether I could set some sort of auto-responder for the others – not a bad idea!

        1. PollyQ*

          You should be able to shut your assistant down by telling him “Quit doing that. It interupts my flow, and is the opposite of helpful, which is what you are supposed to be.”

          OK, probably say it more politely than that, but still, this person works for you, this shouldn’t be something to be “worked on”.

        2. Lucky black cat*

          Well this changes everything if it’s your assistant. Set up a standing 1:1 and ask him to save all non-urgent questions for that.

        3. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

          Yeah, I was thinking, maybe there’s some quick copy/paste or template language that you can use to respond to them immediately like “Thanks, I’ll get back to you asap” and then just get back to them on your own time. I wonder if that would actually cut it?

  3. RussianInTexas*

    I’ve been on both sides of this. I had a boss who did it (we shared a cubicle wall, so he would yell “did you see my e-mail?”). On the other hand, there are people in my office who will never answer anything unless you physically go and ask them if they saw my e-mail. Then you may get an answer. Sometimes. I am not saying you are bad about answering, but may be you are? Or the person who worked there before was?

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      Even then, if it’s not an emergency/urgent, you don’t need to immediately run over or call to see if they’ve seen it. If it’s something that can wait a few days, then you can wait a few days to see if they’ve seen it, too.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        The problem is, they see it never. It gets buried under other 200 e-mails they haven’t answered.
        With some coworkers, I was actually advised by their own manager to “go remind them to read your e-mail”.

          1. lasslisa*

            If that’s what it takes to get them to see and respond to it, yeah, sometimes you do. Getting in the habit of doing it to everyone is bad, though.

        1. ACDC*

          This is a big problem where I work. Sending an email to darn near everyone goes into an eternal black hole. It’s really frustrating – I have to email the person, wait 1-3 business days, then send a follow up, wait another 1-3 business days, send another follow up with their manager copied, wait another 1-3 business days, send another follow up with their manager and my manager copied, then I get a response! Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go take a few deep breaths.

          1. Ruthie*

            Hi, I’m the person who doesn’t rely to my colleague’s emails! It’s because my team is woefully short staffed and I’m drowning. If it’s not something that requires my immediate attention, I need to focus on something else that’s on fire. It’s a horrible, horrible position to be in. I never ignore someone. It’s just that it hasn’t risen to the top of my list yet. And the most demoralizing part of it is when I get the same email over and over again, especially when people start cc’ing my boss. The most effective way to follow up with me if I missed that something needs my attention immediately is a quick pop into my office or a phone call. The more emails I have to sort through, the longer it takes me to sort it out and get back to people.

      2. sfigato*

        But maybe they are like, “Oh man, OP will not respond to your email unless you immediately follow up with them, so anytime you send an email you should follow up in person or else it will go into their queue and six weeks later they’ll respond.” I had a really busy colleague who would respond to emails weeks later because they always had a gajillion messages and could only empty it out once a month or so.

        1. i forget the name I usually use*

          I was wondering about that too… are other people in OP’s position subject to this same habit?
          From the letter it sounds widespread, so it may be someone in those other departments has TOLD people they should do this… maybe a manager has a misguided belief that it’s good customer service, or a chip on their shoulder and sends people out to follow up immediately bc they won’t be IGNORED anymore?

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The key is knowing your audience and tailoring your techniques.

      I have people who are quick and don’t need a nudge, almost ever. Then I have those people who will just ignore you if you don’t stand on their desk and say “You need to respond right now!”

      My memory is sharp and files this away. But it’s not that easy for others. So they may need to make actual notes or have some kind of way to flag a person on their end as a “nudge” verses “leave them alone, they’ll be fine.”

      But this has also been why over the years accounts flag themselves in my mind as “problems”.

      I deal with this in accounting all the time. There are accounts I see and I go “They’ll pay, they’re usually 5-10 days behind.” and there are ones that I say “Oh, these guys again. I’ll be chasing them for months if I don’t lock this down right now.”

    3. sfigato*

      yeah, I was thinking that maybe the problem is the OP? Maybe they think that unless they bird-dog their messages, it will never get responded to. And maybe some of this stuff feels time-sensitive to them, and the OP is saying that their projects are more important and they’ll get to it when they get to it. Has OP let some invoices fall through the cracks? Do you sometimes never respond to messages unless reminded?

      Or maybe your colleagues are just annoying and need to be told to quit it.

      1. JM60*

        None of those (except the last possibility of them being annoying) would explain the coworkers calling within afterwards. Even if the OP needs a reminder for certain things, reminding them of the thing you sent 5 minutes ago isn’t going to solve that problem.

        I think part of the problem with people who do this is that they don’t necessarily need it done urgently, but they want it done urgently. So they try to contact the person via phone or in person because they think it will get their issue to skip the triage cueue. Of course, there may be times when someone legitimately needs their issue pushed to the front ahead of others, but it’s that’s certainly the exception rather than the rule.

    4. HonestlyJustAsking*

      I just have to +1 this. I know it can be frustrating to be reminded, but I’ve worked with people who ask me to “put it in an email,” then never respond to the emails unless I physically talk to them/call them/put it on a printed agenda at a 1:1/remind them again/etc. There’s not much else you can do except be annoying at that point. Especially if you are the one who gets blamed if things are late.

      Not saying this is the case with this specific OP, but it is true of a lot of people. Perhaps the OP could approach the people doing this less as a “everyone else needs to change the way they operate” and more of a “how can we operate better together?” Is there something the OP (or others annoyed by this) can compromise on in order for everyone to feel more heard in the situation?

      1. JM60*

        Even with those people, would it really make sense to bug them on person within minutes of hitting send every time?

  4. Mrrpaderp*

    Send a quick email in response. “Thanks, Mary, I’ll get back to you by [COB tomorrow].” This lets them know you read their message and it tells them when they can expect a response. If your response date/time changes, then send an update.

