Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Checking Work Email Past Work Hours

    Posted 05-20-2019 11:43 AM
    As young engineers, we must be in constant contact with clients and supervisors, sometimes this falls outside work hours. For me, I think checking email after hours is necessary, especially if you are trying to coordinate details on a current construction project or you know there is a client that needs your help. I try to maintain a balance and block out 5:00 pm until about 8:00 pm exclusively as family time, no matter what. After that, I may reply to emails that may have come after leaving work if they are important. I think we are a profession of service, and being available for clients should be high in our priority list. 

    What are your thoughts on checking email or receiving calls after hours or during the weekend?

    Luis Duque EIT,A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Broomfield CO

  • 2.  RE: Checking Work Email Past Work Hours

    Posted 05-20-2019 02:27 PM
    It's a challenging conundrum in the modern age, and one that many industries are struggling with - along with the related issue of taking vacation/leave.  On one hand, as you say, it is an industry of service and there is professional and ethical obligation to the projects we work on and the people they will serve to perform our duties in service of these projects to the best of our abilities, as efficiently (in both money and time) as possible.  On the other hand, we are not charitable organizations and at the end of the day deserve to be fairly compensated for our labor.  With this in mind, I feel it's the ubiquitous it depends.

    I think it depends on a few factors.  One being the urgency of the correspondence - is your input merely creating a benefit for another party, or will not responding potentially create damage to the project's budget or schedule?  Two being the nature of your employment - do you benefit from a flexible schedule that allows you to replace idle work hours with personal activities (so maybe you need to answer that 7 pm email, since you left early the day before), or are you required to be in the office 8-5 every day regardless of work load (in which case you're less likely to feel obligated to respond outside those hours).  Third being the origin of the correspondence - is this a rare request from a colleague who would be willing provide you with an assist in a pinch, or does this person habitually ask you for things at 7 pm that they should have asked for at 2 pm?

    The answers to those questions typically inform your decision.  For me, personally, unless it's an urgent matter or originating from someone I honestly feel strongly towards helping, then I'm probably going to be aware of the email and what I need to do in the morning to respond as quickly as possible.  Most engineers that I know already work between 45 and 55 hours a week, and more if required by project deadlines.  That's ample available time, I feel, for 95% of inquiries you'd receive.

    William Key 
    Structural EI
    TLM Associates
    Jackson, TN

  • 3.  RE: Checking Work Email Past Work Hours

    Posted 05-21-2019 12:16 PM
    I do agree with William Key in his response, generally, in that it depends. I also disagree with the original premise that we must be in constant contact with our clients and supervisors. 

    I tend to take a hard stance against working outside of work hours or on vacation and will advocate for anybody to be able to have a personal life. I have worked with engineers and clients who must have a flexible schedule for whatever reason, or who are workaholics, and their schedule is to work odd hours, or all hours (or work on another coast). I have received emails at 8 PM, 1AM, and 5 AM, but that doesn't mean I need to be on call at all hours of the day, unless there is an urgent project need. You wouldn't expect your coworkers on the east coast or west coast to show up early and leave late would you? Most anybody who sends an email outside of working hours will understand that it is outside of working hours unless there is an advance agreement, or they are creating a toxic environment that should be avoided. For vacations, if you are able to, train somebody else to take care of the details while you are away, this is a good practice generally and making yourself obsolete will help you get promoted. This includes vacations, funerals, etc. (Yes I have received push back for attending a funeral, but from a supervisor and not a client) You must also remember to create a work-life balance or you will become burnt out, or you will burn others (coworkers and spouses) out. 

    Zachary Gautsch, PE, M.ASCE
    Haley and Aldrich, Inc.

  • 4.  RE: Checking Work Email Past Work Hours

    Posted 05-21-2019 09:53 PM
    Great insights by William and Zachary. I will add to the depends by adding that your lifestyle and personal situation also matters to this discussion. For example, I need downtime to exercise, be with family, and take care of other household responsibilities. However, if all of this is taken care of, I do not mind jumping into the computer one more time at night to read and respond to some emails. Conversely, if there is an important milestone and my team needs my help, I will make myself available more than usual. I do want to clarify that I do not feel that being always available outside of work hours is the expectation of my team and my company. If this was the case, I would say that deeper issues exist with the organizational culture. Jumping into emails after work hours is something extra that helps me stay on top of my game with <g class="gr_ gr_1800 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim Grammar multiReplace" id="1800" data-gr-id="1800">the large</g> number of communications that happen in construction projects.

    A few phone calls outside of work with real urgent matters would not bother me. However, if urgent becomes the norm, then this is something that I would discuss with the other party. More specifically, I would put on the table my expectations, hear the expectations from the other party, and agree on the real definition of urgent. 

    Carlos Zuluaga Ph.D.,EI,A.M.ASCE
    Ph.D. Student, Civil Engineering
    Cary NC