Are you ‘always-on’ when it comes to email? At the mercy of your inbox and feeling pressured to respond even after hours or on vacation? Is it affecting your wellbeing and work-life balance? If so, it’s time for you to communicate boundaries about your working hours, and email boundaries especially. In this guide I’ll show you how you can do this extremely effectively simply by using your work email signature, including a range of specific boundary-setting message examples that you can use.
The importance of setting boundaries at work
In this world of remote and flexible working, cross timezone collaboration and always-on communications, there is more pressure than ever to provide everyone with an immediate response at any time – especially on email. The result? The divide between work and personal lives is becoming blurred and therefore the need to set and communicate boundaries – especially email boundaries – is more important than ever.
Why is setting email boundaries so important?
For many it’s simply because email is their busiest business communication channel, which can also make it the most time-consuming, distracting and stressful. If you routinely send and reply to emails out-of-hours or on vacation, whether you are doing it proactively or to meet others’ expectations, you’re sending out the signal that you have no boundaries.
Let’s take a closer look at the main benefits of setting and communicating email boundaries.
Setting email boundaries protects your time
Everybody wants your time. Your boss, co-workers and customers all compete for your time across a range of communication channels, especially email. Communicating boundaries means making your working hours clear, whether you work full-time, part-time or flexibly.
It is easy to forget that email is asynchronous, most emails are not urgent or emergencies so you need to prioritise (there are some practical prioritising tips later).
Setting email boundaries helps you get things done
You’re always busy but are you always productive? How many of the emails you receive every day actually help you progress your projects? Checking email isn’t the purpose of your job. Setting email boundaries means you can focus on the projects you’re paid to do and on which your performance is assessed.
Setting email boundaries helps manage expectations
Even with clear email boundaries you can’t stop people emailing you at any time. However, you can manage their expectations regarding your response time. Remember, most emails don’t require an immediate response and you shouldn’t feel pressured, especially outside of your working hours.
Setting boundaries increases your wellbeing
If you’re exhausted from overwork and replying to emails at midnight every night, your physical and mental health is going to suffer. Setting email boundaries can stop you burning out, help you recharge your batteries and restore your work-life balance.
Setting boundaries creates mutual respect
Setting boundaries isn’t all about you! Email boundary expectations work both ways. Take note of, and respect, any boundaries that your co-workers and customers set or ask them how quickly they typically reply and when are the best times to contact them. Your boundaries message can also make it clear that recipients should reply at a time convenient to them.
Who benefits from email boundary setting?
Email boundary setting at work can benefit everybody.
- You. Communicating boundaries helps you protect your time, progress projects, improve your mental wellbeing and reclaim your personal life.
- Recipients. Seeing your boundaries reminds clients of the best times to reach out to you and gives them realistic expectations of when to expect a response from you.
- Your team: Your boss, your team and your business as a whole need you to be rested, refreshed and ready to do your best work. Clear work boundaries help ensure this as well as helping to create a culture of mutual respect.
With this in mind, there is one method that is ideal for communicating boundaries – your work email signature
Why your email signature is ideal for setting boundaries
If you want to communicate work boundaries – especially email boundaries – it makes perfect sense to add them to every business email and reply you send, without interfering with your main message. The easiest way to do this is with your work email signature.
After all, you use your email signature for work, so it’s time to start using it to set work boundaries.
A professional email signature with working hours included is a constant reminder to recipients and makes your boundaries more memorable with every email.
Ways in which you can set boundaries using your email signature
You can use your email signature to communicate boundaries including working hours, upcoming vacation, expected email response times and more..
It is also important that your boundary setting message displays correctly on all devices, which you can ensure by following our guide to making your email signature mobile-friendly.
Here are examples of some of the types of boundary details that can be added to email signatures.
Working hours in your email signature
Whether you work full-time, part-time or flexibly, if you want to protect your time and keep recipients informed, an email signature with working hours included is essential.
Full-time Work Email Signature
Based on a traditional working week, an email signature working hours example could simply include:
My working hours are 9am – 5.30pm, Monday -Friday
These might be the hours that many recipients assume you work anyway but including them in your email signature still serves to emphasise your work boundaries.
Part-time Work Signature
Having an email signature with working hours can be even more important if you work part-time, making recipients aware of the best days to reach out and when to expect a reply. A part-time working days email signature example could include the message:
Thank you for your email. My work days are Monday – Wednesday. For anything urgent outside of these days please contact <manager’s contact details>. Otherwise, I will reply as soon as possible when I am back in the office.
