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Background

This morning, an email was sent to one of my folders at 9:32a.m. I didn't get around to checking it until our team standup at around 9:45 which I volunteered to lead the day before. As I was in the middle of checking my email, my boss states to me "Did you ignore the email I sent?" as I was reading it. Not knowing how to respond, I just said "Oh ok.." then hung up the phone and ended the standup meeting.

Issue

I am afraid this will show up on my performance review as " ignores important emails", when it was really just an honest timing mistake. Hence my question.

Question

Given the situation above, would it be reasonable for my manager to state negatively on a performance review that I "ignore emails" or "ignore important emails"?


Edit:

After speaking with my boss, it turned out it was a joke that I took too seriously. To answer your question he hasn't set any expectations for email setting, and it was a situation that I overthought

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    @spickermann and to others as well. After speaking with my boss, it turned out it was a joke that I took too seriously. To answer your question he hasn't set any expectations for email setting, and it was a situation that I overthought. – isakbob Nov 25 '20 at 16:25
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    The timing is a bit confusing. The way I read it you started checking your emails during standup and then (still during standup) got a call from your boss. Did you hang up the phone to get back to the standup, or was the call part of the standup and by hanging up you aborted the standup you had volunteered to lead? – Llewellyn Nov 25 '20 at 18:44
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    @gnat I understand that, but several answers are already focusing on how OP mishandled the situation. (Of course, the answer to my question is probably irrelevant. It's a different way of pointing out why the reaction might have been inappropriate.) – Llewellyn Nov 25 '20 at 19:16
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    How could you possibly respond with "Uh, ok" and then HANG UP THE PHONE? On your BOSS? This reaction seems so bizarre I kinda have to assume I didn't understand it correctly and there has to be more to it than that. – MaxD Nov 26 '20 at 0:59
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    It was a joke. Just delete the question. – Strawberry Nov 26 '20 at 10:24
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Assuming that this is the first (and expectedly last) time this happening, I don't see it as a very big issue. However, the way you handled it is sub-par, and needs fixing.

The wrong was not done when you did not get a chance to read/ respond to the email - people miss emails all the time, universe is not going to end for not reading an email / taking action for ~15 minutes. Think of a scenario when you're on a coffee-break, or a bio-break and away from the system.

The wrong was done when you hung up the phone without properly answering the question. You did not need to make it up - should have just told the truth.

Just ring up your manager as soon as possible, and clear the confusion. Explain that you did not ignore the email, just did not have a chance to read and respond. Then, do that at the earliest and take / plan necessary action(s).

Next time onwards, instead of shying away from the question, just say, you need some more time - that sets proper expectation.

  • "Assuming that this is the first (and expectedly last) time this happening" What do you mean, "expectedly last"? Are you implying that in the future, the OP should always read emails less than 15 minutes after they are sent? That sounds quite unreasonable. What if they need to pee, drink, eat or sleep? If someone expects an answer immediately, why do they send an email rather than making a phone call? – Stef Nov 25 '20 at 23:44
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    @Stef: I get the feeling you did not read the full answer before commenting on the first paragraph. This answer quite clearly explains that the OP did do something wrong, but it wasn't the "not reading within 15 minutes" part (but rather the "not answering a direct question" part). So once OP knows what they did wrong, the expectation is that they don't do the wrong thing again - and thus their one time mistake wouldn't amount to a big issue for them career-wise. – Flater Nov 25 '20 at 23:58
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    Hi @Flater, thank you for your comment. I did read the full answer, contrary to what you may be feeling. Because I read the answer, I felt compelled to comment. The first two sentences state that "this" wasn't "a very big issue" (implying it was an issue) but that "the way [the OP] handled it" was "sub-par". I understand these two sentences as quite clearly meaning that not answering an email within 15 minutes is an issue, albeit not a big one, and the way this issue was handled was subpar and needs fixing; additionally, it is expectedly the last time that this issue happened. – Stef Nov 26 '20 at 0:05
  • Do you normally check your email during meetings you're leading? That seems pretty weird. – Kat Nov 26 '20 at 4:08
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The problem here is not the email which you hadn't yet responded to.

