“My Co-worker Emails Me All Day Long”
I have a co-worker who sends daily emails (often more than one a day) reminding me to complete work that is a normal part of my job and that I always complete on time. Two minutes after I receive a file to work on, she’s in my inbox asking me to send it to her when I’m done. I know this is her way of keeping herself on track, but the constant reminders are insulting and, frankly, keep me from doing my work because I’m spending time every day writing her back about projects that aren’t due for weeks.
I’ve tried to gently tell her, “Yes, I will get that done on time, as I do every month, because it is my job,” but she hasn’t taken the hint. I got nasty with her once when she interrupted urgent work several times to ask about non-urgent matters. I immediately felt bad and apologized but also said, “Please trust me to do my job.” The emails continued. If I ignore her email, she chats me. If I ignore that, she sends me a text or calls me. I’ve mentioned this behavior to our boss, but he won’t help because she’s just trying to do her job well. She does this to everyone on our team, and I know it annoys others, but without the support of our boss it’s hard to know how to approach this topic.
I like this co-worker otherwise. She’s good at her job and a nice person. But this behavior makes it more and more difficult to work with her. It’s gotten to the point where every interaction with her feels like a confrontation. Is there anything I can do?
Well, for the record, this isn’t just a co-worker problem; it’s a boss problem too. “I won’t stop your co-worker from sending you disruptive, demanding emails because she’s just trying to do her job well” misses the point to a startling degree! Your co-worker isn’t doing her job well, because her job presumably includes being reasonably easy to work with and not making everyone else’s work harder.
I think you have two options. First, you said that you’ve tried gentle hints and you also once got nasty with her when you were fed up — but there are options between those two extremes! Have you spoken to her about the problem calmly, directly, and matter-of-factly? If you haven’t already, try saying, “Jane, we need to change how we communicate on projects. You send me multiple reminders about projects long before they are due to you, and if I don’t reply immediately, you try chatting or calling. This is disrupting my focus, getting in the way of more urgent work, and it actually makes it take longer for me to get things to you. I need you to trust that I will send you work on time and stop sending me reminders.”
If that doesn’t work or you’ve already tried it, there are ways to use technology to blunt her impact. Set up an email filter that funnels all of her messages to their own folder so they’re not popping up in your inbox. Mute notifications for her texts. Let her calls go to voicemail. You might even tell her in advance that you’re doing this, so she doesn’t get increasingly frantic when she can no longer reach you: “I will no longer be responding to these reminders because they are harming my workflow. I will get you anything that I owe you on time, and if I don’t, we can revisit this plan then. But to protect my ability to focus and get my work done, I need you to know in advance that I won’t be responding to reminders anymore.”
If that doesn’t stem your co-worker’s behavior — and it might not because this sounds like it could be a compulsion — it will at least protect you from having to deal with the worst of it.
“My boss expects me to work 11-hour days”
Today I spoke with my manager about my workload, which has become unmanageable. I’m not one to complain about having to work at night or on weekends when needed. I’m paid well and enjoy most of the work I do, and there’s a lot of room for growth in my organization.
But long days have become the norm, and my personal life is taking a hit. I have a husband and small kids and, frankly, I miss them. Yet when I expressed concern to my boss about my workload (the conversation arose because she’s piling two more massive assignments on me, while only removing one midsize item from my plate), she indicated that I have a choice I need to make: If I’m not willing to regularly put in 55 hours per week in order to grow and advance here, then I need to let her know so we can reassess if this position is right for me. (I’ve had this specific role for a year and a half and have performed well.)
Let’s be clear: I’m not a high-level manager. I do have an important job. I’m a 35-year-old woman, and my position and six-figure salary are great, considering the moderate cost of living in my city. But I don’t have any direct reports, and I’m not near VP level (where my boss is). I want to grow, but I’m not okay with an expectation of 11-hour workdays being typical.
Is this just … the norm? It seems unreasonable to me, but I sort of fell into this organization after coming from a related-yet-different position, so I lack a frame of reference.
There are some industries that expect ridiculously long hours, but you usually know if you’re in one of them (for example, Big Law, which at least pays you well for it, and some nonprofit work, which usually doesn’t). Since you’re not sure, this is a good time to ask around! Talk to colleagues in the field, observe what you see others doing, and get a sense of what the norms are. Your goal is to figure out if your boss is right and that this is what you can expect in this field, or if it’s just what you can expect when working for her.
If it turns out that these hours are pretty standard for your role, then you have a choice to make about whether the work aligns with your life in a way you can be reasonably happy withh. And even if it turns out it’s not standard for the field but your boss won’t budge, you still might have a choice to make (although that choice would be less about leaving the field entirely and more about just leaving this particular job). But at that point you’d have more standing to say, “I’ve talked with colleagues doing the same work at other organizations, and I’ve consistently heard that others doing this work are averaging about X/hours a week — with the occasional longer day, of course, but not as the norm. I love what I’m doing and I want to grow within the organization, but I want to make sure the hours are consistent with the field and sustainable for me over the long term.” You could also talk specifically about what that would mean for your projects — explaining that you propose prioritizing A and B, pushing back C, doing a lighter-touch version of D, and so forth.
Who knows, maybe with that specific type of pushback, she’ll back off. But even if she accepts it, if her acceptance seems only begrudging, that’s a danger sign and you should pay a lot of attention to the signals you get from her over the coming weeks and months. What you don’t want is a situation where you’re working fewer hours but forever seen as falling short in her eyes, because that will affect what your experience in this company is like and how much you can really grow there. It’s also possible that your boss will tell you that nope, a condition of the job is working long hours year-round. And if that’s the case, you’ll have to decide if you want the job on those terms. But it’s worth figuring out what the norms really are first and having the conversation so you can figure out if the job works for you.
Order Alison Green’s book Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work here. Got a question for her? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.