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When someone writes to me while I am online during the weekend (a student or a colleague), is it impolite to not reply back, especially when they can see that I am online (on Mattermost for example or on any other app ...), although I reply back first thing Monday morning?

Edit: First of all, thank you all for your answers! :) I would like to clarify something: Even if I am working on the weekend, would you still say that it's not impolite to not reply back?

Edit edit: Since it was pointed out in a recent answer that this might depend on the location of the university, for me it's in France, but I guess (?) it would be more or less the same around Europe, though outside Europe, there seem to be other etiquettes..

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    It's impolite to expect an answer during the weekend. – Roland Mar 15 at 18:02
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    I'm "online" all the time simply because I don't close Slack on my computer (which I use for both work and personal stuff) after hours. Sometimes I answer emails on the weekend but always set them to send Monday morning so people don't get used to me answering on the weekends – Azor Ahai -him- Mar 15 at 20:17
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    Didn't France pass a law prohibiting weekend emails? – hojusaram Mar 16 at 10:54
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    @hojusaram I hadn't heard of this, but according to this article, "France introduced a law giving some workers at companies with 50 or more employees the ability to negotiate the responsibility to check emails outside standard working hours." I can't imagine sending emails on the weekend would ever be prohibited, but employers insisting on a response might be. bbc.com/worklife/article/… – Michael Mior Mar 16 at 15:59

11 Answers 11

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No it’s not rude, it’s called boundaries and you are allowed to have them. Simply because you are online and doing something else does not entitle anyone else to your response. There’s some nuance to this though, depending on your relationship to the person emailing, but boundaries can and should be established.

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    Some of my lecturers make it a point to announce in the first class of term, "If you email us on a weekend, don't expect to get a response until Monday. If you email us at 3am, don't expect us to respond until the next day." – nick012000 Mar 16 at 4:03
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    there's also some level of boundaries versus emergency level balance - if someone sees you online and writes you about an emergency they have, like being locked out the building or having forgotten their presentation for a conference and they want to ask you to switch on their work machine so they can access them, there is a certain level of impoliteness to just ignore that. Being visibly online becomes a crucial part then (if you didn't see it, not your fault, but if there is an impression that you did, that's not reflecting too well on you). But this is the rare exception. – Frank Hopkins Mar 16 at 5:39
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    @nick012000 That works both ways: I have a colleague (possibly more than one) whose email sig specifically states that they work unusual hours, and that just because they may email at funny times, doesn't mean they're expecting a reply until the recipient is working again. I keep meaning to add something to that effect myself – Chris H Mar 16 at 16:00
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    @FrankHopkins Really, your lab needs to have emergency procedures set up. Slacking anyone even if they're "online" is not reliable. We have phone numbers for everyone, for emergencies only. I wouldn't feel bad or blame anyone for missing any message but a phone call – Azor Ahai -him- Mar 16 at 17:47
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    There’s no point in arguing. I think given the many comments, everyone agrees there’s nuance that varies with contexts. – GrayLiterature Mar 16 at 21:37
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When I work at the weekends, its because either:

  1. I have a thing that I absolutely have to do and can't wait till Monday
  2. I'm doing something more or less because I want to.

Replying to some student is neither of these things. I will make an exception for this if it is a student/colleague I have a particular investment in, and I specifically want to help them out (even if I don't want to do the thing they are asking). But if its just a random email, then they can wait until Monday, and its none of their business if I'm online.

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    ...or 3. because it's the only time in the world (aside from very late at night) where I can work undisturbed. Being disturbed ends the purpose. – Jessica Mar 17 at 7:26
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    Who says you're even working when you're online? Many people use the same computer for work and personal activities. – Barmar Mar 17 at 15:24
  • @Barmar especially now with many people working from home more than normal – Chris H Mar 17 at 15:48
  • @Barmar Using the same computer doesn't mean you need to sign into your work accounts. – Polygnome Mar 18 at 9:01
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    @IanSudbery Because just as it is impolite to expect people to answer right away, its also impolite to appear to be available when you are, in fact, not. Its why people block time in their office calendars - to demonstrate they aren't available. Especially with flexible working ours, nobody else can magically know if you are working or not -- but that is exactly why these status indicators exist, to show that you are available. Well, don't show that if you aren't, that is actively misleading. Most software has appropriate flags like away and dnd, or can even show you as offline. – Polygnome Mar 18 at 13:51
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No.

If people complain to you, explain that it's not personal: you simply have a policy not to work on weekends.

