how can I convince my employee not to work until 2 AM?

A reader writes:

I am a manager who has a great team and several high-performing employees. We are all working from home these days due to COVID. One of my employees in particular will often stay up late into the night working on assignments I have given her. I know this because she will send me emails at 1 or 2 in the morning with updates on her work. (We are all exempt and on salary so overtime pay is not an issue here.)

She is producing high-quality work and I have no issues with her work performance. Because she works so hard on projects, they often come in well before deadlines as well. My sense is that she does this because she finds the work interesting and engaging and doesn’t want to stop. But I worry that she is going to get burned out by working such late hours, and also that other employees on my team will see her working so late and wonder if they are expected to do so as well. (I have tried to address this directly with my other employees and told them that it’s not what I expect.)

I’ve tried to tell her many times in our one-on-one meetings that she doesn’t need to work that late and that I don’t expect her to do so, but it doesn’t seem to stop her. I really don’t want to make this into a formal performance issue either. Do you have any suggestions on how to “convince” her not to work so hard?

Well, you can talk to her about the importance of pacing herself so she doesn’t burn out — it’s a marathon, not a sprint, etc. etc. Explain you care about her being able to do the work well long-term, not just doing a lot of it in the short-term.

But given everyone’s situation right now with pandemic stress and being trapped at home … I wouldn’t press too hard. This might be how she’s coping. You don’t want to push her to stop doing something that might feel like a lifeline right now.

It’s also possible that she’s working late at night because she’s working less during the daytime — either because her current life necessitates that (like if she has to oversee her kids’ online schooling during the day) or because she simply prefers it. If that’s the case, you shouldn’t force her back into a more traditional schedule if this one works just fine.

But you’re right to worry about the message her late-night emails could send to colleagues. It was wise to tell your other staff members directly that you don’t expect that … but I’d also think about suggesting that she hold her emails until the next work day. She can write them at 2 a.m. if she wants, but schedule them to go out the following morning (or just save them as drafts until then if her email program doesn’t let her schedule them). I know it feels a little odd to be like “disguise how hard you are working” but that wouldn’t be the message. You’d frame it as, “You and I both know you’re working these hours because they work well for you, but when people see others doing this, it can make them feel like they’re expected to be checking email at all hours.” If she manages people, you definitely need to say this — but either way, you can frame it as being thoughtful about what signals she might otherwise inadvertently send.

I do think there’s a weird thing going on right now where many people suddenly have a lot more flexibility in the hours they work. For some people that sucks — it’s because school and child care is still in such disarray that working odd hours is their only option, or boundaries between work and home have been blurred so much that it feels like work never ends. But other people have found a real freedom in being able to manage their own schedules in ways that weren’t as common pre-pandemic. Obviously that’s not happening in all jobs, but there’s more of it going on than there used to be. It’ll be interesting to see if it becomes a lasting change. (If it does, it’ll almost certainly be both good and bad — good because more freedom is generally good, but bad because it’ll undoubtedly add to the already mounting pressure some people face to be available all the time.)

{ 129 comments… read them below }

  1. old curmudgeon*

    Pandemic stress is definitely a thing. I cannot count the number of times over the past year that I’ve gotten up at midnight or later to do some work, on the theory “heck, can’t sleep, might as well be productive.” And I don’t even have small kids at home who are trying to do remote learning during the day.

    Additionally, some people’s circadian rhythms just work differently. My spouse is a lark, up before dawn but drowsy and ready for bed in the early evening. I am an owl, and can happily and productively work well into the night, sleeping in later in the morning.

    I agree with Alison about guiding your employee to save those emails for regular business hours so the others on the team don’t feel pressured to work the same way, but beyond that, I’d just take it for what it is. And thank you for accommodating a flexible schedule like that, too – that is a huge benefit!

    1. Glitsy Gus*

      Yep, agreed. I have been taking advantage of having a bit more flexibility in my schedule to take a bit of time in the early afternoon to get outside, run errands, that kind of thing while the sun is still out and it hasn’t gotten too cold or rainy, then logging back in after dinner to wrap up what still needs to get done from earlier.

      Not only has this helped my mental health immensely being able to do this, but my brain power and energy levels are much higher in the early evening than in the morning or mid-afternoon. I will say that the times I have sent emails at 11 or midnight, I often will schedule them to deliver after 8 am unless they are going to a UK team member. I don’t want folks to think 1) that I actually am available at all hours of the night or 2) that I expect responses at weird hours. It also helps keep messages from getting missed in the morning if the recipient doesn’t think to look at stuff that came in after hours the day before.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        That image of being available also is important to stop before it starts as you pointed out. Scheduling emails is such a simple fix.

      2. TardyTardis*

        Yes, some people are just plain night owls and function much better then. It would be neat if they would be allowed to do so post-pandemic, but I suspect not, since the morning larks have all the propaganda and most of the power.

  2. Womanaroundtown*

    For a moment when reading this, I thought, I’d this about me? And then remembered that I rarely email people that late, but my boss certainly does (and luckily we all know that he does not expect that of us). I think the best way to treat this is to check in with her and see how long she’s working – because I certainly work less during the day and more at night because I am a night owl who is most productive and alert then. I have a hard time concentrating out of an office during the day, especially in winter when I’m thinking about how to get in a walk or run while there’s still daylight. I don’t contact clients past 7 PM, but I do work on projects, and I’m still evening out to an average work week on hours. If she’s working 70 hour work weeks now, though, when your average is closer to 40 (or whatever equivalent fits), then you might want to ask if there’s anything she needs help with to make a more manageable schedule. And if she doesn’t, just ask her to hold off on when she sends emails.

    1. selena*

      We know how late the employee ends her day. But OP gives no indication of when the employee starts her day: does she clock in at 8AM, or is she never avaible before 2PM.

      If it’s the latter than there is no real problem, if it’s the former than OP needs to make sure she is doing okay.

      1. Womanaroundtown*

        Exactly. She could also be taking long breaks during the day, and ultimately ending up working the same hours she’d work in an office setting. If she’s working way longer, then OP should check in again.

      2. Archaeopteryx*

        Yes I wouldn’t necessarily even think of this as working “harder” than she needs to unless you’re certain she’s putting in much more hours, not just different hours. I definitely agree with the schedule-send email idea so people don’t think they have to be available outside working hours, but even when discussing it with her, I wouldn’t frame it as working hard (with a virtuous connotation) when the issue is working late.

        1. Not A Girl Boss*

          I guess I thought it was weird that Alison and others jumped to the conclusion she was also working less during the day. From the letter, especially based on how the employee finishes work early, I assumed she was just putting in extra long days. Which I think the boss could respond to by saying “I need you to work no more than X hours a day. If you prefer to work at night, consider taking a long lunch for yourself or starting later.”

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Oh, I don’t assume that at all! The first possibility I presented was that she’s working more because it’s a lifeline to her right now (I think that’s especially likely since she’s finishing projects early).

              1. Allypopx*

                I definitely read it as “distracting thing to focus on that makes it feel like the world isn’t collapsing around you”

    2. BusyBee*

      Fitting in weekday runs has been hard this winter! I feel strangely guilty for dipping out during the day to get miles, but I always make them up in the evening so not sure why I can’t shake the guilt!

