When to Respond to Your Boss’s E-Mail, According to Actual Bosses

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E-mail never stops. E-MAIL NEVER STOPS! But it can be ignored. And plausibly forgotten about: Sorry, I got about 8,000 e-mails yesterday. Or blamed on spam filters: You’ll never believe where I found it… Until an e-mail comes from someone more important than you. Like your boss. Then time—and everything else (dinners, parties, vacations)—stops. The impulse is to respond immediately. But is that the expectation, or does it just make you look like a kiss ass? And more importantly, are you in the proper state of mind—you know, sober enough—to fire off a quick response from your iPhone on a Friday night? Who better to ask than three big-time bosses whose e-mails can be the key to their employees’ financial and professional fate.

Adeyemi Ajao, co-Founder of Identified and VP of Technology at Workday. “E-mail is for non-urgent matters, so responding within the next three business hours is ideal. I’ll instant message, text or call if it’s urgent. If I don’t get a reply within those three hours, I’ll subtly check in and ask, ‘Did you have a chance to read my e-mail?’”

Pablo Perez de Rosso, Director of Content Planning and Analysis at Netflix. “I actually expect a response to an urgent e-mail within an hour during the workday and three hours outside of the workday. If it isn’t urgent, I generally expect an answer within the same day. Weekend e-mails can wait until Monday morning.”

Daniel Kessler, VP and General Manager of Hallmark eCards. “It’s a big ask for an employer to demand 24-hour attention, but that’s the world we live in now. So I usually give my employees the benefit of the doubt if they don’t get back to me promptly—especially during off hours. We’re all people. Maybe they’re fighting with their wife or taking their kid to the hospital.

“Personally, I think the ability to respond to an e-mail at any time, from anywhere, leads to better work-life balance. Look at trends in ‘vacation days’ versus ‘discretionary time off.’ Most companies now let you take time off whenever as long as it’s approved. Why? Because you can answer e-mails from the plane to Tahiti, and if there’s something urgent, you can answer it from the beach. We don’t work in factories anymore. But that means answering e-mails on the weekends.”