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my boss calls me on the weekends

Welcome back to our “Managing your Boss” series, where we tackle common workplace dilemmas. In this third installment, we’re diving into the issue of receiving texts or calls from your boss outside of regular work hours. In this 3 minute video, Nahid sets the stage with an overview of how to get clear on expectations and set appropriate boundaries, and after the video we’ll dive in with a step-by-step process you can use to apply this to your specific situation.

The Challenge: The 24/7 Workweek

Many of us cherish our evenings and weekends as a time to unwind, recharge, and spend quality time with loved ones. However, with today’s technology tools, remote offices and global organizations, “work” doesn’t ever stop.   The ability to work from anywhere at any time can be a great benefit, offering the flexibility you need to fit in family and personal obligations on weekdays when needed, and take advantage of quiet blocks of time later in the evening or on weekends to concentrate on work projects uninterrupted.   But when everyone on the team has this flexibility, you’ll naturally start getting messages at all hours; working together always involves communicating with each other.  Even when an organization has set work hours, most leaders do their deepest thinking, problem solving and strategizing when it gets quiet, and if they rely on you for information they may reach out.  Because it’s the boss, you may feel obligated to respond immediately, or you may want to be extra careful about your wording.  The extra energy required to interact at this level can be draining, especially when you are trying to disconnect, and it can lead to feelings of resentment or burnout.

Clarify Expectations

It’s important to understand what the “communication” expectations are within your organization.  Every culture is different.  Some organizations are committed to protecting time off for everyone and support this commitment through their communication policies.   Other organizations have an unspoken rule that everyone respond to each other right away, and even use that “real time” responsiveness as a performance metric.    It’s important not to make assumptions based on your own anxiety though.  Just because communication is happening around the clock, doesn’t automatically mean that if you aren’t on 24/7 you’ll be judged.  Ask questions about expectations from your boss and teammates and get a sense of what the norm is in your culture.  Then, once you are clear on what is expected, make sure you are clear on your own needs, so you have the parameters you need to find a creative win-win solution.

Communication Boundaries that Work

There are two keys to effective boundary setting at work:  clarity and consistency.   If people don’t know when you are and are not available, they won’t know when to reach out to you and will be more likely to do it at all hours.   If you clearly communicate your availability, most people will try to reach you within your parameters.   Instead of telling people when you are not available, the best practice is to share when you are available, and communicate this through posts, voicemail greetings, and auto-responders.   You can even do this in your email signature.  

Here is an example.  Let’s say you have decided that you are willing to check your messages and respond to them once every evening after story-time with your kids, and every workday around lunchtime.   You might have a message in your email or message signature and in your voice mail greeting that says, “I generally respond to messages once each workday, and once in the evening.  If you need an immediate response, please mark your message “urgent” and I will reply as soon as I can.   

This provides clear direction to people, and they will normally set their expectations based on that direction.  But it only works if you consistently abide by your own rules.   If you respond to people more frequently than you say you will, while it might initially be a happy surprise, and it might also change the expectation moving forward.  In the example above, for your boundaries to work, you would only respond to messages at let’s say 1pm and 8pm.  Consistency like this pays off, and you’ll end up finding that over time, people only reach out to you during those time frames.

If this sounds overly structured to you, it’s perfectly fine to set a different type of communication guideline, such as “I always do my best to respond to messages within 24 hours on weekdays.”  This still gives you leeway to wait until a time that is convenient for you each day to check and respond to messages, even if they are from your boss.

The more you clarify expectations for how “regular” communication and “urgent” communication will be handled, and the more you stick to whatever your agreements are, the more space and freedom you can expect to see in your schedule. 

Managing Your Boss Tip Booklet

As you navigate the intricacies of your communication protocols, know that you’re not alone. The 24/7 workweek affects everyone, and everyone faces the challenge of maintaining a good relationship with their boss.  Stay tuned for more insightful tips and strategies in our “Managing your Boss” series, and don’t forget to check out our Managing your Boss Tip Booklet for additional guidance on navigating these situations.

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