      1. Dahlia*

        Because of my chronic pain, I tend to do most of my physical chores/work in the morning, and then do things where I can physically rest while doing them after 1 or 2pm.

      2. Honoria, Dowager Duchess of Denver*

        I’ve been doing the same, what has helped me is keeping a log of my time worked in the day, just for my own benefit. It’s just reassures me that I am doing my hours and don’t need to be guilty :)

        1. Not A Girl Boss*

          Yes definitely this. I also reframed it mentally as “scattering my work hours so I can be responsive for longer each day” instead of skipping out. I am now unashamed. I wake up, check my email, do some cardio, do morning calls, take a long chores lunch, take an afternoon break to lift, work some more, eat dinner. Its the best.

      3. cat lady*

        SAME. I definitely work more than my required hours, but I feel so guilty not being available during the normal work hours. I’m also trying to learn how to shake the guilt!

      4. Ally McBeal*

        I go for a run/walk at lunch almost every single day! Since I’m working from home it’s a relief to step away from my work station for an hour (and I guard that hour religiously, but I’m at a nonprofit so no one looks at me askance for it).

    3. RB*

      “It’s also possible that she’s working late at night because she’s working less during the daytime — either because her current life necessitates that (like if she has to oversee her kids’ online schooling during the day) or because she simply prefers it.”
      Yes, this, and what Womanaroundtown said. I’ve fallen into a split shift most days where I crank out the high-priority stuff in the late morning, then dink around the house, run errands, go to my exercise class, then get back online in the evening. I periodically check e-mail and respond during those “down” hours but my focus is not as good for major project work as in the evening. Plus I like doing my major projects during the evening because I don’t get interrupted with a lot of e-mails and video calls.
      So maybe she is working the same hours, just spread out differently than everyone else. Or she figures, there’s not a whole lot else to do these days, might as well get something accomplished.

  3. KHB*

    Assuming that she’s working more hours than expected, not just different ones, another possible factor is that she’s angling to eventually be rewarded (with a raise, promotion, bonus, or whatever else) for going above and beyond. So it might be worth explicitly discussing with her what’s available to her along those lines. And make sure that you’re already rewarding her in a way that’s commensurate with the quality work she’s producing.

    1. selena*

      And also important to be clear if such a promotion isn’t in the cards any time soon.
      Otherwise the employee might get the wrong impression from OP giving out lots of compliments.

      1. KHB*

        Absolutely, yes. If she’s expecting to get something out of this that you know you won’t be able to give her, she’s going to end up feeling resentful.

    2. Reba*

      Yes, it seems like more conversations are needed about the motivation behind the extra hours (as well as the exact hours!).

      I also noticed a “you don’t have to” in the letter… based on my reading of this site, I know that people often say this when they mean “I want you to stop” and meanwhile the other person hears it as “maybe not necessary, but go for it if you want”!

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Agreed about the wording. Once LW knows what she wants to see (under ten hours per day? no emails after 7pm? always wide awake and present for the 10am standup?) she needs to communicate it clearly, using Alison’s usual literal “I need to see this from you by date” language.

  4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    First thought: “My sense is that she does this because — ” Ask her why she’s working extra hours; don’t just guess.

    Second thought: If she really legitimately wants to work the extra hours, and if that’s working out for your team, ask her to at least document the time she spends on projects so that the people getting the outcome have a realistic idea of what is involved. You don’t want the teapot team going “Oh, we gave them those lids on Tuesday and they had them done by Thursday, this is a two day job!” when what actually happened is that Florence worked on them 16 hours a day for those two days and it’s really a four day job.

    1. DrSalty*

      Yeah you definitely need to bring this up with her. You should worry about setting these kind of expectations with clients.

    2. Antilles*

      Absolutely on the second one.
      People working tons of extra hours often ask “wait, why would that be a problem”. But as a manager, you need to think long-term and realize that this might cause delivery/schedule expectations (it’s a two day job, right? that’s what it took last time) that just aren’t feasible with a normal eight-hour workday.

    3. Kiki*

      I agree with both thoughts! For the first, I think it’s really important to hear her reasoning because that affects how you react and support them. It could be that this employee is a night owl– maybe you could shift her hours so she doesn’t have to start working until a bit later in the day. Her answer may also reveal that what’s happening is not her preference and she needs some guidance– for example, she may have trouble pacing herself. My boyfriend struggled with this when he made the jump from hourly service work to being salaried. He was used to finishing things completely before leaving for the day. That’s not something that can always happen in the sort of job he moved to, so he needed his manager’s coaching to be like, “hey, I gave you two weeks to do this because I want you to do it over the course of two weeks of normal business days, not working for 48 hours straight.”

      The second point is also really important! It can be really disruptive to business to have one person working crazy hours. When they leave, expectations for deliverables are all warped and need to be reset with a lot of different parties.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        On that first one — that’s exactly what made me think about it. My husband has fairly recently transitioned from being hourly to salaried, and also from working onsite to working primarily from home, and he’s absolute RUBBISH at turning work off because he doesn’t want them to think he’s slacking. So he has his work Teams and email on his phone, and if one of them buzzes at 8:30pm, he pauses his video game and runs upstairs to log into his computer to fix whatever it is, and I’m like THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA. But his management won’t bother to tell him that he doesn’t have to “how high” every time someone barks “JUMP” at him, so he’s stressing himself out because he thinks this is what part of being salaried IS. (And I don’t know why, he’s watched me turn my work computer off at the end of my workday and not touch it again until tomorrow for going on six years now.) If his manager would be like “Dude, why are you fixing shit at 9pm,” and he said “Because I don’t want y’all to fire me,” they could sort it out, but his manager is fine with shit getting fixed at 9pm instead of tomorrow and won’t ever bring it up, and husband is still in the “I work minimum wage retail and if I don’t do everything my employer wants I’m out on my butt tomorrow” mindset, so here we are. Sigh. (Workplace PTSD, what what?)

    4. Quinalla*

      Agreed, ask why, it sounds like you haven’t yet. She doesn’t have to get into every personal detail about it but yeah there are lots of reasons people are working odd hours right now.

      Also agreed on hours estimates so that stays accurate. If she is working excessively long hours, I would push her to dial it back to avoid burnout. Not to 40 hours (or whatever, 45, 50) a week necessarily, but something closer to reasonable for your field.

      And finally, I would encourage her to send out an email to the team about her different hours or talk to people about it. This is something I’ve done and many on my team have done to set expectations for when I’ll be available, that I don’t expect people to be available when I’m on at 5am or 8pm or 11pm depending on the day, but I am messaging/emailing internally as many others are working odd hours right now so I’m not going to delay things. For external emails, I delay those to happen at normal business hours for my industry (for us that’s about 6am-7pm).

      We’ve also had frank discussions that while most of us used to work 45-50 without batting and eye, for some of us now a 50 hour week feels like it is 60-70 hours and for others, they are really thriving at 50+ because work is really invigorating them in this weird time. We are salaried (mostly, a few hourly employees) so this is not an issue, but we also want to keep things relatively fair and spread the work load not evenly, but fairly so ideally we are all comfortably full.

    5. Gumby*

      So much this. So so much.