    I can surmise where this comes from. Some people are terrible at reading their email. You might as well be emailing a black hole. That means I have to remember to follow up with them sometime before I need the deliverable to be finished; when I follow up, I will be met with a blank stare, then I have to re-explain everything in my email, and it’ll be another day or more before I get whatever I need. It’s very frustrating. LW, it sounds like your office has one or more of these terrible email readers and it’s created a lot of anxiety among your coworkers. Let them know that you aren’t one of the terrible email readers and they won’t direct their anxiety toward you.

    1. Quickbeam*

      I do this as it really is effective in an anxious environment. I even have a drop in template so that it takes me seconds. People see me as super efficient but it’s just a tool to help me concentrate on more urgent work.

      1. NW Mossy*

        You’ve hit something here – the persistent, rapid-fire follow-up is a tactic I see most often from people I know to be anxious, untrusting, and/or control freaks. They’re looking for the assurance that The Thing will be done right and on time as much or more than they are looking for The Thing itself.

        The major downside to this strategy is that it annoys recipients deeply, and rightly so. It asks for emotional labor from the recipient to smooth their feathers and calmly alleviate their anxiety, only to turn around and get the same thing again the next day. People who follow up this way rapidly get a reputation for being exhausting to work with, which is rarely the rep you want.

      2. Yorick*

        I’m guessing this is not making you seem efficient (at least not to everyone), but rather is annoying coworkers the same way the people in the letter are.

        I would be super annoyed if our administrative staff had a template they sent me shortly after sending every email. And by “shortly,” I mean even a day or two. ESPECIALLY if they were following up on tasks that are for me.

      3. Yorick*

        And I don’t think the anxiety is what’s coming through in these actions, even though it’s the cause of it. Like NW Mossy said, it signals to people that the emailer is untrusting and/or a control freak.

    2. Close Bracket*

      Yeah, there was just that letter from someone asking whether they really needed to thank everyone for their emails, and the advice was, yes, you do, bc it lets them know you got it and are working on it.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      My boss is terrible with email, so I sometimes forward an email to him and then check immediately to see if he got it *but only* if it genuinely needs immediate attention. If it doesn’t, I’ll check in an hour, or this afternoon, or tomorrow.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Given the time management dance that the OP is doing, she may not be able to just shoot off a response within the first 10-20 minutes of receiving an email from any given person.

      I also find automated emails a pain in the butt, it clogs up my email stream. Which makes staying on top of the email that much more annoying if you’re not doing it constantly throughout the day.

      But really in the end, you’ll never please everyone with your setup. You will be corrected and told that “This isn’t acceptable to me.” if someone out ranks you or just has the mindset to tell you to fix your approach.

    5. miss_chevious*

      I could not disagree more with this advice. First, it interrupts my flow of doing the work I’m already doing, and second, it trains people to expect quick responses so when you fail to send one, that failure becomes an emergency.

      Example, I worked with a guy who prided himself on responding to every email within 5 minutes, even if it was just the quick response you suggested. If someone didn’t hear from Dan within 30 minutes, the warning bells went off — where is Dan? Is Dan okay? What happened to Dan? — and people would go track him down. My standard response time is one business day (actual emergencies excepted). My colleagues didn’t follow up with me or come looking for me unless it had been two days with no response. Dan’s method worked for Dan (but I, like the OP, I think) am not interested in responding to every email, regardless of substance, in such a short window, so sending the quick message in response makes my life worse, not better, by training people to expect the quick response.

  5. Archaeopteryx*

    I hear about people doing this and it seems so weird to me that I’d probably just act confused about what they’re asking. Like “Did I get what? Your email? OK, let me check. Oh, it looks like you actually just sent this to me?Are you having technical problems or why do you ask?”
    Acting like it’s as odd a behavior as it is might be a good deterrent without having to call out that is annoying.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      I know this wouldn’t work with everyone but it would definitely work with some people, and if they say no then it’s a good lead in to telling them Alison’s script.

    2. Yorick*

      Yeah, this is what I always think too. If I know someone might not see it and they need a heads up, I’ll sometimes tell them before. “Hey, I’m gonna send you this later today so you can add xyz. We’ll need that by Friday.”

    3. Massive Dynamic*

      Bonus points if you tell them to hang on a minute so you can finish one quick thing with whatever you were working on and save it, and give them at least 15-20 seconds of listening to you type.

    4. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I think this is brilliant and then I remember my coworker and wonder if the make-stress coworker would turn it into a new reason to stress. For example, one time
      Karma: “Hey, Streussel, the file for web posting failed because the file name had a blank space between the name and the extension. It didn’t match the destination. Just something to look for.”
      So Streussel spent the next day opening every htm, xml, trg to look for extra spaces in file names when they were included in the code. The code which populated from the file name. And appeared in Notepad in a serif font.
      “Karma, I think there’s a space here.”
      “No, it’s just serif font in a txt file. See? The file it used is correct. You can see that, right?”
      “Yes, but it looks like there’s a space.”
      “But there isn’t. Select and copy that line. Now paste it into a Word Doc. Now select again and change it to Arial.”
      “Oh, that looks different now.”
      “Yeah, it’s a font thing with txt files.”
      “So it’s not wrong?”
      That was a fun day.

    5. Mr. Shark*

      Oh yes, I’ve done that. And the thing is, I usually look at e-mails right away, even if I don’t act on them. The mystery of the e-mail always gets me (it’s like a really bad present on Christmas morning!).

      So yes, when someone comes up to me and asks me about the e-mail, though I’ve already read it and know when I will be getting to it, I will act as if I’m busy (“hold on one minute while I finish what I’m doing”) and then read the e-mail again, and ask what they need (“okay, so I read your e-mail, did you need something right now?”).

      Yes, passive-aggressive, but it’s annoying when people do that. At least in the e-mail let me know that you’re coming over to discuss the topic.