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    +1. I do think that there can be some (very few) exceptions, in particular if they involve deadlines or emergency situations. I could imagine a paper deadline on Sunday, or a critical server you maintain breaking down. In these cases, insisting on "it's weekend" may not be perceived as a good move. But these things should be a few times per year at maximum. – damian Mar 15 at 13:12
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    A good way to manage the boundary is to simply not even look at your work email on the weekend. Those people who you work closely with and who you trust to distinguish "emergency" and "non-emergency" should know another way of contacting you. – jakebeal Mar 15 at 14:04
  • @jakebeal exactly - a few close colleagues are trusted with my personal mobile number, which is also on the departmental emergency contact list (emergency as in fire/flood affecting our labs). But that phone is usually on silent anyway! – Chris H Mar 16 at 16:02
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Not at all. The whole benefit of asynchronous communications is that you and the people with whom you are communicating can do your ends of the conversation whenever is convenient for you, and there's no particular reason why the times when it is convenient for you to look at it should coincide with the times when it is convenient for you to reply to it (though there is presumably an inclusion in one direction, unless your memory is much better than mine).

I'd advise you to not look at it in the first place, honestly, but if you do end up doing so, you're under no obligation to reply. I'd also advise you to just turn off whatever allows other people to see that you are online by automated means except when you do want to have a real-time conversation.

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  • Hi Sam, thanks! I was actually referring to synchronous communication (for example Mattermost), but concerning your sentence "I'd also advise you to just turn off whatever allows other people to see that you are online by automated means except when you do want to have a real-time conversation.": Do I understand you correctly that you would just turn off the "online" status on weekends? :) That is indeed a really good idea, and I will think of it. During the week, I would find it impolite when I'm working, but on weekends, that's to consider.. – user136277 Mar 16 at 8:05
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    @Anonymous5638 During the week outside office hours, you would normally stay offline. Even during office hours, there are many reasons why you might be offline - meetings, seminars, lunches, toilet breaks, working in a basement lab which doesn't have wifi, working in a lab where safety reasons mean you can't access your phone, and so on. Or simply that you're working and trying to get stuff done without interruptions. Anyone who finds it impolite that their message doesn't instantly take top priority needs to check their assumptions about their own self-importance! ;) – Graham Mar 16 at 11:29
  • @Anonymous5638 I consider Mattermost and similar text chat systems to be asynchronous: while they can be used in a more real-time way, that's clearly optional. (Unlike an in-person meeting or a telephone call, if you're not there when a message arrives it's always still there for you when you come back later.) I consider the support for both virtually instant replies and delayed replies to be one of the most powerful features of these systems. I also give my phone number to anybody who might need to contact me in a true emergency. – cjs Mar 17 at 7:41
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    @cjs I see. But what I really find hard to work with are apps such as Mattermost because one can see whether people are online or not, I sometimes forget to remember that just because sb is online, it doesn't mean that they always have instantly time.. With email, you know that the person will get back when they have time, but marking messages as unread on MM is not as effective as via email.. – user136277 Mar 17 at 8:47
  • @Anonymous5638 I don't know about MatterMost, but in some messaging apps, you can manually override the status - my Skype is set to "away" (though it has strange behaviour if logged in to multiple devices) – Chris H Mar 17 at 15:50
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Whether in academia or in the real world, no one should expect a reply to a non-personal account email outside of working hours. On my team, if I see someone answering an email at 10:30pm on a weekday or at 4:00 pm on a Saturday, I'll ask why, pointing out that they really aren't expected to do that.

The only exception is if you are in a pre-arranged "on call" situation (like I was at my job this past weekend). In academic equivalent might occur if your department arranged an undergrad panic help system where TAs take turns answering student questions on the weekend or two before exams.

If you ever do that, I suggest that you do it through a email group alias. This way the students don't have to remember who to email (and are less likely to email the non-on-call folks).

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  • Your point about a team is interesting. If the team works closely enough together, then having vastly different policies could be a real problem. Here is where a lab setting is really different from (mostly autonomous) course instruction. – kcrisman Mar 16 at 14:43
  • When I was a grad student, there were two of us TA-ing the same class. We shared the same office/lab space. In the run up to exams, we established a time-table for students who wanted to ask questions (this was way before email). I'd do the mornings, he'd do the afternoons (or something like that). – Flydog57 Mar 16 at 15:00
  • I have used two similar software packages, both from large well known international companies. For package A, it is quite common to see the product manager posting 20 or 30 replies to questions on the user forums at the weekend, and sometimes around midnight (in his local time zone) at weekends. For package B, company posts on the user forum might appear once a month if somebody gets lucky. Guess which product is growing market share, and which is close to dead in the water? – alephzero Mar 16 at 16:38
  • @alephzero What the business owner does is their own business. But if they hire a CM to do that stuf, I hope they'll pay their CM for all of this work and also properly compensate work on sundays at a higher rate. – Polygnome Mar 18 at 14:02
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A point that is not addressed in previous answers is how to set such boundaries. Particular in university teaching cultures where students are (at least implicitly) expected to be working on assignments over weekends or during evenings (which certainly obtains in the United States), it is typical for students to have queries at these times, and they can get pretty anxious if they don't hear back, because to a large extent university is not seen as a job in such cultures, but as a more all-embracing lifestyle. If you have coursework and labs all day (as a student) it may not even be realistic to ask homework questions until Friday evening, for example. And, conversely, many university professionals are indeed working at night or weekends, and it's so easy to just toss off a couple of responses so you won't have to deal with them on Monday. (I often do this myself.)

