Ask LH: How Can I Stop My Boss From Ruining My Weekends?

Ask LH: How Can I Stop My Boss From Ruining My Weekends?

Dear Lifehacker, I love my job and my boss. I also value what little free time I get and unfortunately it seems that almost every weekend my boss emails me something that either takes a huge chunk of my weekend or gets me stressing out over dealing with it on Monday. How can I get the time off I deserve and still be respectful to my boss?


Working Weekends

Title image remixed from Ljupco Smokovski (Shutterstock).

Dear WW,

It’s incredibly important for your mental health and your overall productivity to get the breaks you deserve. Sure, working on the weekend can show your boss you’re proactive about the job, but you can’t do it all the time. You have a few really solid options for how to approach the situation, so let’s get to it so you can enjoy the weekend off.


Make Your Request In Concise Language

Your boss doesn’t really want to hear you say “no”, but it’s important to be as direct as possible. In an article on CNBC, co-author of the book Conversation Transformation Dr Ben Benjamin recommends you do this by speaking in concise language:

As we all know, bosses tend to have selective hearing, and will hear what they want to hear while ignoring the rest. When you do use a “yes-but”, a boss may “tune out” after the “yes” portion, resulting in your objection (the “but”) falling on deaf-ears. So when communicating your message, you need to be sure that you are saying exactly what you mean. It is essential that you choose your words wisely and deliver the precise message that you mean to.

The idea is that when we talk with a boss we tend to avoid absolutes and dance around the fact we need something. Tell your boss in plain language that you can’t work every weekend and then supplement that with a reasoning why. The best reason you can have? That your brain simply can’t take it anymore. Let’s see what science has to say about working too much. Image: marc falardeau.


Convince Your Boss With The Power Of Science

Honestly, you shouldn’t need to justify your position to your boss, but if you’re worried you’ll come off as a slacker who doesn’t want to work, you may want to show your boss how it’s effecting the rest of your performance.

Working all the time isn’t good for anyone. Burnout is a very real thing, and as CBS News points out, the more you work the less productive you get:

[F]or the last 100 years, every productivity study in every industry has come to the same conclusion: after about 40 hours in a week, the quality of your work starts to degrade. You make mistakes. That’s why working 60 hours may not save you time or money: you’ll spend too much of that time fixing the mistakes you shouldn’t have made in the meantime.

Essentially, you’re useless on the weekend or you’re useless by the time you return to work on Monday. That’s the best case you can make to your boss. Sit down and talk with your boss about what you need and make the argument that you’re just not able to work as much as she’s requesting. Image: RDECOM.

Offer An Alternative Plan

Unless something is actually on fire, chances are whatever tasks your boss wants you to do over the weekend can wait until Monday. Instead of outright saying “no” to a weekend project propose another solution. If the project comes in on a Friday you can suggest that you’ll stop what you’re doing right now and do the new task, but the one you’re doing will have to wait until Monday. Alternately, you can suggest you push around your Monday due dates so fit in the new task.

Just because a project comes in on the weekend doesn’t mean you have to do it immediately. If it can wait then let it wait. If you have trouble ignoring those requests it might be time to shut down your email on the weekends.


Forcefully Cut Yourself Off

You can never guarantee your boss will respect your wishes and stop emailing you over the weekend. In that case, you should set up your inbox so you don’t check them on evenings and weekends. Talk to your boss and come up with a system to differentiate between priority emails over the weekend and the emails that are just meant to help you prepare for your return on Monday morning. If your email account is properly prioritised you’ll be able to shut off those pestering messages without worrying that you’re missing a critical task.

This is especially helpful if you’re the type who takes on the weekend work even if it’s not a priority. Don’t allow yourself the option to even look at those emails unless you absolutely have to.

What matters in the end is that you get some rest and enjoy your time off. If you’re looking to progress in a position it’s a great idea to take on the extra work now and again, but if it’s happening every weekend then you need to put your foot down. Image: Mr Thinktank.



PS How do you usually go about telling your boss you’re not willing to work through the weekend?

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  • Even if I had job security issues, I’d tell my boss to jump about working weekends – and I have to many bosses many times. They soon work out when I say it loud and clear in front of the team, in team meetings etc that you can’t shame me into working OUT OF BUSINESS HOURS.

    If you are achieving reasonable output during the week and meeting set KRAs, I’d like to hear from anyone who was sacked because of not working weekends. If your company allows it to happen, and don’t allow you to escalate to HR to deal with inappropriate boss behaviour – then don’t work there!

    My last and favourite comment: “lack of planning on your behalf does not constitute an emergency on mine.”

  • Just turn on the email out-of-office feature when you leave the office. If its that important, the boss will pick up the phone and call you. But you must also avoid the temptation to check your work email in the evenings and weekends, so that if asked about the email you can genuinely say that you didn’t see it until you returned to work without having to lie. Then you won’t feel guilty.

  • We recently had a peer leave the organisation and our manager decided that he could get away with not replacing that person by carving up his responsibilities amongst a few others (who had pretty full days already). When we questioned how we were expected to take on the extra work on top of our exisiting portfolios, our manager informed all of us that we would have to start working on weekends. To a bunch of professionals who already put in 50 – 60 hours a week, that went down like a lead balloon. This was coming from a manager who wasn’t in a relationship, didn’t have kids and basically didn’t have a life. The only option we had was to go above him and point out that not only did the organisation lose one good person, it was just about to lose another 6. Needless to say, people power won the day and our manager was shown the door – and the vacant role was filled!!

    The expectation to be available 24×7 is becoming way too common – especially for people who don’t need to be. Ditch the BlackBerry or corporate email on your phone and disconnect.

  • I’ve had this before. I look through my employment contract and if it doesn’t state anywhere that I MUST work weekends, I simply and straight forward tell me boss “No thank you” to working weekends. If he/she has you fired because of it, then you take them to court. Simple and it’s a win for you because you were wrongly dismissed.

  • I was recently forced out of a job due to a situation like this. My boss had worded into my contract that I was expected to work a ‘reasonable’ amount of overtime (of course unpaid due to me being on a salary). After working so much overtime that my doctor told me to slow down and prescribed anti-anxiety drugs, my boss gave me a written warning and reduced my pay, telling me that it was in my contract to work overtime!
    I no longer work there and have just gone through proceedings with Fair Work Australia because of it!

  • had this issue with my last job, have fixed it at home pretty easily

    block the work email website, vpn etc in the hosts file or router at home, bye bye weekend work 🙂

    I do take the work phone home on a weekend and overnight, but have a strict policy of not answering it, works a treat for me

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