My manager has no life outside of work and is constantly sending texts and emails, and is phoning outside of work hours. How do I deal with this? J.S., Philadelphia, PA
I understand your frustration and would first caution you about judging your manager’s behavior and assuming that s/he “has no life.” Whether or not it’s true, it’s not your business. Judging takes your energy and provides no upside. Your judgment is also apparent to others—and most likely also felt by your manager—whether you’ve actually said anything directly or not. Any way you look at it, you lose.
If you’ve been responding to these messages outside of work hours, you’re going to have to retrain your manager and manage his/her expectations along the way. Start by deciding what is acceptable to you. Let’s say you decide that 7pm is the end of your work day. You’ll need to be disciplined about not responding to anyone in the workplace after 7pm, even if you think “it will only take a minute.” Go ahead and read messages if you must but do not respond until the next day.
Be prepared for push back. If you are asked why you did not respond immediately, say something like “I turn off after 7 unless there’s a specific project that needs attention after hours.” Don’t over explain. You don’t owe anyone a rationale for why you are not working 24/7.
You must use your judgment with this strategy, particularly at the beginning. If you see a message and it truly is urgent, call the person (avoid email—it documents and perpetuates the behavior you’re trying to change), acknowledge that you understand they have an urgent need and confirm that this is true. If it’s not, then tell them you’ll get back to them first thing in the morning. If it is urgent, respond.
If your manager has overtly requested 24/7 availability, you’ll need to have a direct conversation. Start by reiterating your commitment to your work. Mention that you are concerned that your thinking may be getting stale given your “always on” mentality. Since research shows quite clearly that giving your brain a thinking break makes you much more effective and efficient, you’re going to switch up how you’re working outside of office hours. You’ll be available for urgent matters but other than that you’re going to focus your problem solving during work hours to see how it affects your deliverables. If there’s push back, stay firm and say you want to experiment with this approach. Tell him/her you’ll check in at week 2 to see how it’s working. Keep track of how your thinking has changed during those weeks and be sure to share your “wins” at your meeting.
Moving forward, you must be consistent in your behavior. You can’t respond to some people (your friends, for instance) and not others at your job. We all train others how to treat us and consistency helps them understand how to best interact with us.