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Emailing After Hours: Workaholic?

We all think about the content of our emails, but have you thought about the time at which you send them? Consider this situation:

My friend, whom I’ll call Julie, applied for a job at a well-known international company. She is excited about the job opening but concerned that the team she would join is a group of workaholics. As Julie tells it:

“One person on the team emailed me late on Friday evening. Another person emailed me on Sunday morning. They don’t seem to have boundaries between work life and personal life.”

Julie does not want to join a team that expects her to work 60 hours a week. She values her life away from work. So far, these emails are the only red flags she has had about working with this team. But they have warned her to look for other signs of workaholism.

What do you think about the timing of email? As a person who owns her own business, I work day and night. (I’ve driven 25 miles and taught all day today–before writing this blog entry.) But I try to time my email to go out during normal working hours. I don’t want people to know I am thinking about business on Saturday. After all, they don’t know that I have taken Wednesday afternoon off to drive my daughter to her violin lesson, visit a friend at the hospital, or see the latest Harry Potter movie.

At the same time, I do notice when clients write to me at odd hours. When they send messages on Saturday afternoon and reply to email from their vacations, it feels as though they are working too hard. Rather than admiring their commitment, I worry that they are over-committed.

Tethered to our jobs by email, instant messages, pagers, and cell phones, are we any more productive? I don’t think so. I believe that getting away from the job, for a vacation, a violin lesson, a long walk, a hot date–in short, for a personal life–rejuvenates mind, body, and spirit. Making time for ourselves is more productive than replying within 24 hours to every email.

No matter when you work, you can use Microsoft Outlook to delay sending your message until a normal work time. (In the message, click Options. Then notice the delivery options.) Or you can write an email at 2 a.m. and save it as a draft to mail at noon.

I’d love to hear what you think about possible workaholic communication AND what it tells our readers. But feel free to have lunch and get some sun before responding.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

14 comments on “Emailing After Hours: Workaholic?”

  • I have noticed that most of the “over-committed” guys sends out emails on Sunday evening, as they look forward to a big-bang monday morning!
    Btw, the Outlook option of delaying the “sending” would still have the time stamp when you actually clicked the “send” button (I think so).

  • The days and times that you choose to work shouldn’t be a reflection on your inability to let go of the job. Traditional 9-to-5, Monday to Friday jobs are no longer the standard for all. Many people take their days off in the middle of the week. Other people work from home and choose the hours that allow them to be their most productive. Some may work seven days a week, sure, but maybe they only work three hours a day.

    I wrote a blog post just yesterday on an interesting parallel to this subject. It covered letting people know when you are away from your desk, but it also discusses traditional work schedules and workaholism.

    Assuming that an email on Sunday signals a red flag of a workaholic attitude is the wrong thing to do. The right thing is to ask about work hours and schedules. Ask. Don’t assume.

    If I send an email late Saturday night, does that make me a workaholic? I don’t think so.

  • Personally, I don’t pay much attention to time stamps on arriving email except when I’ve been having trouble with my ISP losing or delaying mail.

    I purposely send email to clients on Sunday so that they will have it first thing on Monday morning. Because of the time zone difference, if I wait until Monday morning to write, it’ll arrive when they’re already caught up in a meeting or involved in a project.

  • Thanks to everybody for comments.

    Jay, on my Outlook, if I adjust the delivery time, it does show time sent, not time written.

    James, I read your blog post on letting people know you are away–excellent guidance. I also like your “Ask. Don’t assume” advice. You mentioned in the post that you get concerned when people don’t respond within a couple of days. Of course, some matters are more urgent than others, but sometimes I am lucky if I am able to respond within a couple of days. There is just too much going on. I think it’s a good idea for all of us to breathe and know that the people we write to juggle many priorities.

    Shauna, thanks for your observation and for reminding us of time zones.


  • Hi Lynn,

    I think we’re all a bit too caught up with the notion of the 9-5, Monday to Friday working week.

    I work from home, and do my work and send e-mail whenever it’s convenient — whether that’s 11pm on a Saturday or during normal working hours is largely immaterial.

    Far from being a workaholic, I fit work around my personal and family life, and love the flexibility of working on m y own terms and to my own schedule.

    Ultimately the time an e-mail isn’t important, it’s the content that matters.



  • Hello Lynn,

    I recently discovered your blog and I have enjoyed reading it.

    I believe the traditional work week is slowly disappearing as advances in technology make it ever simpler to communicate with others wherever and whenever you choose. I send work-related email from home all the time and I don’t believe I am a workaholic. I see after-hours efforts as a fair exchange for the work hours I spend on community service activities, even though my company permits community service during work hours.

    Here’s another good reason: some of my colleagues check their emails every evening and on weekends but are too busy to respond to emails they receive while they are in the office. Sending them messages after hours increases the likelihood of a prompt and focused response.


  • Howdy, Lynn,
    I read your “Emailing After Hours” blog with a chuckle. I have experienced the same thing with the same response. When I see an e-mail sent at an odd hour (and contrary to some of the comments you received, late Friday or anytime on the weekend, especially when done routinely, is an odd hour, and some people are indeed workaholics), I wonder about the person’s judgment, sometimes their sanity, and how long before their pattern catches up with them. This is, in part, because most of the many odd-hour e-mails I have received through the years have been from people I have known and worked with or for: they were one and all workaholics (and often in some other way slightly unhinged). Like your friend Julie, I regard such behavior as a distinct red flag, in relation to both work and social choices.

  • I am delighted to read so many comments on this topic. I’m still wrestling with the question. Right now it’s 9 p.m. My husband is reading a newspaper for stamp collectors (one of his hobbies), my daughter is practicing the violin (one of her hobbies), my dog is waiting hopefully for another treat (her favorite hobby), and I am blogging on business writing. (Is that my hobby?) I was tempted to respond to email I received this afternoon, but I just can’t bring myself to do it on a beautiful summer night.

    Let’s keep talking about this.


  • I found the link to this page while cleaning out my bookmarks. Figured I’d check in, see what’s going on…

    Great comments – I loved reading all of them. And then I had to chuckle when I read the last one. Being a blogger myself, I could relate to the situation of a thread that just… faded.

    Why does it always seem that whenever you say, “Great! I’m loving this! Keep talking!”, everyone goes dead silent?

  • Hi, James. I think the lack of response may be tied to the comment. When a writer says “Let’s keep talking about this,” as I did, that remark doesn’t provide energy to move the conversation forward. Asking a question or making a statement and asking for responses to it WOULD keep things going.

    Thanks for your helpful observation.


  • I’m a few years late to the discussion, but my two cents. I receive so many messages in a 24 hour period, emails that come outside of my working hours, tend to get pushed to the back burner or missed completely. I tell everyone don’t email me on the weekends or late at night unless it’s an emergency.

  • Wow! That is good information for your colleagues to have.

    I am glad you told us about it. No doubt others manage their email the way you do.

  • I have surfed to your site accidentally and can not break away from it. It is really great!.
    I am from Burundi and , too, and now am writing in English, tell me right I wrote the following sentence: “Effects very believe fibers after using to less similar hands of planet.”

    With best wishes 8), Salimah.

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