      At a former job we had someone who, for reasons that are beyond me because he was specifically told *not* to do so, would normalize his hours each week. (So he worked 30 hours on Project A and 30 hours on Project B but a week is only 40 hours so he’d report 20 on A and 20 on B.)

      We frequently used past projects to estimate needs for future projects and this caused HUGE problems. It was extremely confusing when he stopped working on teapot projects (he moved on to coffee) and all of a sudden projects were taking longer and costing more. At first we figured it was somewhat expected seeing as his replacement was new to teapots but it didn’t seem to come down much at all. Further research determined that the estimates we were working from were under by 10 – 20% because one dude was incapable of following instructions on how to fill out timecards. Everyone worked pretty independently and had flex time so it wasn’t obvious to anyone if someone was working 45 hours but reported 40. We certainly didn’t expect the new teapot dude to put in 45 hours a week just because his predecessor did. Which is why we needed an accurate estimate on the time each project takes!!!

  5. TootsNYC*

    I find it so frustrating when an email program won’t let you schedule emails. The first one I ever used had that capability, and I used it a lot. (Now there are reminder programs and calendaring programs, which covers some of the functionality I used it for, but not the other stuff.)

    it just seems like such a simple functionality to have, and it should be easy to use in every program.

    1. Lacey*

      Yes! I don’t need it in my current job, but I’ve worked previous jobs where being able to delay emails was so helpful!

    2. Reluctant Manager*

      Yes! I’ve gone back and forth between the Google and Microsoft work suites, and being able to schedule sends is the best thing about Microsoft Outlook.

      1. cat lady*

        You can do this with Gmail, now! You used to have to use a Chrome plugin called boomerang, but now there’s a little clock button in the email draft toolbar that lets you schedule send.

        1. Renee Remains the Same*

          I heart Boomerang and use it explicitly because I don’t want people to know I’m working at 10 PM at night. I don’t want my staff thinking they should work that late and I don’t want colleagues to send me non-urgent emails with the thought that I work that late.

      2. MarsJenkar*

        I’ve been able to schedule a send time in Gmail’s webmail (click the little down arrow next to the Send button and it gives you a “Schedule Send” option). Maybe it’s a newer feature?

  6. Allypopx*

    I LOVE the flexibility of my schedule right now. I can take it easy first thing in the morning, have breakfast and coffee, read the news, not feel rushed. If I’m having an early-afternoon slump, I can take a short nap. I can schedule appointments or work around the house if my ADHD won’t let me sit at my computer for long stretches. I can take breaks and lay in bed to stretch my back out so I’m not in my chair all day. It’s great! But I often work later in the night to get low-stakes things done while I’m winding down or to make up for time I spent not-working during 9am-5pm.

    My boss does the same thing – she has a small child and gets a LOT of work done after he’s asleep, often sending emails at 10 or 11pm. We’ve talked about work-life balance and each doing our own rhythm, and as long as things are done and we’re showing up to meetings and everything we’re both totally fine with it, and I know a late-night email from her isn’t a summons.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      All of this. Unless the employee needs to be working fixed hours because they’re replying to customers or performing some other front-facing task, I’d cut this person some slack right now even if typically I’d definitely not encourage someone to work until 2am.

  7. azvlr*

    I like the freedom to do work when I’m most productive because I hit a productive stride around 4pm and my day official ends at 5:30. And I haven’t take vacation, because the time off we got around the holidays had me restless and anxious. I’m coping by working. Thank you Alison for recognizing this!

    I would caution this employee (and talking to myself here, too) if their output is significantly more now, it may skew other’s expectations for once we are back to normal.

  8. Night Owl*

    I’m curious to know whether this employee is actually working significantly more hours than other employees (i.e. starting work at 9am and going long into the night) or still working a standard 40 hour week but just at non-typical hours. If it’s the latter and the type of work allows for this flexibility, I don’t see the problem (although I think it’s definitely valid to be concerned about how other employees will perceive this and to take steps to ensure they don’t feel pressure to work at late hours). I personally have found that I am significantly more focused and productive in the evenings and at night as opposed to in the mornings, so whenever I work from home I often keep a later schedule as long as I don’t have meetings/collaborative projects/etc. I would rather be productive and efficient at 10pm than muddling through while half-asleep at 9am, and as a supervisor I would want that for my employees as well if they found that it worked best for them.

    1. Cat Tree*

      I often end my “normal” day, have dinner, unwind, then log back on around 8 for an hour to sort through some things. I typically work 8 to 5ish, but if I’m sending an email at 9 it doesn’t mean I worked solid from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

      Honestly, I don’t love my current situation and workload and would like to just be done at 5 on most days. But it’s not nearly as bad as it might look from the outside.

    2. juliebulie*

      On many days I can’t seem to get a damned thing done before 4 pm, and many weeks I can’t get anything done before Friday and end up having to work part of the weekend. I’ve had to force myself to watch out for sending emails at weird hours because some people will read a lot of incorrect things into it that just aren’t true.

  9. MK*

    OP, is she actually working more or just different hours? When she finishes projects early, do you the give her more work? If it’s just that she working during the night because she has childcare responsibilities during the day, or prefers spending the mornings on long walks and the afternoons reading, and starts the workday at 6p.m., it’s not something you need to handle. (During last spring I somehow managed to aquire a 4a.m.-12p.m. sleeps schedule, and then during the summer I woke up at 7a.m. on the dot every single day for no reason. Pandemic weirdness).

  10. Fried Eggs*

    Maybe check in on her about whether she has too much work? When I worked too many hours, it was because too much was expected of me. My boss told me I needed to manage my time better, but also kept putting more things on my plate.

    I ended up quitting. But with the benefit of hindsight, I think he honestly didn’t realize how much time it took to do the type of work I do (communications). I think he thought because he can write an email in 10 minutes, surely that’s how long it takes to write a press release. He didn’t realize that way more thought has to go into something like that.

    1. mf*

      Yup, another Comms person here. I hear you. People assume it’s easy and can be done quickly because everyone knows how to write. *eyeroll*

      1. Allypopx*

        As a grad student I can attest that not everyone knows how to write, but everyone sure thinks they know how to write.

        1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

          I’m the unofficial proofreader in our office, and I was stunned to discover that many people in the business world really do not know how to write. It may not be truly necessary for some roles, but seeing some of these documents still makes my brain hurt.

    2. Cat Tree*

      I’m kind of in that situation now. If she says she has too much work, will OP actually fix that.

      I fully admit I’m salty because of my own situation. I have 3 large-ish projects that I’m hardly making progress on. They could be done in my normal workweek, except I keep getting interrupted by urgent things. Each thing seems like 2 hours of work, but ends up taking 3 days. Either the scope is bigger than first expected, or I need something I don’t have and I have to babysit and nag 5 different people just to get it. I’ve talked to my boss about this and he doesn’t reassign anything. I feel like I’m being punished for being good at so many things.

  11. Claire*

    As a night owl, I whole heartedly second the advice to check if she might actually prefer working late at night. As long as her volume of work is sustainable, it shouldn’t matter when she does it.

  12. Veronica*

    I used to work late at night when I was younger because that’s how my brain was wired. Thankfully I had a boss that also worked that way and it was perfectly fine for both of us to roll into the office at 10 AM (or later). Now I work late at night so that I can get outside and go skiing during the day.