  6. Aquawoman*

    In my house, we describe this as a production vs project mindset. Obviously, people can be a mix, but a person with a production mindset tends to prefer clear rules and priorities, sort of a checklist approach. Accountants and admins usually have a production mindset, and in fact, it’s probably necessary for jobs like invoicing and billing. It’s necessary to follow procedures. So, yeah, they’re bugging her for the next step because that’s the next step. Her job requires more of a project mindset, which requires the employee to create their own next steps with the end goal in mind. So, I’d say, just let them know that you’ll get back to them within [24/48] hours. They will come to you at 24 hours + 1 minute if you haven’t done it yet, but understanding that the “rule”/procedure is 24-hour turnaround [or whatever is typical for LW’s work needs] should solve the problem.

    1. Lucia Pacciola*

      Interesting. I read “production vs project” and imagined almost the exact opposite. As a production ops person, I’m used to interrupt-driven work, where production issues crop up and need prompt attention. So I’ll send you an email detailing the issue, and then immediately walk over to coordinate our remediation strategy in realtime. Because that’s what production issues require.

      On a project issue, I’d just send the email and follow up the next day if I didn’t hear back.

      1. lasslisa*

        Same here! I’m on the production facing side of a project driven org, and so we’ve got all these teapot designers doing months-long projects figuring out teapot glazing temperatures and I’m running around trying to deduce why the batch of prototype teapots we just made is cracked and whether we can salvage it before the client meeting next week.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I was taught the phrase as “project vs process” — but yes, that’s a very good point. Teach them your turnaround time, your scheduled email-reading time, or how to check your calendar to see if you’re in a client meeting.

  7. Lucia Pacciola*

    Sometimes I’ll send an email with background information, URLs to relevant websites, etc., ahead of walking over to a colleague’s desk for an in-depth technical discussion. I wonder if that’s part of what’s going on in LW’s case.

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      But if this is the case, I would hope/assume the email body would contain an explanation like, “I’m going to pop by in a few minutes to go over the attached; it’s easier to explain in person.” Or allow the person to let the sender know when a better time to review the documents together would be.

    2. violet_04*

      If I need to do something like this, I’ll send an IM first to see if they are available for a conversation. Then I would send the email with the details. I’m often on conference calls and can’t take a break to discuss an email.

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I’ve definitely done the “I just sent you an email that I want to discuss” thing.

    4. Lalaith*

      OK, but if you do this, give them a few minutes to actually read the email first. I had a coworker who would IMMEDIATELY walk over to my desk after she’d sent a detailed email. Sometimes she would get there before the email did. And I really would have liked to be able to read and digest the email before she launched into her explanation.

      1. pleaset*

        I don’t even act confused. I just answer their question with either

        “No, I haven’t seen it – I’m not looking at my email now.”


        “I saw it came in but haven’t read it. I will later and get back to you.”


        “Yes, I’ll get back to you.”

    5. NYWeasel*

      I was doing it for those reasons too but now I try to go over first and then send the email as a back up.

  8. AnotherAlison*

    Hmm. With the details as the OP laid them out, I can see why they are calling her. She is a step in their workflow that is preventing them from getting their job done, and they know she won’t respond to an email for at least a day. So, in response to that they are calling to get quicker action on it. I also review and approve client invoices, so I appreciate both sides. If they have dozens of these like we do here, it’s a pain to have a lot of half-completed work waiting on someone else. (Depending on the structure of their work, they may be holding up OP on stuff she needs for her clients (i.e. holding up herself), but it may go into their departmental metrics and ding them in reporting to their functional accounting manager, too.)

    What we did to solve this was set up a SharePoint workflow so that this was automated. Accounting routes invoices for my approval, and I route it back, no emails or phone calls exchanged. If they do have a question, they could do what they think is best first and flag it for my review in the comments on the SharePoint form.

    1. Spreadsheets and Books*

      This was my thought. I work on the numbers side of things and it’s definitely frustrating when we don’t have the info we need in our system because the client-facing people aren’t up to date on entries. Our work tends to be very deadline-oriented, so when things aren’t complete in the reports we pull, we end up with weird variances or reporting on incorrect numbers. And in many cases, waiting a day or two isn’t feasible when the CFO wants something *now.*

      Not saying that LW is wrong, but sometimes what seems like admin busy work is a critical part of keeping things running smoothly on the back end.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Okay, but as a client facing worker, this bothers me. I get that the CFO wants my information *now,* and I get that it sucks that she’s breathing down your neck, but if I’m in client meetings from 8:30 to 2:00 and you email me at 8:45 and drop by my desk at 2:05 sounding irritated that I haven’t responded to you yet? That’s not cool.

        Sometimes when you’re client facing, there is literally NO TIME for looking at or responding to email. It’s not my fault that the CFO’s frustrated any more than it’s yours, and putting on extra pressure isn’t going to help.

        1. Anon Admin*

          If the CFO is telling the admin to get the info *now* then the admin is doing what the boss told them to do. Perhaps you could call the CFO and tell them why you can’t get the info to them when they want it, instead of being frustrated at the admin for doing what the boss told them to do.

          1. Yorick*

            The admin can explain to the CFO that they don’t have the necessary information from Jane yet. This is no reason for the admin to go bother Jane ten minutes after sending the email.

            1. Anon Admin*

              And then the CFO tells the admin to go get the info from Jane because they want it now so Jane gets bothered anyway.

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                And Jane is giving a class in front of a large group of people and isn’t going to see the emails, no matter how many of them you send.

                1. Yorick*

                  So you’re still going to have to tell the CFO you can’t get the info now, so why not just tell him that from the beginning?

                  But LW is talking about admins sending an email to ask for something and then bothering her 10 minutes later about it. Sure, higher-ups can sometimes be unreasonably demanding, but many times they aren’t gonna demand info RIGHT NOW that you didn’t have a chance to work on earlier. If the admin sent the email 10 minutes ago and the CFO wants the response right this minute, maybe it’s the admin’s fault that the CFO doesn’t have her answer.

