What Are Your Rules for Engaging Your Employees After Hours?

On January 1, 2017, it became ‘legal’ for French workers to ignore online communications from their employer when those communications were sent during non-work hours. Meaning if your normal work day was 9 am to 6 pm, any communication sent outside of those times can legally be ignored and the employer has no recourse:

With the implementation of this law, the country aims to tackle the problem of the so-called ‘always-on’ work culture by giving employees the ‘right to disconnect.’

While the new law stipulates that employers sort out viable ways to avoid the intrusion of work matters into the private lives of employees, for now the ‘right to disconnect’ foresees no penalties for companies that fail to reach such agreement with workers.

In such cases, employers will be required to “publish a charter that would make explicit the demands on, and rights of, employees out-of-hours,”

While this is currently only the law in France, we know eventually we’ll see this type of legislation begin to creep into many other countries as well. Currently, most American companies have more of an ‘always on’ concept of work communication response culture. Meaning, if I send you a note, whenever I send you a note, I expect a reply when you see it.

Of course, there are organizations and leaders who have taken the opposite stance on this, but those are really few and far between. Those organizations understand the importance of balance between work and your personal life. The problem comes into play as we give our employees more and more flexibility in their work schedule, we also expect more flexibility in how we communicate with them as employers.

That’s the one issue I see with the French law. The French are still working under a very traditional style of work. You go to an office. You do work. You go home. In America, and many other countries, that type of work culture is no longer the norm. So much flexibility has been added into employees working schedule that traditional communication rules of when and how become very difficult to manage, and quite frankly even employees wouldn’t want those rule.

So, should you have after-hours work communication rules? If so, what should those rules be? Here are mine:

1. Salaried employees, with flexibility in their schedule, in leadership roles, need to be available 24/7/365. You might disagree with this, but at a certain level in organizations, you are always available. The one caveat to this is when you have something personal, or an emergency issue, and have set up a communication plan where another leader is covering for you and taking on your responsibility.

2.  Sales pros and leaders must respond to clients in an expected manner when there is a client issue. “Expected” then becomes a negotiated stance with your clients. So, if your clients expects an immediate reply, you should reply immediately. If you’ve negotiated twenty-four hours, then you reply within twenty-four hours. The point being, negotiate communication expectations up front, not when there’s a problem for the first time!

3. Employees are expected to communicate to their leaders about a known issue that could have a drastic impact the organization immediately. After-hours, during work hours, anytime. Salaried, hourly, temporary, etc. If there’s a problem, let someone know. I don’t hold you responsible for taking care of it, but I do hold you responsible for letting someone know.

4. Don’t be a hero. If you’re at your daughter’s school play, don’t leave to answer a phone call just because you see it’s a work number. Let it go to voicemail and return the call, if needed, after the play is done. Don’t return an email message immediately on Saturday night of something that can easily wait until Monday morning. Just because someone else decided to work on Saturday evening doesn’t mean you are expected to work Saturday evening. It might just be that time worked well for them.

5. Don’t expect others to have your bad habits. Just because you love responding to email at 3 am does not mean others will love doing the same thing, and you believing they should makes you look like a terrorist.

What are your after-hours work communication rules?

3 thoughts on “What Are Your Rules for Engaging Your Employees After Hours?

  1. Well, that’s my point. Make some rules. As a matter of fact, my opinion is exactly this – “Make explicit rules, but do not have such outrageous expectations from your employees”

    Recommend: Read closing argument.

    The underlying issue is in the following statement – “when you have everyone follow them”

    Do I get a choice whether I wish to follow that rule or not? Shouldn’t the organization let the employee know about these “rules” before hiring itself? Because from an employee perspective it is an important factor to consider when (s)he makes the decision. Whatever happened to transparency, right?

    In my opinion, hiding is also deceptive lying. Organizations shouldn’t expect the employee to be accepting of these self-made, undisclosed, rules which exist only in the management’s head; and just naturally expect them to be a “culture fit” and be available all the time.

    I, as an employee, will be bound to follow these rules. Because paycheck, survival, career, responsibilities!

    All I am saying is – “Make these rules explicit, and give people the choice whether they want to be a part of the company that follows such rules (if you can’t give them an option of choosing whether to follow them or not)

  2. The post sums up the work-life integration issue. Something which is so deeply entrenched in the system, there is no getting out of it. While the author has underlined a few of employer expectations, I feel these expectations are outrageous. In this comment, I share an employee’s perspective on it (and I have read between the lines):

    1. Always be there
    The employer can’t expect me to be present all the time (24/7/365) in lieu of some “flexible” benefits. If you as a company are really flexible, then ask employees what they want instead of giving them some “flexible benefits” and expecting them to be there 24x7x365. Are all employees ready to trade all of their time for those benefits? If they say no, then don’t expect them to be available all the time.