Hybrid Work Email Signature
If you are a hybrid worker, working part-time in the office and part-time at home, you don’t need to state this on your email signature, unless your working hours are different at the different locations. However, in some instances it might be useful for hybrid working employees to include office hours in their email signature, such as:
I work in the office and remotely. I am always in the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 9am – 5.30pm
A professional email signature with working hours is a simple way to set boundaries, without overly emphasising response times or other details.
Upcoming out of office and holiday (vacation) time in your email signature
You can also use your email signature for work to highlight upcoming times when you won’t be at work. To avoid your upcoming vacation, paid time off (PTO) or simply out-of office-time coming as a surprise to your clients and co-workers, you can keep them in the loop with a line in your work email signature. This way they can make sure they have what they need from you before you go and they won’t disturb you while you’re away.
Upcoming Vacation Email Signature
An upcoming vacation in email signature example could include:
Upcoming Vacation: I will be on vacation between <date> and <date> and will not be responding to emails during this time.
When’s the best time to add a vacation alert in an email signature? Perhaps 2 weeks in advance and make it clear what your out-of-office dates will be so others can plan ahead.
Upcoming Paid Time Off (PTO) Email Signature
In this instance, you could include a message for any upcoming PTO in your signature such as:
Upcoming Leave: I will be on leave between <date> and <date> and will not be responding to emails over this period. Please contact <manager’s contact details> if you require urgent assistance.
Out of Office Email Signature
Whilst your signature can be applied to an automated out-of-office email, it can also be useful to add an out of office signature message to notify recipients of a time when you will be away from the office (without giving a specific reason). An upcoming OOO in an email signature could say:
Upcoming Out-of-Office: I will be out of the office between <date/time> and <date/time> and will not be responding to emails over this period but will reply on my return. Please contact <manager’s contact details> if you require an urgent response.
Other ways to set boundaries with your email signature
Time Zones Email Signature
If you work internationally, are you always receiving emails from co-workers and customers across the globe who expect an immediate response even though it’s the middle of the night for you? If so, it can be worth emphasising your time zone in your email signature. This should remind them to take account of the time difference and help manage their response expectations. For example:
My core working hours are 9am – 5.30pm GMT
Also, if you are sending emails to clients or co-workers abroad, a line in your signature can make your response expectations clear:
<Company name> works across a number of timezones. If you receive an email from me outside of your normal business hours please don’t feel obliged to reply outside of your working hours.
Working Remotely Email Signature
Remote working – whether at home or otherwise – can enable you to work around other commitments and this flexibility increases the chance of you sending business emails before or after ‘normal’ working hours. Therefore a working remotely email signature example might include:
As I now work remotely, you may receive emails from me outside of normal working hours. Please don’t feel any pressure to reply outside of your own work hours.
Working from Home Email Signature
Whether permanent or temporary, working from home makes it easier to work around domestic and childcare responsibilities and, in some circumstances, explain why you don’t have access to certain office facilities. Similar to remote working, a working from home email signature could say:
I am currently working from home so you may receive emails from me outside of normal working hours. Please don’t feel obliged to reply outside of your working hours.
Flexible Working Email Signature
With an increase in flexible working, it is more important than ever to make your working patterns and response time expectations clear to co-workers and clients. This can apply to both employed and freelance workers who, by being early birds or night owls, may be sending emails before or after normal working hours. To take the pressure off recipients, flexible working email signature examples might include phrases such as….
- I work flexible hours so I’m sending this email now as it is a time that works for me. Feel free to read, action or reply at a time that works for you.
- I work flexibly and may send emails outside normal working hours. I do not expect an immediate response.
- I choose to work flexibly and often send emails outside normal office hours. I do not expect you to reply to my emails outside of your normal hours.
Another flexible working email signature example could be:
My workday may look different from your workday. Please do not feel obligated to respond outside of your normal working hours.
Response Expectations Email Signature
Simplest of all, you can use your email signature to show your respect for other people’s work boundaries by including a line such as:
I don’t expect you to reply to my email outside your work hours
You can also use your signature to remind recipients of your own response time, for example by including:
I typically reply to emails within <timeframe>. If you need an answer faster than that please let me know.
What to include in your boundary setting email signature
A boundary setting email signature simply features a boundary message – either in the main signature or disclaimer – in addition to all the other information and branding that your email signature for work contains, namely:
- Your name (including your preferred pronouns and name pronunciation details)
- Your job title
- Your business brand logo
- Your office address and telephone number
- Your mobile telephone number
- Your email address
- Your business website link
- Your business awards and accreditations
- Your social media profile links and icons
- A promotional marketing banner with interactive call-to-action(s)
- An email disclaimer
- Your boundary-setting message.
Other ways you can set boundaries using work emails
Whilst work email signatures are an easy and effective way to communicate boundaries, here are some other tips and techniques to help set boundaries around email.
