You’ve got mail

By: Chad Koebcke

Why It’s Not Okay to Send Work Emails Over the Weekend (Except When It Is)

Yeah, I don’t really care either way.

I’m one of those people that’s fine with hopping on and doing work if it comes up out of nowhere (as long as I don’t have any plans beforehand, of course), and I’m also fine with being “always on” to be ready for work and it comes. It’s not like I’m usually saving the world here, so if there’s a quick task to be done I’d personally like having it done as soon as possible to not have to worry about it. And according to Forbes, turns out so are most other corporate and professional industry leaders (Yeah that was a low-key humblebrag, and yeah Word does accept that as a real word).

They did this study at the beginning of the year where they poked and prodded a decent sample size of the “business decision makers” in the US, basically interviewing a bunch of executives and asking them questions about their habits and whatnot.

According to that study, 98% of them work nights and weekends, and over half of them consistently receive business information from morning until night. For a lot of them, they don’t work 9 to 5, they work the entire day with bursts of rest in between. Apparently 53% of them even step away from family dinners to take phone calls as well.

And all of that is all well and good, it’s just frankly to be expected. As a leading decision maker in any kind of scenario, there comes with the title a larger array of responsibilities that you have to meet, and if one of them is “being on” all the time, then so be it.

The problem arises when that mindset translates into their own interpretations and expectations of their employees as well, because only 36% think that there isn’t really any time NOT to send a work-related email during the day. Of course, they don’t expect an immediate response or action to be taken, but they figure that simple information transfer can’t hurt either way.

Thing is, your recipient isn’t a mind reader. When you send an email to someone, especially over the weekend, asking for them to do a task or otherwise, THEY aren’t aware of your expectations when they open up that message.

“Does he want me to do that now or when I come in on Monday?”

“If I don’t do that will that show a lack of dedication to my work?”

Things that higher-ups don’t think about because they’re not reliant (that is, mentally reliant) on the gratis of their employees in their day-to-days. So, try to remember these things before sending someone an off the clock email:

  • Weekends and nights are GENERALLY considered no-no times for any work-related activities by the majority of the population. If someone is doing something for you over the weekend or night, they are going completely out of their way and what is expected of them to do you a favor.
  • Not everyone is like you. Other people might have plans, a schedule, or otherwise that they will feel obligated to either change to support your task or guilt when they tell you they can’t do it. It can also ruin their mood, and cause stress because even if you don’t ask them to do something immediately, they’re thinking about it until Monday.
  • Therefore, if you’re about to send an average employee anything work-related over the weekend that doesn’t involve your building being on fire, wait until Monday. Have a task that you need them to do? Monday. Just wanted to make sure to not forget to send them some information? Monday (Or use the schedule feature in Outlook, if you want to get fancy).

There are exceptions to this. Some employees are totally fine with receiving work-related information at any time during the day. They work while they are home, they work at odd hours, they even think about work in the shower, and they revel in it. Some employees have structured schedules, and though they don’t like receiving random emails, they often tend to work at a certain time. Like me, personally, I find that I do my best work after around 6PM. Not sure why, maybe that’s my natural hipster coming out. So talk to your employees and find out which ones are comfortable taking the extra step in their workloads.

Is that you treating some employees differently than others? Absolutely. You should treat every employee differently because everyone is a different person and wants different things. You have to gauge each employee on a case-by-case basis. And besides, if the employees that you know are willing to work harder for more, why not let them? Just make it absolutely crystal clear that they WANT to do the extra work before dumping it on them.

Also, if you do end up emailing someone over the weekend, set the expectations for everyone if you are contacting them. Not urgent? Make sure that’s clear. Throw in a, “This isn’t a priority, just wanted to get this on your radar to tackle whenever you can. Thanks!” In fact, that should be the last sentence in every single weekend email you send. Because if it is a priority, it warrants a phone call. So make sure the expectations are CLEARLY set, so there is no underlying ambiguity about what exactly you want.

Basically, at the end of the day, there’s probably going to be a few people you can go to on a whim, who are also always on and willing to put the extra step forward to you. Just because the others are too busy or are otherwise unwilling to help at a moment’s notice doesn’t make them bad employees, they just simply aren’t as dedicated as the others are. Which is, again, perfectly fine, because your employees aren’t in a blood pact with you, so respect their time as people, regardless of whether they’ll drop everything for you or not.

  • People are all different and have different habits
  • A lot of people, like myself, don’t mind working on the weekends, we’re flexible
  • Other people, however, have strict schedules that they work around even when they’re not at work
  • Even though you have your schedule and penchants, you have to respect other people’s
  • Even though you understand that your recipient doesn’t have to respond, they don’t
  • There may be a strain of unspoken expectation that you’re not aware of, and you should expect that expectation to exist