              2. enlyghten*

                The CFO should be telling the Admin’s supervisor who should get with Jane’s supervisor. The supervisors, after consulting their subordinates and written procedures, can both go to the CFO with their solution, which might include reminding the CFO that these things take time.

                If this workplace is too small to have supervisors, the Admin can say that they have passed the request on and don’t have the authority to demand anything of anyone they don’t supervise. They clearly have email proof, after all. If Jane is not doing things in the order the employer wants, this should come up as a performance discussion, rather than delving into the murky waters of unprofessionalism.

          2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            This is getting into a pissing match over here.

            I’ve dealt with various personalities as far as executives go. You are still in a lot more control than you’re acting like. It’s not a ‘do exactly what I say, right now.’ sort of thing.

            If you know Jane isn’t there, you simply say “She’s out teaching a class but I will circle back with her as soon as she’s back in her office.” or you say “I’ll follow up with her” and then give her enough time to breath. Even if it just means you get up from your desk, walk to her office and then walk right back without actually doing anything. Unless your CFO has a tracking device on you, they’re never going to know that you didn’t actually go demand the information from Jane.

            You’re an assistant, you aren’t a servant who cannot use your voice. If you have one of those executives that fire you for using your voice, that’s still not Jane’s fault.

            Or at very least go to Jane and say “I know that you just got this email but CFO wants the information right now, can you confirm you received it and when a response will be given?”

            If I had a dollar for every call/talk that started out with “You know how they are…but yeah I know you can’t pull this Whatever out of your butt…ETA though, anything I can share?”

            Again. Adjust your approach and deal with it in ways that you can control. Instead of thinking you’re free from the blowback when you’re “just taking orders.” This isn’t the military.

        2. Spreadsheets and Books*

          I work in finance for a massive F5o , so it’s not unusual for a fire drill type project that is something the CFO wants for his boss who wants it for his boss and on and on (we have many levels of execs here). When we’re stuck making up numbers due to a lack of timeliness, nothing ever ends up positively.

          I think the difference here rests on what kind of emails these are. Like, is an admin sending an invoice and checking up on it 10 minutes later, or are they sending a “hey, we are waiting on XYZ to be submitted to our system” follow up, with XYZ being a standard task for which LW is regularly accountable.

          1. pleaset*

            This. If it’s urgent stuff, then yeah, go over and talk after the email.

            If it’s just checking on a routine email, no no no.

            And if urgent stuff happens a lot, figure out better systems to have urgent stuff less often – if you can.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Agreed. Our finance staff does this, and it drives me insane. It drives me doubly insane when we’ve agreed to a deadline and they start pulling this crap days before it’s die pretending like we didn’t already agree to a different deadline. Ultimately this comes down to having to strike a balance between getting my top work priorities done (which are not finance’s priorities) without delaying finance’s workflow priorities. But if folks start pushing me when they know it’s not a time-dependent priority for them, either, I’m less inclined to be as accommodating.

          1. vlookup*

            I’m on the finance side and this dynamic can be so challenging! What drives me nuts is when someone is breathing down my neck about something that’s late because someone on the client-facing side is late in getting us something critical (typically, it’s late expense reports leading to late budget reporting).

            What has been helpful is to build out clear deadlines with some buffer built in, and then set the expectation for senior staff that finance will be unable to produce our deliverables on time if the deadlines we set for others aren’t met.

            1. Narvo Flieboppen*

              Very late to the party, but yes, this in particular. The worst was a year we spent with the CFO publicly announcing to the CEO and senior execs that they could have extra time, then expecting the finance team to turn out reports on the normal schedule.

              You can’t set a deadline for information to be submitted to the finance team by 12:00 PM on Friday and then expect the reporting done by 12:05 PM on Friday. There’s a piece in between those steps called ‘the finance team doing their jobs’. My crew are the largest piece of data entry and it was infuriating to receive a full business day of work right in the last hour before the data submission deadline but then turn around and have our CFO expecting the data entry to magically take zero hours of effort.

              Trapped in that nightmare, I was definitely following up with folks well before the deadlines because anything I could shake loose early was that much less stress on my people. It finally came to a head when my job was threatened, by the CFO personally, and the ensuing review of my ‘failures to manage the data’ revealed what I had been saying the whole time – it wasn’t humanly possible for us to do our jobs in the infinitesimal time between the data submission deadline and the reporting deadline.

    2. violet_04*

      It seems like there is a priority issue between these two groups. OP has said she deems other stuff more important, but this group needs to check off a task on their to-do list. I wonder if additional discussion is needed between these groups to identify how to make the process work better for everyone.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      This doesn’t sound like what they’re sending her needs to be done RIGHT NOW, though. Invoicing can usually wait until you get off the phone.

      But it also sounds like they might need to either pass this part of her job off to another person who has fewer demands, or hire more staff, because she’s being asked to attend to clients most of the day *and also* attend to coworkers at the drop of a hat, and that doesn’t work.

      1. Yorick*

        I think the issue is that she isn’t expected to attend to coworkers at the drop of the hat as a matter of her actual job, except that those coworkers are impatient. It doesn’t sound like these are urgent issues, and she says these things are holding up her own projects, not someone else’s.

        1. OP*

          You nailed it! My priority and my boss’s priority the client interactions and the majority of this stems from a mismatch between that and the back office folks.

    4. Anon Admin*

      I think part of the issue is the admins work 9-5 and that is when LW is busy with other things (client meetings, etc.), so they leave admin work until evening. So if they admins are waiting hours or days to get something they need to move forward, that’s why they call and/or come by. There work hours are mismatched.

      I’ve been an admin for 17 years and I think some people do not understand how many things we have to juggle. I could give you paragraphs of the things I handle on a monthly basis. If I need you to approve your credit card charges so accounting can move forward with payment and you don’t, guess who accounting calls and gets irritated at?

      I think LW needs to let all the admins know that she waits until evenings to handle administrative tasks so they have a better time frame as to when expect items from them.

