What’s the Problem?
Dear Coach – I have a new boss who prides himself on needing only three hours of sleep. Because of this, I often get texts and emails after 9:00 pm, and then wake up at 5:00 am to an inbox already full of messages. He reassures me that he’s just getting his thoughts down when he has them, and that I don’t need to reply in real-time—but it stresses me out to know it’s there and just let it sit.
How do I set boundaries with my boss in this scenario?
First, let’s unpack this. Your question tells us that:
- You assume that your boss does in fact want a response right away, even though he says he doesn’t.
- You assume that your success is predicated on responding to him in a timely manner.
- If you’ve been replying to off-hours emails and texts until now, you may have unknowingly sent the message to your boss that you don’t mind the infringement on your personal time.
- You are elevating responding to him above other parts of your work.
So, exactly how is your problem a power problem? A few thoughts:
- You don’t feel you can talk to him about it to reach a common understanding.
- You don’t feel able to set boundaries and establish your priorities.
- You’re not willing to chart your own path of what’s right for you.
- You don’t see that your boss might need help managing his own anxiety.
What’s the Solution?
Ultimately, you have options. You could opt to simply not respond until you’re logged into work the next day. You could also respond with nothing but a confirmation of receipt: “Thanks. Noted for tomorrow/later/Monday morning.” You could even turn off your phone’s notifications and will yourself not to check your messages once you’ve closed your computer for the day.
Our preference, however, is to—after some preparation, care, and thought—let your boss know the impact of his messages and request that he stops communicating with you during off-hours. You might be wondering if this approach is unprofessional, rude, or costly to your relationship with him, but we’d argue it’s actually the opposite. It’s not only transparent and communicative but will likely end up being mutually beneficial for both of you.
To do this respectfully and move forward productively, you’ll need to do several things, including:
- First, get super clear with yourself about your priorities and non-negotiables. What do you need to be successful and feel good—not just in your work, but also with your family, your health, and all other areas of your life? Based on that, get clear around your desired boundaries.
- Think about some solutions that might help both yours and your boss’ needs to be met.
- Then, schedule time to speak with your boss. Give him an opportunity to fully express his expectations, and then communicate your needs and expectations to him, and aim to establish a way of working that works for both of you.
- Be prepared that you may not get your needs met, and you might lose some favor from your boss.
This conversation might be tough, especially if you’re already feeling intimidated by your boss. But keep your eye on the prize: you’re trying to become a happier, more productive employee and strengthen your relationship with your boss. Tackling the issue now will do you far more good in the long run than suffering silently as your resentment grows.
Best of luck!