    2. Set up a communication plan
    When you are not available to work after work-hours, you are expected to set up a communication plan (always). Am I supposed to tell my colleague that I am going to watch a movie, and you just take care of work in my absence? But what if (s)he is going to watch a movie too?
    Note: Movie is a metaphor for any personal situation.

    Imagine this. My next of kin passes away, and I am expected to be setting up a communication plan in my absence. And imagine how long it will take me to set the context for all the projects to that successor (considering how many projects one is a part of in these days of collaboration). But I have to do it because it is expected of me.

    3. Communicate about something urgent immediately
    The natural expectation is for me to inform the stakeholders immediately about something of grave concern to the organization. Again, all the time. And this is where the real problem lies – the fine margins between what has a drastic impact to business and what doesn’t.

    Multiple arguments here. Let’s assess all of them with a common situation.
    Situation: Assume that this blog was, let’s say, a media company’s website, and I am a part of the moderator team.

    Argument 1: Doesn’t everything potentially can have a “drastic impact” on the business? Isn’t it too subjective to interpret?
    I see this post at 11 at night, am I supposed to inform my team about this? I might think it can wait till the morning, but what if my boss tells me in the morning that this is a critical issue which needed immediate attention. Because one might argue that if a reader sees this, then it can damage the company’s brand image as people might feel that the author is not competent enough to respond and his argument is shallow.

    Argument 2: Do people have the maturity to distinguish between what’s urgent and what can wait?
    I am too young in the organization, will I be aware of how we treat these comments? What do I even do in this situation? Wait or not?

    Argument 3: What if I decide to wait and I pay the consequences?
    So I decide it can wait, when it really couldn’t. And I have to face the music and go in the bad books of the boss.

    Argument 4: Are people aware of instances that may have a drastic impact to business 24×7?
    I somehow miss witnessing the comment on Thursday night. Friday I am on leave and do not have internet access. I eventually see this on Monday, but the boss says that this comment was posted 4 days ago and I didn’t do anything about it. Am I supposed to be doing my job then all the time? Even during vacation when I didn’t have any internet access?

    Argument 5: If it is drastic, does it need solving now?
    Somebody else found it floating on th website. Emailed me. I didn’t respond. Then called me at midnight to solve it? Am I supposed to solve it then?

    4. Be a hero
    The real expectation is to be a hero. So even after finishing watching the daughter’s play, I am expected to call back. And even if I can’t respond, I will have to drop a text saying “I am watching my daughter’s play I will speak to you later”. So I am neither here, nor there. A reply comes and suddenly you don’t even realize you are in the middle of a conversation, even if you don’t want to be. I am always thinking whether I can ignore the message or not, about consequences, about the thin line. The expectation is to respond (even after the play) when I could be taking my daughter for an ice cream or go for a family dinner.
    The employer expects the employee to call back after the play is done. But shouldn’t that time be utilized to be with the daughter and spend some quality time together? Maybe take her for an ice cream and celebrate?

    5. Being available is a good habit
    The employer expects you to be available 24/7/365 for everything important, and considering there is a very thin line between what is important and what is not (like I mentioned, everything is important), then it is actually a good habit to be available all the time, because isn’t that what gets your name written in the good books?

    The issue of work-life integration is actually a serious one. I understand that employers give employees the freedom to do their personal work during office hours, take longer breaks, work from home, use social media and engage in random activities on the internet during work hours, and so on. In return though, the expectation is much more. There are some people, who would not want such benefits and in return – would like to be unavailable after work-hours (I understand there are exceptions here and there which they would be more than happy to comply with, but in the current system, the expectation from an employee is so much more). The balance is just not right.

    Some things I think should happen:
    1. Ask employees what style of work do they want – A flexible work environment or A straight-forward ‘come at 9 leave at 6’ environment

    2. Make rules for both the styles. You cannot have the same rules for the same and let employees choose.

    (Do not make the rules for a straight forward environment regressive though to coerce people to choose a ‘flexible’ environment)

    That may be one way to begin – it may not be perfect, but it is a start, and definitely better than just expecting employees to be there all the time.

    Thanks for your patient reading.

    Vikas Arora

    • Vikas,

      My favorite comments are the ones that are four times longer than the original post!

      I hear what you’re saying above, but the reality is sometimes you just need to make some rules and have everyone follow them. Otherwise, you end up with chaos. I know millennials don’t like that, but when you get a chance to manage a large number of people, I think your opinion on this subject will evolve.


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