    If when she does her work isn’t an issue and she feels more productive during the evening, can you encourage (or even request) that she take time off during the day to do non-work related activities to prevent burnout.

  13. Jenn Mercer*

    Speaking as a lifelong night owl, with delayed sleep phase syndrome, it is entirely possible that she is finally able to live her best life. If it were me (and her situation may be very different), I would love the opportunity to shift my “active hours.” Just make sure there’s an agreed upon overlap for communications during the day.

    1. StripesAndPolkaDots*

      Hello fellow delayed sleep phase haver! My mom has it too and after decades of misery she got a night job and loves it. That’d be my solution too, except I don’t want opposite hours to my spouse. I’m hoping to find a remote job that doesn’t care what hours I work.

      1. Lizzo*

        Is a second shift job with a condensed schedule (e.g. four days at 10 hours/day) an option for you? I am married to a night owl. Third shift was hell when he first started the job he’s in now, but he’s been promoted to second shift (midafternoon start, finished in the wee hours of the morning) and he’s doing great!

  14. Tracy*

    I had a boss that worked like that, where he would answer emails at 1 or 2 a.m. but he had serious regular anxiety, not COVID stress. And really? People did notice and they thought he was nuts. It did not garner him more respect and his responses were not needed to the point of sending them out at 2 a.m. Working in this manner actually hurt his reputation.

    No one ever firmly told him that it wasn’t necessary and it showed. There were other behaviors that were also not flattering but it’s water under the bridge. Fortunately he retired recently and I hope he’s relaxing but probably not.

    1. Tracy*

      And to be clear, the company I work for is a food producer and there is a policy stating core hours are from 9 to 4 I think. We have not shut down at all for the pandemic (no not even a week) and it’s been expected that people do their work during regular business hours.

      I’m sure my working habits would be different if I had WFH flexibility though.

    2. TL -*

      Oh, I love academia -people send emails at all kinds of weird hours and it’s just accepted that you work whatever hours prefer. I know a few people who send emails at 4-5 am regularly. I’m never on my email before 10 am but I tend to send some in the 11 pm – 1 am time frame and I’ve gotten both emails and responses (quick ones!) in that timeframe too.

      It doesn’t even ping most people’s radar in my field (nor does not getting a response for 3 days, or following up 4 different times through several different people, or many other kinds of weirdness.) But I like it; if I’m working 11 pm – 1 am it means I wanted some quiet time to get work done in and it’s often a good time for writing.

      1. Hi there*

        I was just thinking about how academia is a bit different as I was responding to a couple of emails at 5 am this morning. I knew the faculty members to whom I was writing would not give the timing a second thought. I am an administrator and we generally keep M-F 9-5 ish hours. (I would delay send if I were writing another administrator.) I’ve noticed that sometimes emails that come in on Saturday or Sunday get a little buried, but, as you pointed out, faculty members who write then are not going to notice/care if I don’t get. back within a day or so.

    3. nicotene*

      Yeah, honestly if I had a coworker sending emails at that hour, I’d feel like they were kind of trying to show off or something. You knew nobody was going to reply at 2AM, so what was your expectation, other than that people would think “omigosh what a hard worker!!!” This the situation schedule-send is made for.

      1. Surly*

        I’ve definitely sent a 2am email before and it never occurred to me that anyone would look at the timestamp or assume it meant anything. Sometimes it’s just when the email gets thought of, not anyone trying to pretend to be a hard worker!

        1. Baffled Teacher*

          My old principal once said “if I send you an email at 1 am, it’s because that’s when my goldfish brain had a thought and didn’t want to forget. Please respond at a normal time.” She was great.

      2. TL -*

        Usually, for me it’s either “this is when I was working on this” or “I want this in your email inbox first thing tomorrow morning” (and for some people I work with, first thing is between 4-6 am, so schedule send isn’t helpful there.)

        But I’m in academia, so nobody really cares.

      3. A*

        I’m guessing your employer is domestic only? I’m in a global position and literally receive emails 24/7 from all time zones so it wouldn’t be strange in the least (and is often a requirement that we be online at odd hours – whatever it takes)

  15. MI Dawn*

    I have friends and coworkers who are notorious for this – work during the day but then jump on late at night to do things (data processing) that are easier to do when there are fewer calls on the system. My current boss will work until 7 or 8 at night. I get on early but jump off early; I rarely work overtime (salaried so it doesn’t matter either way). However, I do work late at night or on the weekends when it’s needed, and that’s what she cares about.

  16. Miss Fuzzle*

    I think this advice is spot on, but one additional idea. You say you’re all salaried and exempt, but do you have the ability to offer time off awards, comp days, or whatever else your company might call extra vacation? If so, and if this employee isn’t just adjusting her 40 hours to nights but in fact working significantly more hours, you could consider giving her a comp day or two as a loose sort of adjustment. It could also encourage her to take some time away to recharge and thus avoid burnout.

    1. Former call centre worker*

      This was my thought. I sometimes end up working later than planned because I’m on a roll and don’t want to break my focus, but I take the hours back another time. Maybe she works like me she might find it hard to stop at the end of the day sometimes, but would be fine with just not starting another day.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I’m not sure this would necessarily help.

      If she’s working lots of additional hours and suddenly learns she can bank them, that’s no incentive to slow down. Since LW has reasons other than her wellbeing to want to change the behaviour (eg the optics for the rest of the team) this might backfire.

      If she’s working lots of hours and it will only be temporary – maybe it’s tax season, or her big client is about to launch something – then banking could be more useful. But that’s not my understanding of what salary/exempt means in the USA, and making an exception for her could cause unwanted ripples elsewhere.

  17. Forkeater*

    Now that we’re all remote, I get emails at all kinds of weird hours. Some people get a really early 6:30 am start, like me, others are up at 2 am. In both those case it’s because we’re dealing with family stuff throughout the day. I do wonder if your employee is doing the same. I feel better about taking breaks to feed my kids lunch, or walk the dog, if I know I’ve gotten an hours worth of work done at 6 am. And for my coworker, her kids are small and in remote learning and she gets most of her work done late after they go to sleep. It is what it is.

  18. Anonya*

    A couple of questions:
    1) Is she flexing her hours?
    2) Is she taking on more work than what’s expected for her position?

    Because #1 probably isn’t an issue in covid times, but #2 could create a big problem for the whole team for a couple of reasons. Her overwork may be creating unrealistic expectations for turnaround time. Does the employee have wish/hope/desire to be rewarded for putting in more time than everyone else, and how does that jive with your organization’s expectations and reward structure? I also would caution that this can create some tension within a team, especially if there are others who are talented but simply cannot put in crazy hours because of other responsibilities.

    IDK, OP, I’m leaning toward nipping this in the bud if there is even a whiff of #2 happening.

  19. jess*

    Seems like during the pandemic people are working differently. Some people are bored and lonely from the lack of in-person social interaction and so pouring themselves into work. Others are dealing with children or other family that otherwise wouldn’t be home all day, so late nights is their only time to get things done.

