I work in PR and my boss keeps emailing me on the weekends and in the evenings, and it’s really messing with my mental health. I’ve tried turning off email notifications but I can tell she’s frustrated/off with me in the office the next day. Is there anything I can do about this? How can I make it clear that I’m committed to my job, but not above every other aspect of my life?
Ah yes. As if the habit of keeping our offices – sorry, smart phones – in our pockets and bedside tables hadn’t done enough to erode our collective work-life balance, two years of lockdown’s comprehensive disruption and nail-biting precarity has undoubtedly sealed the deal.
In 2021, the ONS found that employees working from home did almost twice as much overtime as their office-based peers; even as we dribble back into our workplaces, the hangover of home-working is hard to shake. The genie is out of the box, it’s too late to go back now, we’re living in a capitalist dystopia where work stretches a full 24 hours and seeps into every corner of our lives. Whoops! Ping. Can you send that pdf? Ping. Can you talk? Ping. Did you get a chance to talk to Sarah? Ping. Ping. Ping.
So, what to do? Unless you run away to join the circus (tempting) or go totally off grid in an eccentric survivalist kind of way (less tempting, but needs must), there’s theoretically no end to when or how your career can interfere with the rest of your time. A grim prognosis, sure – but it’s worth remembering that if there are no natural limits, it’s down to you to set some. And you’d better set them fast, or they’ll do you in.
Arguably, this is the fun bit: will you be a strictly 9-to-5-er a la Dolly Parton, or more of a check-your-inbox-once-per-evening kind of gal? Maybe you’re dying for a blanket ban on emails, but can cope with the idea of urgent text messages if needs be? The specifics don’t matter so much as the psychological fact of there being boundaries and sticking to them. As they (bafflingly) say, there are lots of ways to skin a cat – in some countries, though, cat skinning comes easier than others.
While much of the world tends to agree on the broad strokes picture of where work ought to begin and end, the specifics are as likely to be cultural as personal – and you’ll be surprised to hear that the UK is topping the leaderboard on more front than one. Not only do we work some of the longest hours in Europe – our workers are among the continent’s least efficient. That’s right! Somehow, both are true! So what’s wrong with us? What are we doing with all those hours on the clock, and nothing to show for them?
Well, while it might sound counterintuitive, working for longer doesn’t mean working better. Quite the opposite – as you’ve discovered, the pressure of being constantly ‘on’ can have a negative impact on productivity as well as health and happiness. Meanwhile, feeling relaxed and secure leaves room for creative thinking and deep concentration. Happy workers are better workers; hey, maybe we don’t have to grind people to dust just to hit quarterly targets after all!
Controversial I know, but you don’t have to take my word for it – did you know that in some countries, your right to tap out is upheld by law? In France and Portugal (among others), it’s actually illegal for bosses to contact employees outside working hours. So while it can feel daunting to speak up, it’s so important that you do; and while there might be friction initially, your boss will thank you later when you’re still firing on all cylinders rather than totally burnt-out.
Time to break the news that you’re not, in fact, a robot. Actions speak louder than words, and although you’ve tried turning off notifications before, it doesn’t sound like you pushed past your boss’s initial disapproval. If you can hold your nerve this time, I think that deciding on a plan and then putting it into action – ideally without asking permission – is your best bet. Otherwise you’re just offering her the chance to put those toxic expectations, hitherto unspoken, into words – why bother?
Similarly, if you feel the need to clear the air or if she notices a shift and brings it up, my advice would be to tell rather than ask. In practice, that looks like saying ‘I’ll get back to you tomorrow’ instead of ‘do you mind if I get back to you in the morning?’ – but better yet, say nothing at all. Remember, you’re not doing anything unreasonable in asserting yourself – on the contrary, expecting employees to be at her disposal around the clock is what’s warped (though unfortunately, not especially unusual) here.