      1. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

        Maybe a solution for the LW could be that they dedicate the first hour of their day (or last) to answering the admin’s needs (I realize this may not be feasible if they can’t spare that hour away from clients).

        We do this with our construction supervisors, but it’s one morning a week. Their subcontractors and workers understand that they’re not going to be on site every Tuesday until the afternoon because they’re approving invoices and working with accounting. If those invoices don’t get approved, the subs don’t get paid, so generally there’s not much complaint from the subs. They just hold their questions until the afternoon (and then the poor site guy gets bombarded when he arrives!). However, this only works if the job site can be opened, deliveries can be accepted, etc, without the site super present. If there’s a concrete pour starting at 4am on Tuesday then that puts a kink in things…

        I hate to think that the LW has to spend their evenings working on this instead of being able to tackle it during working hours, but that may be how they like it. I do agree with you that they need to set the expectations with admin so that everyone is a little happier. If their time frame isn’t working for admin, then that’s another conversation altogether.

      2. pleaset*

        If you need info right away, please make that clear. Put it in the subject line, or better yet, tell the recipients to be on the lookout for certain types of emails that need quick response.

        It shouldn’t just be on the OP to know that admins juggle lots of task – communication can flow the other way too.

        1. pleaset*

          And I realize the suggestion that the OP explain how she works is in response to the OP asking what to do. But it seems to me the onus on expectations of immediate response should be on the person who wants that response.

    5. Senor Montoya*

      But maybe it doesn’t need to be done immediately. Maybe waiting a day is ok — they *want* it now but they don’t *need* it now. They should plan in that day turnaround. I do understand not wanting a lot of half-done work waiting on someone else, but wanting it done rightnow is not always a reasonable request — the person you’re waiting on is likely has other things they’re working on, things that may be a higher priority.

      If people would only put in the subject header: High Priority, Urgent, Low priority, Background info, or whatever, then the topic (Llama milking project, teapot breakage report, whatever), the world would be a better place.

  9. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    I had someone email me at 11 pm and 1 am on a Friday night into a Saturday, and then call me around 9 am Saturday asking if I’d seen her email.

    This was before smartphones and was definitely not the sort of environment where you’d expect someone to be on email 24/7. She was emailing to ask if she could borrow some training materials.

    1. noahwynn*

      I had something similar where they called and then wanted me to pull out my laptop, figure out the company VPN, and reply by email. When I said no, and gave them a verbal ok, they called my boss who told them to accept the verbal answer or wait until Monday.

    2. Senor Montoya*

      Hahaha, I’m dealing with some parents who emailed me on Sunday afternoon, then called first thing Monday morning (8:01 am, I swear) to demand to know what I was going to do about it.

  10. Leela*

    I feel you OP! I work in admin and have loads of very high-priority requests, and people will send me an extremely low-priority e-mail and leave me three phone messages within the hour asking if I’ve seen it and can I please act on it. I’ve spoken to the people in question several times about it and they laugh me off going “yeah we’re Latin, we’re rebels like that” (?) I’m not Latin so I can’t weigh in on if that’s related at all but it’s incredibly frustrating to tell someone “I need you to stop doing this” and they laugh it off with a reason like that. Currently I have my boss’ blessing to just not ever answer those calls or voicemails because both of us don’t know what to do about it at this stage (our business is very segmented so while he outranks them he has no standing over them, and their manager is the one telling them to call me to get through as soon as possible despite the fact that I’m usually putting out 20 fires at any given time and they’ve got something really small for weeks out)

    1. Close Bracket*

      Tell them you work on Latin time :)

      (Is that a thing in all Latin countries? I know Cuban time is a thing, but maybe that’s not generalizable)

      1. Leela*

        No clue! It’s just so annoying because as far as I know there’s no precedent of them missing out on something because of us not getting back within a certain timeframe, and my manager and I both feel that their requests are being correctly prioritized with the needs of our actual department, who we actually work for. It’s just bizarre. They’ll even call me seconds after calling someone else in the department asking where they are. I’m not anyone’s secretary, nor would I know where someone is if they’re not answering their phone at their desk. I seriously dread it every time I see their numbers on the phone’s ID, and they obviously know this as they’ve started going to other offices in their building (still from our company) and using those phones to get me to answer.

      1. Leela*

        We’ve tried heavily with this, unfortunately their manager just feels very entitled to our immediate attention, going so far as pressuring us to get WhatsApp so she can reach us after hours which we’ve both vehemently said no to!

  11. TimeTravelR*

    I have had something similar (sort of ) happen. I would meet with my boss. We would talk about something he wanted me to take care of. I would leave his office and walk down the hall to my office. By the time I sat down, he had already emailed the person or made a phone call and sent me an email telling me it was done.
    I often wondered why he paid me????

    1. banzo_bean*

      lol yes! A lot of times when I was an admin my boss would ask me to do things that would take less time to do than to email me and ask for me to do it. But I’d be like “ok” and go do it, and he would have already done it!
      It reminds me of the time my dad told me he would pay me to vacuum the stairs and started to demonstrate how to do it. He kept interupting me when I was doing it to show me a better technique (I guess) and eventually it turned into him paying me to watch him vacuum the stairs.

  12. Dust Bunny*

    OMG if you need an answer RIGHT NOW then either call or come by in person *without* sending an email. Otherwise, leave me the heck alone until I have time to look at it! I will see it within a half an hour, anyway.

      1. Yorick*

        Yeah, put URGENT in the subject – but only if it’s actually urgent. It sounds like these things aren’t really.

    1. TiffanyAching*

      YES. If it’s time-sensitive, pick up the phone and call me, leave a voicemail if I’m not around. Don’t send me an email and then be frustrated I didn’t respond until an hour later.

      Also, sending a request by email that requires research/testing to answer at 4pm, and being upset that I haven’t gotten back to you by 8:30am the next day. Most of our employees work 8-5 and the general culture is to not check email/do work after hours.

