20 Jul 2022

Better never than late?

The traditional practice of withdrawing from the world when the front door was closed has completely disappeared. Mobile phones have revolutionised relationships, opening up multiple channels of communication, which allow us easy access to friends and contacts at any time of the day or night.

As work and social lives blend together, we find ourselves, and other people, increasingly available and the concept of the working day is becoming more and more elastic. With the upsurge in working from home, we may find ourselves sitting at our computers in our pyjamas at ungodly hours because we are confronted by a pressing deadline or simply because we concentrate better when the rest of the world is sleeping.

But however flexible our own days may have become, we must at least concede that this is not inevitably the case for other people. School days and office hours still adhere, more or less, to the traditional 9-5 timetable and it is generally accepted that it is inconsiderate to text or make calls late at night – for most people this means after 9pm.

The main reason for this is that people start to wind down by mid-evening and it is therefore rude to jerk them out of their pre-sleep routine, unless you have a very good reason. Many people find it hard to resist answering texts, and engaging in a text dialogue late at night is over-stimulating. We’re all very aware of good sleep hygiene these days and it is generally agreed that it is a bad idea to look at screens late at night, so why inflict your bad texting habits on other people? Of course there are exceptions to this rule – if you’re a real night owl and you have a friend who is similarly insomniac then you may well have an agreement between you that late-night texting is acceptable.

In general, it’s very poor workplace culture to assume that sending texts to colleagues after 9pm is acceptable. If that begins to happen, you may find yourself in a vicious circle where you feel obliged to answer your boss’s late-night texts because you fear that otherwise you’re not looking fully engaged. This is really pernicious – it is much better to let employees and colleagues disengage entirely from work late at night. With a few exceptions, nobody should be on duty 24/7.

For most people, late-night texts and calls mean one of two things: they have been ambushed by an inconsiderate friend or colleague or, much more worryingly, there is bad news about friends or family that cannot wait until morning. Most of us recognise the rush of anxiety and dread you experience when you’re woken by your phone late at night – you certainly don’t want to inflict that needlessly. While, in theory, it is possible to avoid late night disturbance by meticulously turning your phone to silent, you may still be bothered by vibrations or the screen lighting up on your bedside table and find the temptation to check out the latest updates irresistible.

If you feel the urge to text late at night, resist it. It is much more thoughtful to wait until morning (after 8am is a good general guideline, though you might want to leave it an hour or two later at weekends).

Our phones make us perpetually accessible, but always being on-call can become very stressful. Avoiding nighttime calls is considerate, because you’re recognising the need that everyone has to de-compress and switch off.

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