At 10:13 PM last night, I sent Atlantic assistant editor Joe Pinsker an email to say I was writing an article about all the after-work time we spend on email.
Before the clock struck 10:14, Joe had replied: "Sounds good."
Without having any idea that I would share his correspondence, Joe anticipated that I needed an anecdotal lede, and he kindly provided it. For a certain class of workers, late evening isn't time off work. It's time on email, time to show your addressees the true meaning of workaholic, and time to return to a job from which you can never truly sign out.
The specter of endless email doesn't haunt all workers equally. The most common jobs in America, like cashiers, retail salespeople, and food and service workers, don't need to be email-intensive. They often work within a stable flow of customers and do routine-heavy work for clients whose needs don't change dramatically from day to day.
But in other white-collar industries—law, consulting, advertising, fashion, media, non-profits, fundraising, politics—individual workers are constantly working with new clients and partners, whose needs require constant contacting, pinging, base-touching, out-reaching, and so on. Email isn't just for your cross-country clients; it's just as likely to be for your cross-desk colleagues. The upshot is a ceaseless flow of correspondences that often bleeds over into dusk. Email consumes an average of 13 hours per week, according to a McKinsey Global Institute paper, or 28 percent of the average workweek. With the typical "knowledge" worker—that is: somebody whose professional output is creative—earning $75,000 a year, that means "the time spent on reading and answering email costs a company $20,990 per worker per year." (No wonder there are all these people trying to reform it.)