On e-mails that should never be sent

At_Sign_NimbusFollowing a recent staff survey which saw many of my colleagues complain about long working hours and an unhealthy work-life balance our Faculty recently introduced an e-mail curfew. According to this curfew no work-related emails should be sent before 7.30 am or after 6.30 pm Monday to Friday or at the weekend. While the Faculty’s heart (does THE FACULTY have a heart?) was certainly in the right place, the curfew was not.

One of the few perks of having an academic job is that I can – lectures, seminars and meetings excluded – do my work whenever I want, provided I get it done. If that means working until 2am on Thursday morning and not going into the office until 2pm, so be it. Us creative types usually don’t really do the nine to five anyway. But if I’m then not allowed to sent out any emails after 6.30 pm I have only half a day in which to get things done.

To accommodate people’s flexible working patterns, the suggestion was then made to save drafts of the e-mails we were planning to send and auto-release them from the e-mail system during official working hours.

Since my technical skills are severely limited (I’ve only just worked out how to send a meeting request in Outlook) I won’t even go there. Nor do I see the point of saving a lot of e-mails in my draft folder at 10pm only to send them out next morning as one of my well-meaning colleagues suggested, as this would mean handling each e-mail twice thus adding to the working hours this measure was actually meant to reduce. You know the one about the spirit and the letter of the law.

So in a minor fury I sent an e-mail (fully aware of the irony of my actions) to my colleagues suggesting we should all attempt to send fewer e-mails instead of discussing how and when to send the many pointless messages that subsequently clog up our inboxes. It feels as if I’ve been getting slightly fewer e-mails since then. But then the new term has only just started.

Besides, an e-mail curfew is pointless in many other ways. Surely it only works with colleagues within the same country or even the same institution. Yet, many of us communicate with people around the whole world on a daily basis, and someone from the US might actually be more likely to respond quickly to a message I send in the middle of the night than a message sent early in the morning.

The most wonderful and magical thing about e-mails however is that I can switch them off. That is, I can access my e-mail account whenever I want. And frankly, it doesn’t bother me at all if you want to send me an e-mail at 4 am, because I won’t be reading it until 2pm; and if I don’t want to I don’t have to read it at all.

And remember this: If I am not responding to an email you should not have sent I am not being rude, I am being efficient.


E-mails to avoid

If you are still unsure about the kinds of messages you should or should not be sending to your colleagues, here are a few examples.

You should not send…

… ANY e-mail beginning: ‘Apologies if this does not concern you…’. Unless this goes out to hundreds of people you should have taken the time to select the relevant names from your address book.

… unnecessary reminders, or reminders of reminders. Most of your colleagues will be sufficiently organised to keep track of their own deadlines or they wouldn’t have made it into the job in the first place; and those who are not won’t read your reminder either.

… apologies for missing meetings. Your colleagues will have noticed you weren’t there. Reminding them of the fact will only enrage them more.

Finally, as another one of my greatly sensible colleagues suggested, be careful with that ‘reply all’ button. Think before you press ‘sent’!

However, do send…

… any e-mail beginning: ‘There is some left-over cake/ chocolate/ wine/ whisky in the communal kitchen…’

… any e-mail saying: ‘Due to Health and Safety warnings and emergency maintenance work being carried out, the History corridor will not be accessible tomorrow. Staff are asked to stay at home.’



By thehistorywoman

Historian & journalist.


  1. A curfew? Truly insane. Why not emphasize the joys of restraint, as you suggest. My own pet peeve is colleagues who send me emails apologizing in advance for missing a talk I will give…go or don’t go, what do I care?

  2. I think it has to be a matter of choice. I’ve just recently started at LSE. Looking after an MSc programme, my department’s website, comms and events, there’s a lot of email to handle. I’ve already got into a habit of staying late (which I choose to do), and I will occasionally check mail at home if I’ve missed a day at the office due to training. I fully accept that in this sector, whether academic or support, roles are a lifestyle rather than a job. And there’s a degree of common sense required: both from ourselves to avoid burnout, and from our employers to let us do our jobs. My new institution seems to foster a good balance, but I very much doubt that’s commonplace.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: