It’s close to midnight and I’m still awake. Not only that, but I’ve broken all my own rules about logging on to the Internet 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.
I have just composed a response to an email I had meant 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 the task is 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.
Ugh….what to do? What are the rules of late night email, anyway?
The new rules of email?
The rules, or rather the etiquette of email, have changed. So have our work life habits. Most of us get back on our computers after dinner or after our kids are in bed — at least a few nights a week. Most of us check our email late into the evening hours and send email well after the traditional work hours.
According to a 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 journalists and publicists to that list. Heck, let’s add teachers, lawyers, doctors, business executives and most other professionals.
Working mothers survive by sending late night email
I have noticed working mothers tend to send emails in the evening hours. They recognize that “doing it all” often means logging on when the kids go to bed and sending an email at 10 or 11 p.m. or even midnight to get the task off their plate. Saving an email as a draft to send the next day has its drawbacks. For those of us prone to distraction, even if we plan to send an email the next day, we may forget or get sidetracked.
An expert’s thoughts on email etiquette
Etiquette expert Scott Steinberg gave his take on midnight email in a Parade Magazine article, The Right Way To Send Email in 2018:
- Sending late-night emails may be necessary at times, but do be aware that recipient’s devices may make noises when an email comes in, potentially disturbing them.
- Note that emails received at odd times—weekends, early a.m. hours, etc.—may send the proverbial wrong message to the recipient. Why was he or she working at 3 a.m., let alone thinking I’d be on the job then? Be cognizant of differences between time zones and territories.
Some people are opposed to late night emails
There are people who don’t believe in logging on regularly at night. My husband prefers to stay in the office – or go in early – to get work done rather than bring it home. Unless it’s an emergency, he believes sending late night emails creates an impression you’re disorganized.
Some people want clear boundaries between work and home and they don’t appreciate others who break those boundaries by sending after hours email. A banking executive told me she often composes late night emails but won’t hit send if it is after 10 p.m.
In a column by Sue Shellenbarger at the WSJ, she 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.
With that in mind, you need to consider who you are sending the email to late at night, and how they might perceive it.
The New “Always On” Attitude with Email
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.
For bosses, sending late night email definitely sets the precedent that your employees are meant to stay in constant communication with you. It is worth asking yourself whether the email’s content is so urgent that it cannot wait to be sent in the morning.
What are your thoughts on late night email? Do you think there’s a hard stop time to hold off on hitting send? Are you annoyed when someone sends you a late night email?