Use automated ‘out-of-office’ style email messages
Make it crystal clear in your vacation or PTO out-of-office message that you won’t be checking your inbox while you are away and will only be responding to emails when you return, and who to contact instead if the matter is genuinely urgent.
You can also use an automated out-of-office type reply when you simply want to concentrate on a current project. For example:
Thank you for your email. I am up against a deadline on another project but will get back to you within 24 hours.
Allocate email time
Break the habit of continual inbox checking by dedicating a limited number of sessions each day to reading, writing and sending email – say, two in the morning and two in the afternoon.. Perhaps get an hour or two of your most urgent work done before your first inbox check and then you can triage your messages and respond to any urgent ones. You could even communicate this with a message in your email signature such as:
I check my email twice a day between 10-11am ET and between 3-4pm ET
Triage your email
Simply make sure that you prioritise emails that are genuinely important for your current projects. You should be able to do this easily during your inbox checking sessions without complicating the process with multiple inboxes.
Stop sending emails out of hours
How can you communicate boundaries effectively if you break your own! Simply stop sending emails outside of your set boundary times. Of course you can check your inbox and draft messages at any time (even automate a send schedule) but stick to sending and replying to emails during your working hours.
Write better emails
Writing and sending emails that are ambiguous or unclear will only lead to you receiving more emails requesting clarification and requiring your attention. How do you write better emails? Start with a subject line that makes it clear what the email is about. Avoid using any ambiguous, unnecessarily complex language or jargon. Make it completely clear what action you require the recipient to take having read your email and if/when you require a response. See our guide for plenty of tips on how to write a professional email.
Don’t use email for every message
Simply use another, more appropriate channel. Because, whilst certain messages work best on email, many can be done better through chat and video conferencing apps such as Slack, Teams and Zoom. So if your message is short and simple ask yourself if it really needs to be sent via email.
Turn off notifications
The last thing you need is to be alerted every time an email arrives in your inbox. Notifications are the enemy of boundaries so turn them off – don’t feel the pressure to check with every ping on your phone.
Close your inbox
It’s that simple. Simply having your inbox always open is a permanent distraction. So unless you’re actively using it during one of your set email sessions, simply keep your inbox tab closed and put your phone away when you need to concentrate.
Use email templates
Do you receive lots of emails effectively asking for the same thing? To help you deal with these common requests quickly – and set expectations at the same time – you can create a set of standard response email templates. For example, you could create templates for routine recruitment and media enquiries.
Consider the real cost of email
The cost of checking your inbox is far from free. You need to be mindful of the time it takes, the distraction it creates and the stress it can cause. It interrupts your train of thought and stops the progress of your project so there is a real cost associated with every time you check your inbox and every email you open.
Some of these suggestions might seem very simplistic but they can be very effective in helping you to set email boundaries.
Use email signatures to set boundaries across your business
Want to create a company culture that respects work boundaries? The following tips can help you roll-out boundary-setting signatures across your business.
Set an Example by Setting Boundaries in your Email Signature
Does your company – especially senior management – have a culture of out-of-hours emailing, and expecting immediate responses from staff? If you are in a position of influence take the opportunity to lead by example and diffuse these pressures. By setting boundaries in your work email signature, you can inspire other staff to do the same and help change the ‘always-on’ culture.
Promote boundary setting using internal email signature marketing
With a professional email signature solution like Rocketseed you can add marketing banners to your internal email to promote the setting and respecting of boundaries, making the message clear to both new joiners and established staff. It’s just another way that centrally managing your email signatures becomes a useful HR and internal comms solution. An example of a boundary setting email banner could look like this:
Implementing boundary-setting email signatures company-wide.
Setting boundaries across all company email signatures can be an implementation challenge. There 2 basic options:
- Instruct individual employees to add boundaries in their email signatures
This brings the risk that these instructions will be ignored or implemented incorrectly. Also, it is certain to be time-consuming for your IT team, assisting individuals with their signature updates.
- Centrally add boundaries to all employee signatures
Using professional email signature manager software you can simultaneously add boundary details to all employee email signatures and ensure they are consistently formatted and compliant with company policy.
Use company email signatures to show a boundary-respecting culture.
Use your email signature to reflect your company culture of setting and respecting email boundaries by adding statements such as:
At <company name> we value and respect flexible work arrangements so please respond when you are working.
<Company name> is a flexible employer and, while I have sent this at a time that is convenient for me, I don’t expect you to read, respond or follow up on this email outside your working hours.
Ready to start setting boundaries with your email signatures?
At Rocketseed we know what a big part of life email can be. With our professional email signature manager software you can easily update all staff signatures centrally to communicate boundaries in accordance with your brand guidelines and company policies.