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The Color of Money | MIchelle SIngletary

Should there be a curfew on work-related e-mails?

I do not have any nonworking hours. There, I said it. There are just no hours in my day that are totally off-limits to working either for my day job or for the numerous other things I do. I’m not complaining. I love what I do. I’m just stating the obvious for a working mother of three. So yes, I’ve written e-mails at 3 a.m.

Knowing what I know about my work life, I was intrigued by a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, which found that 21 percent of organizations have a formal policy that limits employees’ use of wireless devices such as cellphones and tablets during nonworking hours for work purposes. Twenty-six percent have informal policies.

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Overworked and stressed staff can be a problem. But sometimes I work the hours when it’s reasonable for one to be asleep so that I can attend a function at my kid’s school.

There are two dynamics at play when it comes to how much our work life bleeds into our personal time. There are people like me who have employment situations that allow them to choose to work long, unusual hours for personal reasons.

And then there are employees who work after hours because that’s the norm. It’s the culture that has been created by their employer. They know they had better quickly respond to a supervisor’s e-mail even in nonemergency situations. They know they have to stay connected to stay employed or move up the corporate ladder.

I had a friend who had taken off to attend a church-related retreat. She had put in extra hours to make sure nothing was left undone during her absence. But her boss kept e-mailing her about a report. She missed most of the retreat e-mailing information.

I asked readers to weigh in on having a communications curfew.

“I would love having the sending and receiving of e-mails blocked after certain hours,” wrote Bonny from New York. “That doesn’t mean I can’t still write them — they’d be in my outbox, ready to go when I log in next morning. Additionally, I’d have more after-hours free time to work on the project I have, without interruptions from e-mail .”

Is working on your time off a reflection of your job commitment? One employer thought so.

“I would never hire an employee who isn’t willing to check their e-mails after work and sometimes work on weekends,” the person said. “I was taught to value the importance of a job. . . . Plus, I am very generous about letting my employees leave for children’s school events, etc. I expect a similar type of loyalty and respect. Workers need to understand that employers need to provide the products and services or there will be no jobs. I have taken significant pay cuts during this recession so as not to lay off employees. The idea that checking their e-mail on weekends isn’t fair is repulsive to me.”

Of the organizations that do not have a policy, most leave it up to their employees to set their own limits. That’s smart. It’s important to strive for balance so that you aren’t handcuffed to your workplace communication device or always writing e-mails at 3 in the morning.

Michelle Singletary writes for the Washington Post.
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