I started a new job six months ago and my boss expects me to answer texts and calls at all hours of the day. I went along with it at first because I was new and wanted to show that I was eager and the right person for the job. But she has become really demanding after hours and gets upset when I don’t pick up or text back right away. I feel like I can’t ever unplug. Being “on-call” like this wasn’t included in the job description. What should I do?
THE FIRST ANSWER
Julie Labrie, president, BlueSky Personnel Solutions, Toronto
You should definitely have a discussion with your boss. First, collect verifiable evidence (e.g. e-mails or text examples) of instances when you’ve been expected to be on-call after hours, and note the frequency of such requests. This will allow you to better communicate with facts instead of tackling perception.
Use your employment agreement and job description as the foundation of your conversation. What working hours were outlined for your position? Confirm how the employment agreement and job description don’t stipulate that this role requires continuing availability after hours. Then reconfirm with your boss the working hours that you are expected to fulfill each day. Come to an agreement that beyond that, if something urgent arises, you will make yourself available.
To make your discussion as productive as possible, be intentional in your approach. A win-win for both of you would be to gain a clearer mutual understanding and establish some reasonable expectations of healthy boundaries. Share your objectives with your manager, while reiterating your commitment to the success of your role. We all need time to unplug from our jobs to recharge. That’s how we bring our best selves to work each day.
Unfortunately, some employers do take advantage of their employees, expecting them to always be on-call. Ultimately, if the dynamic with your boss doesn’t change, you may need to consider whether this job is right for you, or whether you should look for a different opportunity.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Yvonne Ruke Akpoveta, change management strategist and adviser, OliveBlue, Toronto
What’s the team or organizational culture? Are others also expected to be “on-call”, or is this individual to you?
If it’s part of the company culture that everyone is expected to be “on-call”, your options may be limited. Although it may not be part of the job description, “culture” constitutes unspoken rules and norms. Here you have the option of reassessing if and to what extent you want to align with the culture or find another role that aligns more with your values and expectations. Alternatively, you could have a conversation with your boss to set some new boundaries which they may be open to or not.
If being “on-call” is not part of the company culture, I recommend setting boundaries and having open communication with your boss. The early stage of starting a new job is an ideal time to set boundaries. Now that a pattern has been established, an informal agreement has been made that will need to be addressed.
To move forward, the first step is to set your own boundaries. Are you willing to take texts and calls outside office hours? If so, what are your time limits? Once you establish your own boundaries, the next step is to have a formal conversation with your boss to “negotiate”. Schedule an in-person or video conference, share what limitations you have to being “on-call” and offer some flexibility based on the boundaries you’ve set.
To prepare, speak with other team members and/or HR to help you determine how best to approach the discussion with your boss. Speak to colleagues you trust to help you understand your boss’s leadership style and how she could potentially respond. Share with them what your challenge is, and they may have some experience and insights to help guide the discussion with your boss. Having a discussion with HR could also help you understand the organization’s culture and can help guide your discussion as well.
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