  20. Tuesday*

    I wonder how many hours she’s working. If she’s working straight through 2AM with few breaks in between, that could turn into a problem. But if she’s ending her regular workday, taking some time off, and returning late in the evening, that’s probably just how she prefers to work. I’ve been doing work late and on the weekends because I love being able to work in peace and know I’m not going to hear that Slack ding or get an urgent email. It’s especially helpful when I really need to focus or when I need to think more creatively. My husband is a total night owl and would do all his work in the middle of the night if that were practical. Would definitely advise not sending out emails at 2AM though. To a lot of people, that makes you look like a weirdo.

  21. Raven*

    I do my best work between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m, and I’m lucky to have a job that allows for that flexibility. If your employee is producing good work otherwise, it shouldn’t be an issue.

  22. The HR Lady*

    Have you flat out asked why she is working at 2 am? Are you sure she’s working extra hours? My husband works from home and occasionally works 5 pm to 2 am because we can’t send the kids to daycare if they have a runny nose from teething. So when I get off work he starts working. When I was working from home I was splitting my attention, 50% of my attention to my kids and 50% to work. So a lot was getting missed. Then I’d wake up in the middle of the night and realize oh I never did that!

  23. Dust Bunny*

    Is she actually working too many hours or is she just working her hours later?

    I don’t have a commute on my WFH days but I still get up at 5:00 because I have cats. I usually go for a walk but during the recent cold snap I just started working instead, so there were a few days when I clocked in at 5:45 or so. Which looks nuts, but . . . I’m already up. The sooner I start working the sooner I get off this afternoon.

    1. Lilli*

      In my old workplace it was possible to start working at 05:30 in the office. Sometimes I did this if I had to leave early that day… And there was a small group of people who always showed up in the office that early because they preferred it that way!

  24. Grafik*

    I would like to bring up the possibility that the employee could be suffering from insomnia and cannot simply sleep so she chooses to do work while awake. I suffer from chronic insomnia and instead of laying awake in bed, sometimes I just think ” Well, I might as well do some work” and answer emails or work on projects at 2 or 3am. The excitement of the work or anxiety could be causing her to stay awake and just do work to pass the time. I just want to raise the possibility it could be something else entirely.

    1. NancyDrew*

      At my first professional job, my coworker had insomnia and would send emails at 2, 3, 4 am — nearly every night. She was very open about it, and stressed that she didn’t expect responses, of course. Luckily it literally never occurred to 21-year-old me to think people expected me to respond at 3am :)

  25. The Rafters*

    I’ve sent plenty of 3:00 AM emails during COVID because I couldn’t sleep. I don’t supervise anyone, so that would make a difference. My coworkers just make fun of me and know I don’t expect a 3:05 AM reply. Otherwise, I don’t hear about my odd hours.

    1. Grafik*

      I can relate. I have casually mentioned to my coworkers that I have trouble sleeping during these COVID times so you might occasionally find an email from me at an odd hour. I downplay it as No Big Deal (even though insomnia is a HUGE deal) so they understand it can happen. It helps me so I have some cover when during the day my productivity does fall due to lack a sleep.

  26. Lizzo*

    OP, I think so long as she’s not working really long days continuously with no breaks, you shouldn’t be worried. Definitely check in with her, though. I know that I’ve had some wacky hours (pandemic brain + variable weather + sleep schedule being inconsistent) that usually involve long breaks midday so that my brain and body stay fresh. I also tend to work longer on some days of the week so that the other days will be a bit lighter.

    The idea of scheduling emails to be sent the following morning at a more reasonable hour is a good idea.

  27. Liz*

    She could just be a night owl. I always wish I didn’t have set times I needed to be in the “office”. I just get more done after dark.

  28. IWishIHadAFancyUserName*

    I have periodic issues with insomnia — I go to bed/fall asleep at normal time, then wake up at 1 or 2 AM, usually ruminating on work issues. If I can’t fall back to sleep in 15 or 20 minutes, it’s less stressful to just get up and address the underlying issue. So sometimes, yes, I am sending out emails at 2 or 3 AM, but I haven’t been working solidly up to that point, and sometimes once I send the message(s), my brain will shut up and let me sleep for another couple of hours. My supervisor/colleagues know this and share similar issues, so it’s not a problem where I work — but that’s only true because we all communicate about it.

  29. EngineerMom*

    Awesome response from Allison.

    Yesterday was a great example of how pandemic flexibility has been… weird for me.

    I got online at 8:00 am, worked until 12:00, took a 30-minute lunch, was back online until 2:00, then offline to go for a walk with my daughter, then did some housework that’s hard to do after the kids are in bed (like stripping their beds!), was back online around 4:00 until 5:30, offline again to make and eat dinner, go for another walk, hang out with kids, then back online at 8:00 until 10:00 to finish some work tasks.

    Overall, I worked about 9 hours, but it was spread out from 8am to 10pm. This is actually a great schedule for me, personally. I get to spend time with my kids when they’re awake and not cranky, I get housework done when I’m not exhausted, and I get time to focus on my work tasks without coworkers or kids interrupting me.

    It’s actually pretty similar to how college worked for me, and that was an incredibly productive time!

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      I also have days like this. I usually take a 90 minute lunch that aligns with my kids’ remote school schedule, sometimes I go for a walk in the middle of the afternoon or take the kids out to a playground on their half days, when I sign off for the day depends on who in the house is making dinner that day, and if I see emails and IMs that would be quick to respond to I’ll often sit down and do that in the evening after the kids are in bed- and sometimes substantive work also, though not terribly often.

      One thing about the off-and-on schedule of mixing work and family stuff is that it can kind of look like I’m always online, I think, because someone will remember that yesterday I was sending email at 7:30 a.m. and now here I am responding to something at 10 p.m. today. But I’m working reasonable hours overall! It’s been a decidedly mixed result of the pandemic – some really nice midday time with my kids on some days, but also not quite shutting off work as completely as I should in my off hours.

  30. Heidi*

    I don’t think that I’ve ever taken notice of what time an email was sent. I kind of thought the beauty of email is that you can send it any time and the recipient can respond whenever they want to.

    1. Esmeralda*

      People are weird about email, though. I have coworkers who get in a snit because students email them at 3 am. I ask them: “Do the students expect an immediate answer?” No, they don’t. “Then what difference does it make when they email you? You’ll answer when you answer.” They have nothing to say about it; on occasion someone will splutter But but but 3 am!!!

      Haha, of course in the Before Times students would email me, I’d answer, then I’d see them in class a couple days later. “Did you see my email? What should I do about X and Y?” Yes, I’d reply, did you see my answer? “No…” (= didn’t bother to look…).

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I only really do if I’m dealing with someone in a different time zone.

      For example, the other day I was working “late” (around children’s home learning) and got an instant reply from someone a timezone or two east of me. That made me think “huh, why are you still up” but actually it was very helpful for us to bounce emails for half an hour in real time and get a complicated thing sorted almost immediately. Similarly, if I see my PST associates online before I’ve had lunch I’m startled, but it can be handy.

      My industry is very much asynchronous in general, mind you, so the timing of email within a day is generally irrelevant.

  31. Beth*

    Speaking as a total night owl whose most productive hours have, throughout my life, consistently been 11pm-2am or so…it’s possible that she’s working these hours because she likes them! I’m lucky enough to be in a position right now where a lot of my work is on my own schedule, and given my preferences, I’m very very often doing the bulk of my non-meeting work at odd hours of the night. I just focus better this way–I could do a task at midnight and have it take 30 minutes, or I could force myself to get up and ready and be doing it at 9am and it would probably take an hour or more. I’ve had jobs before where I had to work more ‘normal’ hours, and honestly, I was less productive and more stressed doing that.

