Scott Hardie | March 17, 2020
What do you think of bills to ban after-work emails?

Erik Bates | March 17, 2020
[hidden by request]

Samir Mehta | March 17, 2020
[hidden by request]

Scott Hardie | March 21, 2020
Years ago, I worked for a project-for-hire tech company that had a problem communicating with its clients. It reached a breaking point when a client wrote in on a Monday complaining that something was broken on their website, and the company spent four days preparing a fix, but on Friday as they were preparing to launch the fix, the client sent notice that they were terminating the relationship. From the client's perspective, nobody had responded or said anything at all; they had no idea that a fix was imminent. From that point on, the company put someone in charge of handling all incoming support requests, and that person had a firm rule that they must respond to every message within 4 business hours, even if it was just to say "message received, we're working on it, we'll get back to you." If that person is off for the day, someone else must cover for them.

I always liked that idea, so your suggestion resonates with me, Samir: Some kind of societal expectation that I'll respond within 8 business hours, even if it's just to say "I'm too busy to write out a real answer but I'll get back to you soon." That would help so much. The unfair expectation of a quick response is bad with calls and emails, but much worse with text messages: You're expected to answer right now, and more than a few minutes of silence is assumed to be a deliberate refusal to respond. I wrote here recently about how two separate people rescinded invitations to me when I didn't respond quickly enough to their texts. I answered the next day because I was busy entertaining people when they reached out, but they took it as proof that I wasn't really interested.

I've worked in always-on, always-connected, always-expected-to-be-working office cultures, where you never really get to disconnect. It's awful, and I intend never to do it again unless circumstances force me to take such a job. The only way to survive it is to embrace it like Stockholm syndrome, to take on even more than necessary as some kind of badge of honor. I don't recommend it for anyone.

As for the law... I don't think the law is the right solution. Better for employees to push back together on this expectation, whether it's formally through a union (which has already accomplished a lot of pushback on overtime) or just informally, slowly changing societal mores. But I appreciate the good intent of the bills.


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