Should You Hit “Send” at midnight? The unwritten rules of email

 

                                    Bed

 

It's close to midnight and I'm still awake. Not only that, but I've broken all my own rules about logging on late at night. The house is quiet, everyone but me is asleep and I'm feeling extremely productive. Maybe that coffee I drank after dinner wasn't decaf like I thought it was.

I have just composed a response to an email I was trying to get to all day. But now, I'm faced with a dilemma. Do I send it?  On one hand, if I do, I can go to sleep knowing it's off my plate. On the other hand, it may look odd to the receiver that I'm working at midnight. It may even look like I have no work life balance.

SendUgh….what to do? What are the rules, anyway?

Recently, I spoke on a panel to an audience of PR professionals (mostly women). The topic of late night email came up. Most of the audience admitted to getting back on their computers after dinner or after their kids are in bed — at least a few nights a week. Some of them admitted, they too struggle with the etiquette of late night email.

According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, one in two workers in the information technology, financial services, sales, and professional and business services sectors — industries that historically keep traditional 9 to 5 work hours — check or respond to work emails outside of work. Let's add journalist and publicist to that list. Heck, let's add teachers, lawyers, doctors, business executives and most other professions.

However, there are people who don't believe in taking work home. Some get annoyed by late-night work email and look down on the sender. These people want clear boundaries between work and home and they don't appreciate others who break those boundaries. My husband believes sending late night emails creates an impression you're disorganized. 

I noticed working mothers tend to be okay with sending emails in the evening hours. They understand that "doing it all" might mean sending an email at 10, 11 or even midnight.

In a recent column, Sue Shellenbarger at the WSJ pointed out that your boundary style and tolerance for late night email may depend on the kind of job you hold or your life stage. She noted that some people celebrate the option to log on at night as freedom, a sign of success in balancing home and work. For others, it feels like the opposite of freedom—a burdensome intrusion on their home life.

A banking executive told me she often composes late night emails but waits until the morning to hit send. I think her approach may be the way to go. I see 11 p.m. as the cutoff time to hit send. After that time, I am going to take the banker's approach and wait until the morning.

To be clear, I don't think anyone should expect a response to an email sent after 7 p.m.  But others will disagree. Some clients, co-workers and bosses expect a quick response, regardless of the time the email is sent. Unfortunately, this "always on" attitude is the direction business is going.

What are your thoughts on late night email? Do you think there's a reason or hard stop time to hold back on hitting send? Are you put off when someone sends you a late night email?

 

The Work/Life Balancing Act

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