The problem is the "Uh OK" response to the follow-up phone call. Obviously the matter was urgent if you got a follow up call in such a short time. But the "uh ok" response dismisses the urgency of the problem and that can easily make anyone red-hot angry. It seems like it would not have been clear to the boss that you were dropping everything and addressing the concern.

If you had simply explained that you were about to start a meeting and asked if the matter was critical enough to drop the meeting, it probably would have been OK. But now you have an apology and an explanation to give. The performance review is the least of your concerns here if you don't address what happened, with your boss, as soon as possible.

  • Based on OP's comment to the question, it appears the phone call was meant as a joke/humor. I am glad that the OP cleared it up by speaking with the boss.
  • The call wasn't a follow up call, it was a scheduled standup: "I didn't get around to checking it until our team standup at around 9:45 which I volunteered to lead" – DaveG Nov 25 '20 at 18:17
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    @DaveG That's one way to read it, but that makes things even more confusing: OP aborted the team standup (which they volunteered to lead) because the boss asked about an email? Maybe the email was along the lines of "let's skip standup today', but there's no mention that OP even checked the email before ending the call. – Llewellyn Nov 25 '20 at 18:42
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    @Llewellyn it's definitely an odd situation but I think I'm right. It sounds like OP was reading his email during standup. The boss asked him if he ignored the email, and OP says I just said "Oh ok.." then hung up the phone and ended the standup meeting – DaveG Nov 25 '20 at 21:32
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Given the situation above, would it be reasonable for my manager to state negatively on a performance review that I "ignore emails" or "ignore important emails"?

I would say if it only happened once or twice, then no, it would seem unlikely to me that anyone would give it much thought and I wouldn't expect to see it appear on your performance review.

However, it depends on what your job is. Are you specifically expected to check emails every x minutes?

I check emails no more than once every 3 hours because checking every minute, or every time a new email came in would be very distracting to my work.

Responding with "Oh, ok" didn't help. You should have said something more like:

Which email? / No. I haven't seen it yet I was busy preparing for a meeting

It's a bit stange to me that your boss said:

Did you ignore the email I sent?

It's an odd way to word this. I would expect: Did you get my email, or Have you seen my email, not Did you ignore it.

If you're worried about it and your boss sends you emails regularly, then I think you should explain to your boss or manager that you aren't ignoring emails, but you're just busy. Suggest if they have something that needs a faster response to phone you.

I didn't get around to checking it until our team standup... Not knowing how to respond, I just said "Oh ok.." then hung up the phone and ended the standup meeting

My biggest concern here would your performance review saying that you check your email and answer phone calls during a stand up.

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Given the situation above, would it be reasonable for my manager to state negatively on a performance review that I "ignore emails" or "ignore important emails"?

In your specific case where this was a one time incident ( and apparently the manager was joking ) it would not be reasonable. If, however, you begin to start a pattern of ignoring emails, that is something that your manager likely would and should state on your performance review. Just make sure that you do not ignore any emails and you should be fine.

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The real question is "What are the expectations regarding how often you are supposed to read email"?

Different workplaces have different requirements, which means that there are different expectations regarding this. For some jobs, once per day might be enough. Some might expect you to look at your inbox at least once per hour. There are even some positions where it's literally your job to stare at an inbox all day and react to every email immediately.

But you can not fulfill a requirement you do not know exists.

So you might want to insist on a more detailed description of your email habits in your performance review:

  • What is the timeframe in which you are expected to react on emails?
  • How was that requirement communicated by your superiors?
  • In what timeframe did you actually react in this email?

Example:

According to employee handbook chapter 56 subsection XVI (B), isakbob is required to react to emails within 10 minutes, but on one occasion he was not aware of an email which arrived 13 minutes ago.

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