Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I work a 9-to-5 job in the creative industry. I am fairly low down in the pecking order, so to speak. The company recently hired someone to be my new boss. He has now started emailing me on the weekends and expects me to reply to him immediately. I get work email on my own personal cell phone (which I pay the bill for), but can I really be expected to respond to work issues on the weekend that could honestly wait until Monday? How do I approach this issue with my boss without causing aggravation?
Well, first, are you sure that your new boss really does expect you to reply immediately? Many people, myself included, like to do some work over the weekend, but that doesn't mean that we expect immediate answers to our emails.
Now, obviously, if your boss is saying things like "let me know today" or following up on Sunday to ask why you haven't yet responded to the email he sent on Saturday, then it's pretty clear that he does expect responses over the weekend. But if this isn't the case, then I would either a) ignore the emails until you're back at work on Monday, or b) ask him--as in, "Hey, I'm assuming that it's fine for me to wait to reply to emails sent over the weekend until I'm back at work on Monday, unless it's an emergency. Let me know if that's not the case."
That alone might solve the problem. But if it doesn't--if your manager makes it clear that he does indeed expect weekend responses--then you have the usual choices: accept it or try to change it.
If you want to try to change it, that means talking to your manager. Say something like, "It's new for me to be expected to answer work emails over the weekend; we haven't typically done that. I don't mind responding occasionally if it's an emergency, but I wonder if there's a way to save everything else for when I'm back at work. I use the weekends to recharge so that I'm refreshed on Monday, and I'm often somewhere where I can't easily answer work emails."
You don't want to say this in a complaining tone, like the subtext is "I hate my job and resent being asked to think about it on weekends." You want your tone to convey "We're both professionals here and obviously we both recognize the value of time away from work, so let's problem-solve this."
This might solve it, or at least cut down on the emails. (Make sure, by the way, to recognize the difference between receiving emails on the weekend and being expected to respond to them on the weekend. If your manager is working over the weekend, it's not reasonable to ask him not to email you. Rather, what you want is an understanding on both sides that you won't be responding until Monday, and an agreement that that's fine.)
However, if your manager tells you that, yes, in fact you are expected to respond to emails over the weekend, then you need to decide if you want the job under these terms, knowing that this is part of the package. Jobs do change over time, especially when a new manager comes in, and if he wants to require this, ultimately that's his call.
Some people will also tell you to try things like removing your work email from your phone (not a bad idea) or telling your manager that you'll be somewhere without internet access for the weekend. These are options if you want them, but I'd rather see you address it head-on and try to get aligned about expectations on each side.
So start with a conversation. You're going to learn plenty from that, and then can decide how to proceed.
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