  13. banzo_bean*

    Speaking from the other side- a lot of times I set times to remind people of outstanding information needed. For me a typical response time would be closer to a day so I start my morning reminding everyone from yesterday that they’re responses are still needed, but I can imagine a scenario where the typical response time is faster. But if someone were to communicate- “it takes me x hours to respond to this type of request” I’d definitely shift my habits with them.

    Also, a lot of times I’ll send techinical information or instructions via email so it’s documented, and then call to discuss it so that I can clarify points that are hard to express via email. So I’d just let people know you’re constraints- they’re likely not trying to be bothersome, and can easily accommodate you.

    1. zaracat*

      re that second part – when I’m in a similar situation of sending background info by email for an intended conversation by phone or if I have a specific timeline in mind, I’ll always specifically mention that in the email especially if the email was sent at an odd hour because it happened to be more convenient for my own workflow. Not a work situation exactly but I’m sure there are parallels: I recently had to contact our apartment building owners corporation manager about about a leaking pipe that needed to have a repair organised fairly quickly, but not so urgently that calling the after hours number late on a Sunday night was necessary. I also knew that I’d be out of phone contact for the first few hours of Monday morning. I sent an email with a request for the repair and attached photos, and in the email said that I’d follow up with a phone call mid-morning to check what was happening with the repair booking.

  14. Jennifer*

    Is it possible to send automatic replies? Something generic like, “I am busy working on a time-sensitive project right now but have received your request and will respond within one business day.”

    1. NW Mossy*

      I’d be really reluctant to do this outside of a culture where it’s often done, because in most offices it’s rare and it can read like an unintended “F you, sender, there’s nothing you can say to that’s worth my time.” It puts people off to see you as a person who’s so tight on their boundary defense that telling everyone to pound sand is their first response.

      1. Jennifer*

        In a normal office, I’d agree with you, but these people may not respond to reason. I’d keep it in my back pocket as a last resort.

  15. Any mous*

    I worked someplace where a co worker in another department would PRINT OUT and bring me the email she had just sent.

    My desk was outfront but I wasn’t a receptionist (my division only had 4 office people total) and she would frequently need to see a coworker who was in an “office” (support room turned ito a supply room/office) and she wouldn’t go in to see him unless I announced her.

    The first few times I would call him and then I would get up and poke my head in the door to let him know.

    He didn’t want anyone announced it was just her thing.

    We were all temps and she would decline to do other projects outside the scope orignal temp assignment.

    The company declined to extend her temp contract past the original date. Which shocked her.

  16. RH*

    I’ve dealt with this before. My tried and true method – just do something unpleasant when your colleagues come to your desk. Pass yass, clip your toenails, floss, etc.

  17. Sara M*

    Yes, please say something! When I was new to the work world, I wasn’t sure how to handle things, and I did this a few times. I had a manager nicely tell me that urgent stuff should be done via IM and other stuff in email, and to give her a day for emails. This really helped me.

    1. OP*

      Thank you! Especially with our new admin I’ve been wanting to sit with him and catch up, and also clarify this a bit. I know he’s just super eager to get things done but I think being a little more aware of how to manage priorities couldn’t hurt!

      1. Anonnn*

        Agree, I did this/do this/see this mismatch when I/someone is new and not sure how others’ workflows go. I have ABC things to do, when I get stuck on A, I ask for help. But boss is in the middle of DEFGHIJK and would rather I send an email with all my questions about ABC together. Or maybe not ask for something with a short turnaround right before they have to go on a business trip. I’m still developing the skills to sense others’ workflows!

      2. Lucky black cat*

        Does he know it’s ok to wait and not do things right away? Sometimes this needs pointing out.

  18. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    It sounds like someone who struggles with patience and understanding the larger picture.

    I have people who I need to confirm that they saw an email within a pretty short time period because they’re unreliable AF. But I treat them specifically that way, not everyone in the entire group of humans I’m constantly trying to herd and keep track of.

    Lots of people aren’t able to juggle those differences though so they cling to these tactics that annoy the living crap out of people in the end, who are the receiving end of a nudge they didn’t need let alone want.

    I would tell them that it’s not necessary to check in with me and that I’ll get to it within the next X amount of time on average. I would be careful to stay calm and collected, no snapping or sighing. But really, just put that foot down and say that they’re bothering you with unnecessary things that can be handled at a different time.

    Then still be aware that people who tend to do this kind of thing, don’t change that much. So you may need to constantly remind them that they’re interrupting you and need to exit your space so you can continue with your work load.

  19. fogharty*

    I did this just a little while ago…sent an email and then called within five minutes.
    In my defense, it was a last minute time crunch thing, and the first thing I did on the phone call was to apologize for calling right after sending an email. But again, last minute deadline of 40 minutes (yikes!)

    I can’t imagine doing that on a regular basis, though. I felt bad enough just doing it now.

  20. Magenta Sky*

    It could be worse. A lawyer friend gets email from clients with attached documents that are dozen, even hundreds of pages long, full of complicated legal stuff (he writes bond deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars on a regular basis), and the clients will call him immediately, and expect him to have read and fully analyzed the documents, sometimes before his mail client has even finished downloading the attachment.

    And be very put out when this is not the case.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is very common when dealing with clients, not just in law! I have people who would place orders and then call me immediately.

      I have people who would leave a message marked as “urgent!” for a basic information that isn’t time sensitive, despite them knowing that my turnaround time to respond is usually within the hour. Then they’ll be calling me back when I am listening to their voicemail, lol.

      The good news is if it’s a lawyer who’s getting this nonsense, you can just simply say “no” and charge them for the phone call time. Oh no, they’re put out? So what, find another lawyer. Unless he’s brand new in practice, you only have to put up with obnoxious behaviors to the extent you want to put up with them! You can and should tell clients the truth about turnaround time.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        When you’re writing a bond deal worth several hundred million dollars for a public agency, losing a client is not a small amount of money. And the managing partners take a very dim view of associates doing so.