    I know my preferred schedule is misaligned with most people’s, and I’ve definitely gotten light teasing for it. (In a well intentioned, friendly way, but I know it gets noticed.) I will do the ‘schedule it to send in the morning’ thing when the recipient doesn’t know me well; I think that’s reasonable to ask of her if you think her emails are likely to be conveying the wrong impression to others. But sans an actual conversation on the subject, I wouldn’t assume that late-night emails automatically means she’s burning herself out.

    1. ABK*

      Another night owl here! I get a ton done between 9pm and midnight. Ideally later, but if I have to get up early, I get tired early too :( I love how quiet everything is, no meetings, no email, no wishing I were outside doing something else.
      If I set my own calendar, daytime would be for enjoying the outdoors, nighttime would be for computer work.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        At one time many years ago I shared a house with someone who had done that. He was a one person business, so he did his sport outdoors in the daytime, and worked by emails overnight. It sounded rather idyllic to be honest!

    2. Smitten By Juneau*

      Also a night owl. I wear several hats in my job, and while I’m available during core hours in case I’m needed, sometimes I’m just monitoring and not actively working because I’ve been shifting my effort for when I’m productive. For some of my sysadmin/development work it’s not until my mind quiets later in the day (often after 9pm) that the solution to something I’ve been wrestling with becomes clear, so I sit down and get to work. And I have a tendency to be very heads down in these cases, so it could easily be 1-2am before I wrap up.

      I’m four hours behind my office (full-time telecommuter for 13+ years now) so my 2am emails look to my colleagues like I sent them at 6am. Yes, there are a couple times a year when I’m headed to be as they’re starting for the day.

  32. Public Sector Manager*

    I’m having this issue with two of the attorneys on my team. Pre-pandemic, our office is open from 8 am to 5 pm to be available to our public sector clients, and we let people flex as early as 7 am and leave as late as 6 pm. Most people end up working one of three shifts: 7:30 am – 4:30 pm; 8 am – 5 pm, or 9 am – 6 pm. During work from home, two of the attorneys are submitting a lot of work between 8 pm and 3 am.

    There are two problems the night owls are causing. While late hours are not a problem on long term projects, on short term and rush projects, morning client calls are not being returned until after 1 pm or 2 pm because the night owls are asleep in the morning. So I’m getting more and more calls to find out what the status is on these projects because the attorney is not available in the a.m.. The second problem is basically the same issue–on joint projects within our team or with another division, the early risers are having to adjust their schedules to accommodate the night owls. So meetings to discuss the joint project are never in the morning but always towards the end of the shift for people who are starting at 7:30 am and 8 am, and the early risers are beginning to resent the night owls.

    I’ve told both of them that I’m fine with the late hours provided it doesn’t impact other people’s work or impact our ability to address the concerns of our public sector clients. But right now, it’s impacting other people’s work and my own work, and our clients are getting frustrated.

    1. Lizzo*

      Have you checked with the night owls to see if their very very late schedule is due to any of the following:
      1 – needing to work around schedules of children/partners who are competing for their time and attention
      2 – drastic shift in sleep schedule due to winter weather/darkness
      3 – drastic shift in sleep schedule due to pandemic-related stress

      When approaching the issue, I would be direct but also be empathetic, as there may be things that are completely out of the employee’s control that they are struggling with in this Nth month of the pandemic.

      Also, this dilemma sounds very similar to having staff distributed across a wide variety of time zones. Solutions could include:
      Setting expectations of core hours where everyone is available for meetings
      Setting expectations around response time to clients
      Creating some communication expectations re: providing regular (daily?) project updates regularly so that there is *some* information to share with clients when they call–maybe use project management software to to facilitate this?

    2. willow for now*

      I am kind of in this situation. I am a night owl, my day officially starts at 10 am because that gives me time to deal all my projects from east to west in the same day. I have a few PMs who absolutely expect a response to their email/IM/text on my phone (yes, they usually send all three) within 15 minutes. So I have core hours they know I will be available to them. But honestly, if it were completely up to me, I’d be working exclusively in the late afternoons and evenings.

  33. James*

    I have been the employee sending emails at 2 am. I get insomnia, and I travel for work. If I can’t sleep, I can at least do something marginally productive like sending emails. I mean, what else am I going to do in a hotel? And often it’s not stuff that has any particular time constraints on it–they need the information, but they can access it whenever.

    I will say–and you can tell your employee this–that it freaks out people not used to it. I had a contractor worried that he wasn’t responding to my emails quickly enough, because he waited until 9 am the next day. I had to explain to him that I sent it when it was convenient for me, and I was fine with him not even looking at it until the next day (or later). It worked for us because we had a relationship where he could come to me with such concerns; if your employee or company does not have that relationship with a contractor or outside vender it can cause problems, creating the appearance of unreasonable demands for availability. Same with new hires–if a new hire sees 15 emails between midnight and 4 am, they’re going to think “This place never lets you have a personal life”. The reality may be quite different, but…well, people can only operate on what they see and know.

  34. Sparkles McFadden*

    Just talk to your employee about burnout and sending emails only during business hours. You might also regularly check in about workload. Some people work ridiculous hours because they have too much to do and don’t want to say anything…though that doesn’t sound like that’s the case here.

    I used to work at crazy hours all of the time…minus the emails. I would get an idea on how to push forward on a project, or I would just feel like working because I enjoyed my projects that much. I avoided sending emails outside of business hours because I didn’t want anyone to think I was grandstanding (we all know people who do this), and it really was just my preference to work at weird times. I was not in danger of burning myself out, but if I felt over-tired, I’d tell my boss what I was doing and work on something non-stressful the next day, or come in later in the day.

    I did once send an email at 2:00 am (I meant to save it as a draft) and the other person responded immediately. We got a lot done together! Lots of night owls around. Some of us are just wired this way.

  35. learnedthehardway*

    I’m legitimately a night owl – took me a long time to realize that people interpret late night emails in several ways, some of them negative. One is that you’re not getting your work done during the day (why people feel daylight is morally / ethically preferable is beyond me, but some people more or less think that you should get your work done between 9 and 5, and that you’re slacking during the day, if you don’t). Other people think that you’re available 24/7, and at insanely short notice, simply because you occasionally email at 3 in the morning. Some people become convinced that you’re overworked (which reflects negatively on your employer). Others assume that you’re disorganized and wake up in the middle of the night because you forgot to send an email during the workday.

    At any rate, I now work when I want to, and schedule my emails so that they arrive during standard work hours. Oddly, an email that arrives at 8 AM seems to indicate that one is a virtuous early bird who gets up at 5:00 AM.

    A lot of value judgments go into these perceptions. Your night owl employee is going to have to learn to manage the perceptions people make of her work / work ethic.