In such a setting (including the education part, not labs or the like), I strongly encourage clear communication as to when you will (and won't) reply to emails. A syllabus is a good start, but you may wish to put it in an email signature, on a learning management system, or in some other venue. And you may have to repeat it many, many times as you socialize students to this.

Yes, doing all that is annoying. Yes, it is inconvenient. But it's also providing a role model for young people in how to set their own boundaries, and that is very important for them to see. Additionally, it can help make it clear for the students (again, in my context in US undergrad education, many of them) who are used to immediate responses and are always on their own email via smartphones.

Similarly, doing so in a polite and kind fashion is critical. If you hate emails that say, "Hi did i miss anything in class i dont know why i got a c", imagine how intimidating it would be for someone who can flunk you to send an email saying, "How many times do I have to tell you not to expect an answer on Tuesday night!" Unfortunately, probably it will have to be communicated many times. But it's teaching professionalism as well as content, and if people sending emails at weird times becomes a problem (for instance if the queue becomes too long), it's important to communicate that to students.

Finally, another option would be to manage all such communication via a learning management system. That may have builtin tools to manage communication and even send auto-replies. I don't do that, because it is beyond annoying for me. But for some folks that may prove very helpful, especially if the LMS has an app that makes such responses convenient. And then you can compartmentalize a bit more. Good luck.

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The question and answers need to specify a country tag.

For many companies and nearly all universities in China, if you miss a few online or in person meeting requests for Sunday morning, sent by your superior on Saturday 11pm, you will likely be marginalised and you can forget about renewing your contract.

So it's probably best to check with your colleagues or superiors. It might actually be a common practice in your university.

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Since you explicitly mentioned students, I'd like to ( as a Master's student in switzerland ) point out that I usually do not expect any reply during the weekend. Not from the teaching assistants and even less from the professors who seemingly tend to ignore every email that is not very important and then forget about it. Even during the week, I'm not surprised if I have to wait two days for a reply.

A suggestion specifically regarding E-Mails from your students: One thing we usually have that I appreciate is a forum where all the students have access. When there is a question during a time when the teachers are not able or willing to reply, there still might be a useful answer from a fellow student who had the same problem. And even if the students never write answers, you will at least not have to keep answering the same questions over and over again.

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No, It is not rude because the weekend is a time to relax. I recommend you check your inbox in the beginning, middle, and end of the day.

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Only reply within working hours, if they attempt to ask for more - ask for over-time.

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Yes, it is impolite to intentionally not respond to someone when you can easily do so.

It's not immoral or unprofessional. You have no obligation to do work outside of work hours. Nonetheless, that is not the standard of "polite", which is behaving in such a way as to make life the most pleasant it can be for those who interact with you. If you wish to aspire to this higher standard, you must consider the feelings of others and whether your refusal to respond is causing them distress that you could easily avert.

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  • Yes, and see my answer as well. That said, it is easy for your answer to be taken as the only criterion (not that I think you are trying to say that), which could be pretty damaging to one's mental health. (I've seen this happen a lot outside academic in so-called "helping professions".) But the phrasing easily averted distress is spot on. – kcrisman Mar 16 at 14:42
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    Politeness and consideration of others' feelings `cut' both ways: it would be rather presumptuous for the sender to expect a response to a work-related query at a time when the recipient is not on duty. – Shane O Rourke Mar 16 at 15:00
  • True, but to be fair to the original question, the implication was only whether to actually respond; it doesn't seem that the question of whether the email sender actually expect a response on the weekend. And some work-related queries are more urgent than others, in the academic context - for instance, some may lead to failure and intense economic hardship if not responded to quickly. (I realize that this last point may not obtain in all countries.) – kcrisman Mar 16 at 17:35
  • @ShaneORourke I haven't said anything about whether the sender of the original message was polite or not; this is a different question. That someone is polite to you is not a prerequisite for your being polite to them. – Xerxes Mar 17 at 16:04