How to Limit After-Hours Conversations With Co-Workers and Clients
PR professionals have long faced expectations of being available at all times of the day and night. And in recent months, certain factors have further blurred the lines separating work time from personal time. These include working from home, an increased need for crisis communications and, in some cases, shrinking staffs.
Emergencies do happen. A damaging review has to be addressed on social media. A news crisis needs attention. Time-sensitive information must be released to key stakeholders. These can be legitimate reasons to jump into work no matter the day or time.
But how often are we corresponding with clients and co-workers after-hours on non-emergency topics?
For example, are you answering non-urgent client emails right before getting into bed? How about calling co-workers to discuss projects while scarfing down food instead of taking a real lunch break? Are you texting your boss on the weekends while out with your friends or family?
Allowing these kinds of unnecessary distractions into your life prevents you from fully enjoying activities outside work. It also prevents your body and mind from taking a much-needed break. Studies show that working over 40 hours a week can contribute to various physical and mental health issues, as well as a decrease in work productivity.
This means that, as PR professionals, we need to be our own advocates. We need to know when to stop working, and how to protect our personal time. One way to do this without negatively impacting our ability to do our jobs is to relegate non-emergency work interactions to work hours only. This may sound difficult — we are communicators, after all. But it can be done.
Here are a few suggestions for how to limit after-hours conversations with clients and co-workers:
1. Clarify expectations at the start.
In the job interview or meeting with a prospective client, clarify how accessible you will need to be during your personal time. For some positions and accounts, it may be very obvious that you’ll need to be available after hours, like if you’re managing social media or crisis communications.
However, if it seems reasonable that — other than reacting to true emergencies — you can successfully fulfill your role during normal work hours, it’s worth setting those expectations upfront. A good question to ask the prospective employer or client to gauge their expectations might be: “How available would the right candidate need to be after hours?
For example, are you looking for someone who’s able to read and answer emails and texts on nights and weekends?”
2. Keep your communications to working hours.
If you don’t want to be answering calls, texts and emails after hours, don’t initiate them. When you send a client, boss or colleague an email on the weekends, it signals to them that you work on the weekends. This risks opening the floodgates for them to contact you at all hours.
However, what if you really want to send an email at 9 p.m. just to get it off your mind? Go ahead and write it. Then use a tool like Outlook’s or Google’s email scheduling to have the email sent the next business day.
3. Set automatic out-of-office email responses.
Automated out-of-office email responses are a great way to put boundaries around personal time while also managing expectations. Most people set them before an extended time away from the office, like a vacation or maternity leave. But here are some other ways PR pros can use them:
• Gone for the day or part of the day: If you’re taking personal time off for even a few hours during a workday, consider turning on your out-of-office response. If you can refer the sender to a colleague while you’re out, include his or her contact information in the message. Or, the message can simply say you are away and will respond to the email as soon as you return to the office. Include your anticipated return time and/or date.
• On the weekends: Consider setting an out-of-office email response on Friday before leaving work that ends on Monday morning. The email can say something like, “I’m currently enjoying the weekend with my family and friends. If you need immediate assistance on an urgent matter, please call me. Otherwise, I look forward to replying Monday.”
4. Address it head-on.
Even if we’ve set expectations and are following the rules ourselves, sometimes clients and co-workers will still unnecessarily blow up our phones after hours. When that becomes a habit, you may need to address the offender head-on.
The best way to approach this will depend entirely on the person and situation. It could be an easy, casual conversation or it could be a more difficult conversation. But, this other person is not likely to change his or her behavior until they know that it’s an issue for you. Take the bull by the horns and address it in a respectful manner.
The thought of implementing these suggestions may make some a little antsy. After all, we’re in the communications field, where things can move at the speed of light, 24/7. We’re also in a service field, where responsiveness is highly valued.
To be clear: I’m not suggesting we make ourselves completely unavailable or ignore our bosses and clients. All of the above recommendations give the other party options to get in touch for real emergencies.
And by setting expectations about when you’re available to talk about work, the other person has an idea of when you’ll be getting back to them. Just make sure to follow through. This builds trust, and in turn helps “train” others to work with you during normal work hours.