Waiting to hear back from someone you’ve reached out to, perhaps several times, can be frustrating, especially if you feel like you can’t move forward with planning or even just feel a sense of closure until you receive a response. While the waiting game will remain a reality in numerous life contexts, preparing for this scenario with a proactive approach and positive mindset goes a long way.
Something I have observed is that “a long time” means different things to different people in different contexts. For instance, I have heard on a Tuesday morning that a recruiter hasn’t responded yet and was contacted “a while ago” and learned that this length of time was referring to a message sent Friday afternoon. In my own experience, I have also seen a follow-up email in my in inbox sent on a Thursday at lunchtime asking if I had seen the previous email sent at 9pm the night before. From the perspective of the sender, I was taking “a long time” to reply when they sent follow-up the next morning, especially since the information they wanted was time sensitive.
Though every industry and line of business has its own culture, which is even more distinct by each company and each department and each office space, the general expectation for response time to an email or phone call tends to be longer than new/emerging professionals expect. Many professionals spend a great deal of time on the job having scheduled conversations, conducting presentations, or running events with high volumes of emails and voicemails accumulating in the background and minimal time to review and respond to the load, especially since oftentimes the receiver needs to spend some time looking into something further before being able to provide a response to any given message. Other factors that contribute to a response time that is longer than desired is the recipient taking vacation time, traveling for business and conferences, unexpected sick or family time, and other variables. Though some employees can pull up their emails and voicemails on their phone, this does not always suggest that an immediate response is realistic, especially when trying to set boundaries and manage self-care during demanding times of the year.
One of the ways to avoid the discomfort of waiting and hoping for a quick response is to think further ahead than what is believed to be necessary and allow plenty of time to receive a response for something, especially if it is time sensitive. More often than not, more time is needed to allow for a response than anticipated. This is one example of why it is essential to put everything on a calendar and have a reminder system for yourself since time always seems to sneak up on us and get away!
Though there is no one-size-fits-all time frame for expecting a response to an email or phone call (which, by the way, please leave the recipient a voicemail instead of calling multiple times), the following tend to be an accurate starting point:
- Two business days (that is, days when one’s business is in operation) is typically the minimum amount of time one should allot to receiving a response to relatively straightforward questions that require minimal information or investigation. For example, two business days from Monday afternoon is Wednesday afternoon; two business days from Friday morning is Tuesday. Business days do not include weekdays that are holidays for the recipient’s employer.
- One week is typically the minimum amount of time one should allot to receive a response to something more complex that requires the recipient to write a thoughtful response, gather information, and/or review something that is a shorter document.
- Two weeks is typically the minimum amount of time one should allot to receive a completed task from someone such as a letter, survey, a review of something, or other request that prompts a mini project.
One way to potentially decrease the amount of time it takes to receive a response is to provide as much information as possible so that the recipient doesn’t have to take the time to look up the information needed to assist you or ask you follow up questions, which then takes more time.
What happens if there was nothing that could have been done to be more proactive and a response is desired or needed as soon as possible? Peace is usually preferred over angst, therefore a positive outlook and confidence in being able to manage the situation regardless of what happens with the response can help achieve the former since it is out of your control.
Additionally, many questions can be answered using available resources that are designed to address your very questions (beyond just an FAQ page). Sometimes it is believed that the quickest way to get an answer is to ask, however with so much information available online and other communication materials, often the information desired can be obtained more quickly this way.
While many may text, Snap, and instant message back within minutes, the transition to the workplace tends to go more smoothly when the expectation is that hearing back is going to take “a while” and tackling projects as proactively as possible.