Nothing quite kills the mood of a weekend like an email from your boss.

Smartphones often tether us to our jobs even when we’re not at the office, making it hard to disconnect and find the balance between work and personal time.

Executive Brief:

  • If your phone keeps pinging from your boss after hours you have some options:
  • Assess the urgency
  • Negotiate to retain some personal time
  • Find patterns and try to cut them off

  • Many workers see after-hours requests as an opportunity to curry favor with the boss. And that can make others feel pressured to follow suit to stay competitive.

    “Those workaholic bosses will always like those who put the extra effort over those that don’t,” said Lynn Taylor, workplace expert and author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant.”

    And let’s face it: There are going to be times when working off the clock is necessary. Emergencies pop up, deadlines have to be met or time zone differences require after-hours work.

    But what happens when the behavior becomes a pattern, and you find yourself consistently getting pulled into work when you’re off the clock?

    Set boundaries

    In France, lawmakers stepped in to help draw the line between work and personal time. A 2017 law gives employees the “right to disconnect” from email, smartphones and other electronic devices once their working day is over. The New York City Council is currently considering a similar bill.

    But most of us have to use our own judgment – and establishing boundaries can be easier said than done.

    If your boss is continually impeding on your personal time, it’s time to sit down and have a non-demanding conversation.

    “People are afraid of confrontation,” said Taylor. The key is making it a win-win situation.

    “Make them see there is something in it for them,” she said. She suggests saying something like: I find it a challenge to pivot my time to get XYZ done at night and then I can’t come back refreshed in the morning and it takes away from my productivity level.

    Determine the urgency

    Sometimes bosses fire off an email just to get something off their plate before they forget. Try to judge the urgency from the tone of the message, to see if the note warrants an immediate response.

    Bosses: Be clear in your off-hours communication if you aren’t looking for a response. Adding “not urgent” in the subject line can help make your expectations clear. Another option is to write the email and leave it in your drafts folder to send during the workday.

    Try to negotiate

    If an after-hours work request comes in at a bad time, try and find a solution that works for both parties.

    “Try saying: ‘I can’t do this now, but I can get it to you by Monday,’ say no gently, try giving another option or a negotiated completion date,” recommended Mary Abbajay, author of “Managing Up: How to Move up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss.”

    If these requests are coming in frequently, ask to see if you can get comp time or a later start time for a few days to catch up on some personal time.


    What happens when it’s a text?

    Texting can be faster and catch an employee’s attention quicker than an email, but it can also feel like a bigger invasion of personal time.

    If your boss has taken to texting outside of the office and it makes you feel uncomfortable, you can shut it down tactfully.

    “Take the conversation off text message onto the platform that’s more work related,” said Elaine Swann, founder of The Swann School of Protocol. “If the boss texted and that’s not normal communication, respond on work email.”

    You can also ask a boss to stick to email by explaining how it will make you more efficient.

    “It is a legitimate request to say, ‘it would be really helpful to have the request in email form so I can search for it and have it there for the future all in one place. That would be very helpful for me to do a better job,’” said Taylor.

    Get ahead of the request

    If the late nights and weekend work start to pile up around the same times, see if you can get ahead of it.

    “Find the pattern,” said Abbajay. If you pay attention to what’s being asked frequently, try to figure out how to make it not be a need-to-do-after-work situation.

    If you decided to engage with the work request, match the tone of email and don’t stray off topic. This isn’t the time for pleasantries.

    “The more you get personal about your weekend the more you are encouraging banter,” said Taylor.