  36. Not playing your game anymore*

    I love the flexibility I’ve found in these wfh times. I get up 5 minutes before I used to have to be walking in the door at work. Check my email for anything urgent. Check the old zoom calendar and se that the first session of the day is xx:00 and wander of for a shower and breakfast. When I’m ready to get started working I do, I work my 8 hours more or less over the next 16 or so with breaks for naps, snacks, walks and Mom tending. Do my share of zoom reference duty after 5 pm usually. And wander off to bed when it suits me. If I work all day Sunday in the library, when I can REALLY maintain distance, I may take a day off during the week or maybe several half days. It’s great. I have a colleague who apparently rises before dawn then hunkers down to get all of her day in before I’m ready for lunch… and it’s the best part of the pandemic.

  37. animaniactoo*

    I am 100% ending up sending my boss emails at midnight and 2 am because I’m slacking off during the day. But ONLY my boss.

    I’ll pull out of it soon, but I’ve had a lot going on in the past 3 weeks.

    Check in with your employee – she may literally just be flexing her time in a way that isn’t what you’re used to thinking of when we talk about flexing time.

    1. Allypopx*

      Also a good point! I will also send my boss an email at odd hours but wouldn’t do the same to a client or volunteer.

  38. envirolady*

    Reminder that many email providers allow you to schedule your emails! When I’m emailing at odd hours I often have it set to send at 7/8 am the next morning :) It helps get it out of my head without weirding others out.

  39. A Genuine Scientician*

    In addition to everything Alison said:

    You said you have told your employee that she “doesn’t need to” X. That is not the same thing as saying “Do not do” X. If there’s something that you legitimately want her to stop — and it’s worth thinking through whether this qualifies, and why — tell her you want her to stop doing it. Don’t tell her that she doesn’t need to do it. She could well be hearing that as “It’s not *required*, but I can do it anyway”, not “My boss wants me to stop doing this.” You can certainly be warm and kind about things — “It’s great that you’re so often getting things done early. But I don’t want people to think they’re expected to work at these very late hours. So please don’t send emails between [eg] 10pm and 5am. You can either schedule them to send later, or save them as drafts and send when you’re next in your email during typical hours.” Being direct about what you actually want is a kindness.

  40. Spicy Tuna*

    If I’m stressed about something for work, the best way for me to beat the stress is to just do the work. It’s a huge relief to get it out the way.

    Years ago, I was working on a huge, time-sensitive project with very little direction from my boss (not her fault – it was the nature of the project). At any rate, it was temporary, but I felt better going into the office early in the AM. If I woke up at 4AM and knew I wouldn’t get back to sleep because I’d be thinking about work, I just drove into the office and started working. No one was there, it was quiet, and I could get a TON of things accomplished before other people arrived.

    Some people are early birds, some are night owls… one of the gifts of Covid is WFH is allowing people to work to their strengths.

  41. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I would be infinitely more productive working 10 pm – 6 am, but unfortunately the daily Employee Torture Meetings are scheduled between 10 am and 6 pm. I’m envious of your employee, LW, that she can work when she’s productive and not just when others are present.

  42. Giddy aunt*

    When I was wfh with my toddler during shutdown I definitely worked weird hours. My schedule was early morning, an hour in the afternoon, and then whatever hours I could bear to work after she went to bed. I don’t think I sent emails at 2am, but there were definitely some around midnight.

    Now that I’m back in the office I try to do the opposite and put in a 9-5 to reclaim some stability for me and the toddler. But that’s just me and my boss knew the situation. If he ever asked, I would have told him just that.

    Another time pre-pandemic I would get emails from a coworker at 2am because he had a newborn and happened to be awake at that time!

  43. JessicaTate*

    This question reminded me of the LW from a few weeks ago who was asking “How do I tell my employer that I don’t want to take my vacation time? I’m in a difficult home situation, and work is the only thing giving me relief / sanity break from the other stuff.”

    Alison’s advice totally stands. It was just that the old LW’s situation really helped drive home for me that, in these times, being a bit of a workaholic can be (for certain situations) a form of self-care. Hopefully we can all recalibrate at a later time.

  44. Cubular Belles*

    “Delayed send it your friend” write those late night emails but, keep them as drafts and re-read over your morning cuppa. Or if you are really on a roll late at night, schedule the emails to go out first thing in the morning, delayed send is your friend. And try to knock off my mid-night that way you don’t burn out.

  45. Anonymity*

    She’s a good, reliable employee. You’ve told others you don’t expect late hours. Let her do what she wants. It’s literally hurting no one.

  46. Peg*

    People in other time zones are constantly telling to “go to bed!” on slack because I work late. But I also only work 9:30-2:30 during the day because I want/need to care for my baby and toddler from late afternoon to their bedtimes. I work late at night because my brain is on fire then – I can’t sleep but I’m at my peak performance hours and have great focus, and I’m not ignoring anyone I love to get things done. I love having the flexibility to do a “split shift” sort of arrangement with my tech job so I have the best of both worlds with work and family. I try to make sure people know I’m not just available around the clock. And I generally do more independent work at night (working on reporting/dashboards, creating or working on user stories, writing presentation decks) and save my communication for more standard working hours. Works for me and I barely go over 40 hours a week most weeks.

  47. Not So NewReader*

    A different angle. I understand you don’t want her to burn out, OP. But I can’t tell if there is something more here, such as you are concerned she is breaking a policy or a reg by working so much.

    If her long hours can go into a labor violation for the company then you may have no choice to write her. Likewise if she is violating a company policy.
    IF this is the case, then I would do one last conversation, because at this point she just assumes you will keep talking but nothing will happen. I’d let her know things WILL happen if this does not change. Perhaps she would like hours set up a different way or perhaps she would just prefer to work nights. Tell her that the two of you have to work out a plan where she works the agreed upon hours OR you will have to write her up for non-compliance. Tell her you are going to send her an email summarizing the solution and you are going keep a copy of the email and her reply in her file.
    Remind her that her logins to email or company site can be tracked by others.

    IF the problem is that you are only concerned about burnout then you might be stuck here. You might have to just let her burn herself out. Adults have the right to act in their own detriment, it’s tough for the rest of us to watch it though. We can’t save people from themselves.

    Maybe the best you can get here it to understand that you may be hiring her replacement in a while, because she has to recuperate. This happens and I have seen some of the best people go down this path. There is something to be said for the so-called average worker who just shows up every day, does good work, maintains predictable productivity levels and then goes home on time. As the years roll by and they just. keep. showing. up and my admiration grew for this group of people. Some people are sprinters and some people are marathoners. She may be a sprinter.

    1. unreal*

      This is awful advice that will alienate an employee who seems to be trying hard to do a good job. Why would you recommend writing her up? Maybe just treat her like you would want to be treated if you were in her scenario.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Actually if a company has a hard and fast rule or if there are laws in effect here, OP, has no choice. OP can clearly explain that she has no choice. I have had to tell employees things that I vehemently disagree with and behind closed doors, unknown to the employee, I have argued with the boss about speaking to the employee. Of course, I never told the employee about disagreeing so hard with my boss.
        But at the end of the day, the manager has to do what they are told to do.

        So if OP can be slapped with insubordination by not following procedures/laws, then it is indeed bad advice to encourage OP to do whatever and it will be fine.

  48. pcake*

    OP, is it possible that the employee works mostly at night rather than during the day? I’m a night owl, so that’s what I prefer. It doesn’t mean I work loooong hours, just that I like working in the early morning rather than during normal business hours.

