How to Sign Off After Work (In an Always-On World)
Remember boundaries? (Just barely.) Real Simple turned to experts with five scenarios to learn if, when, and how you can separate work time from good old-fashioned downtime.
Your boss regularly bombards you with e-mails at 2 a.m. on Sunday.
If you look at your inbox on a Sunday, “work isn’t encroaching on your personal life—you’re inviting work into your personal life,” says Maura Thomas, a productivity expert and the founder of Regain YourTime.com. But considering your boss’s habit, shift your schedule. “Set your alarm 20 minutes earlier on Monday morning so you can check your e-mail first thing and reply,” says Beverly Langford, the author of The Etiquette Edge: Modern Manners for Business Success. This way, when you arrive at the office, you’re all caught up. And if you think she’s waiting for your feedback on Sunday night? Thomas says she’s probably not: “CEO clients say they often send out notes when a thought comes to them. They absolutely don’t expect a response in that moment.”
The person on the other side of the cubicle friended you on Facebook, and you don’t really want to go there.
“If an associate sends me a friend request,” says Langford, “I’ll decline but write her a personal message on LinkedIn, explaining that I prefer to keep my connections organized this way.” If that won’t cut it, use privacy settings to create a custom list for coworkers, clients, and industry contacts, says Alison Green, a coauthor of Managing to Change the World. There’s a third option, too: “Do nothing,” says Diane Gottsman, the founder of the Protocol School of Texas; maybe the person won’t notice.
Your company asks staffers to post on social media about work news.
If this is only an occasional request, you can try keeping your head down and saying that you are not active on social media (assuming that your privacy settings are in effect). If this is more of a regular policy, have a conversation with your boss. Says Gottsman, “Explain that you prefer to keep your personal accounts personal, and gauge her reaction.” It could be that this doesn’t matter all that much to her. If she conveys that she does care, though, suck it up and post.
Everybody in the office follows one another on Instagram. As the boss, you aren’t sure about joining in.
“When you have to stop and wonder whether something is appropriate— especially in the tricky world of social media—the answer is probably no,” says Gottsman. It’s fine if underlings choose to follow your feed, as long as you don’t mind, but don’t reciprocate. “You don’t want your employees to feel like they can’t be themselves because you’re watching,” she says.
You saved up all your vacation for three uninterrupted weeks away, but your boss seems to think that you’ll be in touch.
If the vacation is approved, the assumption is that others have taken similarly lengthy breaks. These coworkers are your experts on how to handle communication while away. “It’s unrealistic, in my opinion, to think that you can leave for several weeks and have zero contact with your office,” says Langford. “Instead, create a plan that allows limited interaction.” The degree to which you’re in touch will depend on the culture of your workplace. Run your plan by your boss—whether it’s checking e-mail once in the morning and once in the evening or being off the grid for a stretch, then calling in. Convey that you’re reachable for emergencies but that you’re hoping mostly to unplug.