We’ve all been there: We receive a work email at 10 p.m. that seems somewhat urgent. We look at the laundry that still needs to be folded. Our bed is beckoning. We read the email again. Does the sender expect an immediate response? Can it wait until tomorrow morning? We look at the clock. We realize we’ve now wasted 10 minutes debating with ourselves about an email that ultimately takes us five minutes to draft.
Leave it to a working mom to come up with a way to solve this dilemma for others:
“If you are receiving this email outside of your typical working hours, I hope you feel no pressure to read or respond until your schedule and workload permit.”
Simple. Thoughtful. Genius.
That’s the email signature Melody Schreiber, journalist and the editor of What We Didn’t Expect: Personal Stories About Premature Birth, started using about a month ago. It went viral when her literary agent Eric Smith posted the signature on Twitter, saying “I cannot stress enough how wonderful that is.”
We agree. In a world where we’re all working different hours, particularly right now, we should let our colleagues know we don’t expect an urgent answer to our queries (unless we do). That’s what inspired Melody to add the line to her signature, she told Working Mother. She got the idea from a researcher she follows on Twitter who lives abroad and had included a similar line in an email.
“I used to draft emails at night and send them in the morning if they weren’t urgent,” she explains. “But then I thought, what if the morning isn’t the most convenient time for them? What if they’re also watching their kids then, like I do, and working at night? In that case, a nighttime email could be more thoughtful, as long as the recipient knows it’s not urgent.”
Melody’s message is especially important in the midst of a pandemic when so many working moms are exhausted, trying to take care of our kids and our job at the same time. Research shows that many managers have no clue how much their employees struggle to manage their caregiving responsibilities. And let’s be honest: Even when our bosses tell us they’re OK with our flexible schedules, it feels disingenuous when we’re bombarded almost 24/7 with emails that seem to demand an immediate response.
If you’re a manager who wants to make it clear that you value work-life balance for yourself and your employees, or if you simply want to be a considerate colleague, we have a suggestion: Be like Melody.
“I wanted to let people know that I understand the struggle—I feel it myself!—and it’s absolutely OK to have boundaries,” she says. “Just because I’ve stolen a moment away at 11 p.m. to hit ‘send’ on an email, doesn’t mean I need you to drop everything and write back or even read it. When something is genuinely urgent, I’ll cut that signature line and try to indicate urgency in the subject line—but honestly, that’s pretty rare.”
Brb, we’re adding this signature right now.