  49. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    Spouse had this problem with an employee recently, and this is how it was handled:

    * Supervisor asked employee why he was working so late and over weekends – it turned out to be a mixture of misunderstood expectations and excessive enthusiasm.

    * Supervisor instructed employee not to work weekends again (although they’re equivalent to exempt, there’s a minimum wage problem if you end up working so many hours your pay is spread too thin), restated expectations, and reviewed workloads.

    * Manager reinforced expectations to whole team.

    One thing that came up during this whole process was a concern raised elsewhere in the comments: it skews people’s expectations and understanding.

    It wasn’t at all clear that the employee was capable of completing a normal week’s workload within a normal week (until everything was cleared up). Is someone who spends 75 hours on 40 hours’ work a good employee? Do they inflate a task to fill the hours available so they can avoid something else? Are other people waiting for them to finish? Do they not understand the work? Do they need more support than the rest of the team can reasonably provide? Are they providing client with champagne service on a cava budget?

    It just takes a bit of communication.

  50. Bookworm*

    Agree with Alison’s response. First thought was that there are obligations she has during the day that maybe make her switch up her schedule. OR some people simply thrive working late into the night vs. being here and ready for the day.

    Would suggest at the very least your employee “schedule emails” if that’s available through your email client for sending emails during the traditional work hours. Some people may think they have to respond to those emails outside of the work schedule and if they’re not an emergency and you’re trying to prevent that, that might be a good compromise. Just a thought. Good luck! I do hope it’s not something more serious and it’s just a personal preference.

  51. NightOwl*

    Ask the employee about it, but if this is working for BOTH of you consider if it’s really a problem.
    I am a female with ADHD and one of the ways this manifests for me is that I’m scattered at the start of the day but by late afternoon I’m hyperfocused and locked into my work leading to my most productive hours being from 4 pm – 12:00 am. Another way to express this is that during morning hours I’m at my desk but not always “present” and don’t feel like I’m firing on all cylinders.
    Working from home has amplified this particular symptom that I was able to repress when I was in an office environment.

    I’ve discussed it with my management and they are very understanding of the situation and have agreed to allow me to be flexible with what works if it enables me to continue to be a high performer.
    Our solution has been to give me an unofficial flexible schedule. I make sure I attend all of the calls I need to during normal working hours, but if I have several late nights I can take the time back on Fridays as needed and at my discretion. This autonomy over how and when I can do my work is a win-win for me and my management and I’m lucky to have managers that give me the flexibility I need to be able to perform at my best.

  52. Lizy*

    Late to the game, but yes, talk to her first and figure out if she’s just working weird hours or working MORE hours. If the latter, address that.

    There were a couple of comments saying that people sending emails at 2am looked bad on them. I had a manager that sometimes did that, and asked her once why she was working so late. (For context – I was pretty upbeat about it. I think I just responded to the email saying “2am??? Don’t you sleep? ha!”) She said something about how she couldn’t sleep and figured she’d get some stuff done. I never thought any less of her for it. She always made it clear she never expected US to do that, which I think was the more important factor.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      She said something about how she couldn’t sleep and figured she’d get some stuff done. I never thought any less of her for it.

      As a remote employee, I’ve done that over the years. There have been nights where I can tell Sleep just isn’t coming, so I’ve logged back into work and cleared out my queue. My rationale has been that I’m probably going to be near-useless the next day, either from fatigue or because insomnia has caught back up to me, and that’ll be easier to handle with no looming work on my plate.

  53. Bethie*

    I dont have much to add, but we do have one employee in our office that works later (and probaly more hours than everyone). Its not that she’s overloaded, her case load is ecxeptionally small, but she is perfectionist and her work product is beautiful. Its just that she taked twice as long to do it. But we are all SMEs, so this is accommodated bc she is good. We all know we dont have to woek those hours – although I am government so we are all salary.
    What I love most about this WFH situation now, which we were 3 days from home pre-COVID, is that I can log in at 6 before I take my son to school, go to the gym straight from that, log back on and continue my day. Work life balance is fantastic. Today I did a webex in my car (no video) through my apple car play on the way to the gym. I am at panera now eating a salad. In a time where there are so many constraints, its nice to be able to do life (with safety precuations!).

  54. Kate L*

    One thing I’ve seen in my organization is for people to put a disclaimer in their email signatures along the lines of “At [organization] we work flexibly, and while it suits me to email at this time, I don’t expect a response outside of normal working hours” or something to that effect. I work on a global team operating across 10 time zones so I’m always getting emails at odd hours, but I like that this messaging softens the impact of a 2am email!

  55. LizardOfOdds*

    If the employee is just doing this right now because she’s got extra flexibility/time, I would encourage her to think through the implications of that beyond just burning herself out. This could be a great coaching moment to help someone learn how to manage expectations of their work, especially if the employee is early in career and may not understand organizational politics/performance management/etc. to spot the impact of her behavior on her own.

    I would start by asking asking, “what will happen once you’re back to working in an office during typical work hours? Do you plan to continue working after midnight when that happens?” I’m guessing her answer will be “no way,” at which point the manager can share a hypothetical view of what it might look like to others when an employee is beasting deadlines and churning out a ton of work and then suddenly reduces their output. I’d hate for this awesome employee to get a new manager and suddenly be seen as a performance problem just because they were overfunctioning for a period of time and that became the expectation of how they work.

  56. Fergus MacDonald*

    I have had this conversation with my employees many times. We’re also salaried, so there is no overtime. I get that many of us are stuck at home teleworking, and it’s so easy to do. I remind them to create boundaries, and compartmentalize their days, and most importantly, go spend time with their families, go sledding with their kids. I don’t chastise them about it, but I want them to know I don’t expect them to work all night just because their computer is on. Work is work, life is life is my work/life balance mantra.

  57. EconomySized*

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who thinks this letter might have been written about them.
    Some additional things to consider – does your employee have children? Particularly small children – at home during all this? My 2 year old is becoming harder and harder to care for during the day, resulting in odd hours as I attempt to catch-up. She’s spent nearly half her life with me working from home, and has changed so much in the last 11 months.

    Also, LW, you said the employee’s performance is satisfactory. Does your employee know this? Are you communicating to her that she is indeed producing high-quality work? If she is in the dark about her day-to-day performance, she may feel she’s under-performing, and trying to make it up by working extra. I know this is a routine I sometimes fall into with my manager – there is little feedback on my work, so I assume it barely met standards, and vow to try harder next time. When I could see her perspective might be that feedback is only offered when the work isn’t very good.

  58. Captain Dot*

    Just chiming in to agree – let this employee set her own hours to the extent that it’s possible. When my job went remote, the nature of the work changed completely. My regular job is not the kind that can be done remotely, so our bosses gave us different remote-friendly tasks to work that would help the organization. I was very glad to remain employed, and I understood the importance of the work I was doing (it wasn’t busywork by any means), but it was not a job I would have applied for. It was SO HARD for me to focus all day, that I asked for a reduction in hours, and ended up working in chunks throughout the day – often after midnight, because I find I am more productive in the evenings. A couple of people did express some surprise at getting emails from me at odd hours; I just explained that this was what worked best for me, and I was definitely not overworking myself.

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