WASHINGTON: Have you ever received an e-mail message from your supervisor's secretary late in the afternoon, just as you were wrapping up for the day, saying: 'The boss needs to see you now'? Or worse, the summons came late on a Friday when you had plans to enjoy the night with your family? What is it about 5pm that seems to prompt managers to find more pressing things for their employees to do?

I have heard from employees lamenting the fact that their bosses pile on more work or ask to see them after hours and on the weekend. Some of these requests are legitimate, and some jobs require immediate decisions and actions.

But do all jobs? Do all the tasks have to be done right away, or can some of them wait until the following morning or after the weekend? According to data from the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the average productivity of workers in the United States has increased more than 400 per cent since 1950. At least 134 countries have laws that cap the length of the work week, but not the US. Technology has made workers available 24/7 (or at least everyone thinks they are).

Two out of three employees reported that they receive e-mail messages from their bosses over the weekend, and one in three said they are expected to reply, according to a survey this year by Right Management.

Some of you might think such people are lucky to be employed at all and should stop complaining. People should feel fortunate to have a job, and many are working hard to do well - in many cases even putting in extra hours, especially with the reduced staff count at many firms today. But the real issue is, what can they do to better manage expectations for after-hours work without getting fired?

Good communication is important in any conversation you have with your boss. Clear, concise comments - delivered calmly and face-to-face - are your best bet. E-mailing or texting your concerns is not the best way to approach these issues.

  • Ask your manager to prioritise your assignments. Sometimes, bosses are not even aware of the vast number of projects they have dumped on their employees.
  • Present data to your boss showing the hours you have worked. Maybe you are supposed to work 40 hours, but your manager has had you working 60 to 70 hours for the past month. Perhaps you were just supposed to help out at first because staff had left and positions had not yet been filled. Document what you have been doing and share the information calmly.
  • Work with your manager to set more realistic expectations. Doing so could help deflect or postpone extra assignments.
  • Before you talk to your manager, go over what you intend to say. Have someone role-play the scenario with you so you can practise how to respond to questions or handle issues. This will boost your confidence when you do meet. If the conversation gets heated, take a break. It is better to return to the issue when both parties have had more time to reflect. Your ultimate goal might be to get your boss to change his or her practice of dumping work on you after hours, but sometimes, just getting them to listen to your concerns and be open to talking with you again is a solid first step. If they do listen, follow up (within a day) with a note or e-mail message to thank them for their time and willingness to listen. On their part, bosses can also make some changes. Rethink 'the boss needs to see you' messages sent without any explanation. They can come across as a summons and be very stressful for your employees, especially if they do not know why you want to see them.
  • If you want healthy (less stressed) employees, do not send e-mail messages after hours on weekdays or on weekends in cases where the work does not have to be done immediately.
  • If you have to send an e-mail message regarding work after hours, let your employee know if he or she has to respond right away. Certainly, do not flag it as urgent unless it really is.
  • Let your employees have time in the evenings or weekends to see their families and friends, to engage in their hobbies, and to reconnect with their communities. Not only will they come back more refreshed (and possibly more productive), but they could become more loyal as well.