  21. Gymmie*

    This happens to me as a manager a lot. I also get this from our broker clients “how’s the quote coming?” “have you heard back from upper management?” Well, fine sir, don’t you think if I HAD I would have let you know? Also, these take up too much time. I can respond faster if everyone just leaves me alone so I can respond!

    1. OP*

      That’s my sentiment exactly! My thought is that every time you call me to ask whether it’s done, you’re distracting me from actually looking at the invoice.

  22. nora*

    Are…are your coworkers my parents? If I don’t answer an email within whatever period of time they deem appropriate (an hour to a few days) I get, in no particular order, follow-up emails, follow-up emails copying my sisters (who usually also haven’t responded because we are all overwhelmingly busy adults with families and jobs), texts, voicemails, texts about the voicemails, Facebook messages about the texts, etc. etc.

  23. Heat's Kitchen*

    I wasn’t this bad, but had to have this conversation with my last manager. I keep my inbox at zero and usually respond by the end of the day. My expectation was that I’d receive a response to my emails within 24 hours. My boss told me to reset my expectations with her to two business days. This greatly helped. If I needed a sooner response, I knew to ask her in person on via Skype. Otherwise I could follow up via email.

    Setting these expectations and context will help these employees work better in general.

  24. Vicky Austin*

    This letter reminds me of stories I’ve heard from older people about when email was introduced to their workplace in the 1990’s. Lucinda sent an email to a Fergus for the first time, and then she ran all the way to Fergus’s desk to see if he had received her email. He had, and Lucinda triumphantly proclaimed, “IT WORKED!”

  25. Veryanon*

    GRRR. This is a pet peeve of mine, along with people who come to my desk and can visually SEE I’m on conference calls and will try to talk to me anyway. Also the people who can see on our IM system that I’m in a meeting and ping me anyway. If I really need to concentrate, I’ll set my IM to “Do Not Disturb” mode, but that just encourages some people to call/stop by anyway. Unless the building is on fire and we all need to evacuate, no one needs to this.

  26. Green great dragon*

    When they come over, you could tell them directly you’ve set aside the end of the day to clear them. If you do it consistently they’ll work it out. Of course if you then don’t they’ll be at your desk at 9.01 the next day…

  27. Phil*

    I had this in my previous role, specifically from one or two coworkers. I resolved it by saying in a jokingly exasperated voice, “give me a minute to read it!” They got the message without being put off.

    Of course, it depends on your rapport with coworkers, company culture, etc.

  28. Alli525*

    Ha!! When I was an admin, one of our sales guys was NOTORIOUS for doing that. Like, if the network was slow, he would sometimes arrive at my desk before his email did. I finally started blatantly ignoring him every time he did that, occasionally draaaaaaagging my eyes away from my monitor and pretending to look surprised to see him there, then saying “oh excuse me, I’m in the middle of something, can you come back later?”

    It worked, it really did. I was worried at first that my lower rank would mean I’d be told to humor him, but my bosses (not his managers) knew he was an idiot and just let me deal with him. I also taught this trick to all the other admins. He learned.

    1. Robin*

      I was department assistant/admin at my former job and had one co-worker who usually got in before the sun came up, so of course was already half way through his day by the time I got in between 8 & 8:30. He would see me in my cube and head over to see if I’d read the email, and to explain the email he’d sent before I got in. I was usually still putting my purse away and had not even turned on the computer yet. The real kicker was that he would start talking before leaving his cube, and therefore was half way through his explanation by the time he got to my cube. He did a lot of repeating himself, since I hadn’t been aware he was talking to me until he was at my cube, as he was one of those “stream of consciousness” types, and I typically ignored him most of the day. (I worked with him a couple of years before finding he was NOT hyped up on coffee either, it’s just how he was.)

  29. Elbe*

    The best way to train them into different behavior is to consistently NOT give them what they want. If coming over to the LW’s desk after 10 minutes makes her drop everything and action their email, they’re going to keep doing it. This tactic of theirs needs to be unsuccessful 100% of the time so that they don’t retain hope that it may work in the future.

    As Alison mention, the nicest response is to just give them a blanket ETA. The LW should repeat that like a record so that they don’t achieve anything by bothering her further. Eventually, they’ll stop the behavior once they understand that it’s not going to get them results.

    1. miss_chevious*

      The best way to train them into different behavior is to consistently NOT give them what they want.

      EXACTLY. Reinforce the behavior you want to see, and DO NOT reinforce the behavior you want to extinguish. If you give them the results they want when they do this, they will continue to do it.

  30. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    My boss comes into my office literally seconds after they hit the send button on an email. “Did you see that email I just sent you?” And then they’ll dive in on further instructions or info before I’ve been able to read it. It drives me absolutely bonkers. People who do this need to CHILL.

    1. i forget the name I usually use*

      Or worse, talk to you about it WHILE you are trying to read the email… saying things that only make sense once you get the context from the email… it all just turns into a soup that I have to try to piece together once they walk away!

  31. Surrogate Tongue Pop*

    My new manager (who is quite awesome), I’ve discovered, has a habit of sending me an email, IM’ing me to tell me she sent me an email and….that’s it. It’s not implied that it’s urgent or I should be looking at it or responding to it even “soon”. After that initial thing, there is radio silence about the email. I do, of course, read the email and properly respond (if response is warranted, rather than FYI). It’s odd, but not bothersome.

  32. Eeether Eyether*

    If you use the most updated version of Outlook, you can write an out office message that says something like “Thank you for email. I respond to my messages within 24 hours (or whatever). That way, as soon as someone puts your name in the “to” box, that message will show up above their email. Several of our departments do this–I find it very helpful.

  33. LQ*

    None of this is your fault or your problem. I’m not saying it is. But sometimes it helps to understand where some of the folks are coming at it and to change it from a different angle.
    Sometimes the folks who do this are looking for an excuse to get up and move around, stretch their legs, or sometimes folks who are not “on” all day and are mostly behind spreadsheets etc are looking for some human interaction. Especially if they are supposed to work closely with you or they feel like they are being left behind in the work.

