Clock is Ticking on Your Boss’ Expectations for an Email Response

waiting on emailKnowing your boss’ expectations is either the simplest or most complex thing you have to navigate. It can change by the project, day, mood and hundreds of other factors. Fortunately, I have a boss – Chuck Wielgus of USA Swimming - who wears his expectations on his sleeve, even when he is being too polite to say it. He is a self-driven person with an internal clock that is more caffeinated than most, and that is one of the great attributes that leads to his success. He is famous for questions such as the following:

  • What are next steps?
  • When will you get me that information?
  • When will this launch?

Those are easy “tells” in a meeting to understand his expectations because we can see each other. With the invisibility of email, however, it is more of a gut feel.

After working with him for eight years, though, here is what I have learned regarding his expectations on email:

  • What he really expects … Instant response
  • What he controls himself to expect … Response within 1 hour
  • What he will deal with … Response on the same day
  • What he will begrudgingly accept … Response within 24 hours

After 24 hours? You have been written off and you have lost your voice, at least on that topic, as he is on to the next one.

Everyone has to adjust this timeline for their own boss, but trust me, the clock is ticking to figure it out.

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2 replies

  1. I have successfully trained my boss about email. I learned that if you answer an email at 2:00 AM, you have created the expectation that you will answer emails regardless of the time of day. I answer emails twice a day, at 11:30AM and 4:30PM. If someone has something really important, they’ll call me or walk over. Raising the bar on interruptions is one key to productivity.

    As a friend of mine said, “If the next 9-11 happens, someone will come and tell you. Email isn’t that important.”

    • Good points. Managing expectations is most of the battle on this. If people know what to expect, it lowers anxiety all around. That doesn’t mean they always like the answer, but at least they know what to expect.

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