    You can absolutely just shut them down and do all the stuff people mentioned above. But I worked with someone like this and my solution was we (myself and 2 coworkers) did a daily stand up in the mornings. We ran through what our day would be, what we might have coming up. The 2 of them would talk about whatever the social stuff they wanted. It was sort of scrum stand up but also let them meander for a few minutes of social things. We did it while going on a little walk through the building which built in an “end” which was critical.

    It made a HUGE difference. They felt more in the loop on what I was doing. (No, they didn’t have to be, it wasn’t needed for their job, but my boss certainly wasn’t going to step in and it was absolutely easier to give them a quick brushstroke of what I was doing in 1 minute and let them chatter than demanding that they become who I wanted them to become.) They also did way less dropping by and were much better about understanding when I was too busy to leap on top of the funny email or the Super Urgent (not at all urgent) question.

  34. vlookup*

    Argh! This is so annoying.

    I work on the national team of an organization with multiple sites. The team that happens to be located in the same physical office as me pulls this kind of thing a lot. I don’t want to prioritize one team’s requests simply because they have the ability to bug me about them in person, but I have yet to figure out a graceful solution.

    Trying not to reward the behavior helps, but my workload varies enough that sometimes I can respond super quickly to stuff and sometimes I can’t, so it’s hard to set consistent expectations for response times.

  35. Duckles*

    How do you address if the person following up is not a peer/doing your deliverable but a superior? I used to work for about five people (of comparable level and with their own projects) at any given time, plus work that was for clients directly that didn’t have anyone supervising in between, and sometimes someone would call to discuss an email literally before it hit my inbox. If I didn’t respond immediately, or responded that I was working with someone else at the moment, they’d usually be annoyed and/or continue to follow up. That pressure— that I couldn’t do all things for all people at the same time— was one of the reasons I left that job but I’m curious if anyone has had success with any dialogue.

    1. lasslisa*

      My rule of thumb is that more than two bosses is too many bosses. Some people say even two is a problem. Basically, if you’re supposed to be accountable to someone for work on their project, but also supposed to overrule them on priorities, it is a bad situation. “Sorry, Bob Project Leader, I know this project is your top priority right now, but it isn’t mine because I’m in the middle of working on Alice’s project”… I used to have to have this conversation all the time with a manager who always thought whatever he was doing was the most important thing in the entire company. His projects were wildly successful and he got a promotion, but his projects were successful in part because he basically stole time from other people’s projects.

      Tldr: If all your managers aren’t aligned on your priorities and what you ought to be working on, there’s really not a good solution.

  36. Erin*

    My workplace encourages us to use A, U or I in front of subject line. Rule of thumb is:
    A=Action, meaning The recipient needs to act in this in the next few days
    U=Urgent, meaning unless recipient is already working on issue outlined in email, stop what you are doing and do what I ask in email
    I=Informational. This is something you need to know, but I don’t necessarily need a response or action from recipient

    Works quite well.

  37. Theelephantintheroom*

    No one has ever called me to follow-up. I do have one person who has started pinging me or sending me a follow-up email wondering if I saw the message she sent an hour ago. I work on a lot of large projects that frequently get to me as urgent requests, so I’ve started telling her, “Sorry, I was working on a high priority issue, I’ll get to this by EOD/tomorrow morning/whenever I think I can.”

    But a lot of people liked to come to my desk to follow-up on emails and it’s one of the reasons I requested to WFH. (It’s a pet peeve of my boss, too, so she understood.)

    I don’t have any helpful suggestions. People are just crazy.

  38. TG*

    It may be helpful to ask the admins for suspense dates. Knowing when something is due is so helpful in fitting it into my schedule.

  39. Narise*

    The only way to break them of this habit is to not read the email when they call or come to see you. Don’t discuss the topic of the email. If you give them even a partial answer or read the email while they stand there it will train them to continue. State you are reviewing a different project and will respond in xyz time. That will give them the opportunity to state ‘ I have a deadline of tomorrow by noon.’ and then you can adapt accordingly. Then you need to follow Allison’s advice about setting reasonable response times.

  40. LeighTX*

    You could do like one of my new coworkers and set up an auto-reply that says you’ll respond to my email within 7 to 10 business days. (YES. SEVEN TO TEN DAYS. It is not going over well with management.)

  41. BeeKeen*

    My boss does this with everyone. He and I are the only two people in the office and he does not know how to email – I do that. He will call an insurance adjuster the second I send the email to see if they got it. He believes whatever his case is is the most important on anyone’s plate. He will also fax something but have me prepare a letter the next day to that same person as if he never sent it in the first place. Drives me nuts!

  42. The Other Dawn*

    My personal favorite was the guy–an executive–who would print out the email I sent to him, bring it to me, slap it on my desk, and then tell me, “I got your email.” No shit, Sherlock. You’re supposed to respond via email so I can track it for regulatory purposes. He knew that, but he chose to be a pain in the ass about it. He would also then send me the response and walk over to my office to tell me he responded to it. I was happy when he eventually got fired.

  43. motherofdragons*

    Oh my gosh. I have a colleague who does this with non-urgent e-mails ALL the time. If an e-mail pops up from her in my inbox, I mentally count down “5…4…3…2…1” and boom, she’s in my office like, “Did you see my e-mail?” And it seems no matter what I say, she launches into talking about what her e-mail said! I think she’s just bored and wants to move around and socialize, but it’s definitely disruptive. I’ve tried sloooooowly dragging my eyes away from my computer, saying “What’s up?” and “No, I haven’t seen your e-mail yet, I’ve been busy. What’s up?” and she’ll say “Oh nothing, just (verbally describes the content of her e-mail).” This is a person/office culture where being brusque is a no-go, so a “Hey, could you please knock that off?” would go over like a lead balloon.

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