If you’re lucky enough to be able to do your job from home (and continue working from home through the rest of the year), you might just be living your best career life. You get to work in sweatpants, take phone calls from the bed, and cuddle with your cat while you answer emails. And if you absolutely *have* to, you can just throw on a blazer for an occasional Zoom video conference.
The downside of working remotely? You might have a manager who uses your new WFH situation as an excuse to make you feel obligated to work longer hours, answer messages well into the evening, or make you feel guilty for just stepping away from your laptop. If it’s becoming more difficult to discern the difference between your work life and personal life, it might be because your manager is crossing some serious boundaries. Here are some tell-tale signs it might be time to talk to your boss that you need distance from work when the workday is done.
1. You’re getting Slack messages, emails, and texts after 6PM.
Bless Slack, but also damn it to hell.
Slack provides an easy, streamlined way for employees to communicate without having to see each other IRL. Even before COVID-19, you most likely found yourself Slacking your coworkers even though they worked just right down the hall (or literally beside you in the same room). Now that it’s the primary way you’re communicating with colleagues as well as your manager (unless you have separate WhatsApp or iMessage groups set up for privacy issues), you might find yourself getting messages well into the night because it’s just so easy to ping someone. But if you’re constantly getting messages from your manager (or even your coworkers) in the evening when the workday is clearly over, it might be time to at the very least set yourself as “away” and turn off Slack notifications your phone or watch. If your boss is still messaging you late into the evening, you can always reply with a variation of, “Thanks! I’m going to be offline for the remainder of the evening, but I’ll get that over to you when I log on tomorrow morning.”
2. You get emails in the middle of the night or on the weekend.
I read somewhere that it’s “normal” for executives to email their employees in the middle of the night or even a Saturday evening if they have a sudden spark of genius or need to communicate something across.
The article justified this behavior with the executive’s ambition and seeming never-ending workday. It also claimed that your boss doesn’t expect anyone to email them back until the following workday, but I’m not so sure that this makes it okay, regardless. Even if those emails say “Ignore this until Monday,” you’re still now thinking about work during a day or time that you shouldn’t be asked to think about work. It might make you feel stressed out or nervous, thinking, “Should I answer this email now?” or “Will I look lazy if I don’t answer?” And of course, the answer to both is no. After 6PM and as soon as you log off work on Friday, turn your email notifications off and give yourself space from your job. Your boss’s email can most likely wait. Just because they’re working late into the night or on the weekend certainly doesn’t mean you should.
3. They’re reprimanding you for being away from your laptop even though it’s only been a short period of time.
If you step away from your laptop to make a snack or even go for a 10-minute walk to breathe fresh air (with a mask, obvs), know that you’re allowed (and are entitled to) take work breaks. If your manager is making you feel bad for being away from Slack, that’s not cool and shows that they have a lack of trust in your work. Unless you’re missing a scheduled meeting or deadline, you have every right to take a work break. Yup, even if you’re working at home. If this continues, set aside some time to talk to your boss and see if they’re skepticism about how you manage your day has anything do with your performance. Odds are, they’re probably feeling a loss of control and might feel like they’re “not doing their job” if they’re not micromanaging you. It’s an awkward conversation to have for sure, but you also shouldn’t feel like you’re breaking the law by taking a fifteen-minute break to do some stretches in your living room, or enjoy an uninterrupted coffee in your kitchen.
4. Their texts are getting too personal.
Being friends with your manager is totally okay — as long as it’s appropriate and feels appropriate. You two might feel comfortable enough with each other to talk about your non-work lives, but if you start to feel like it’s become an obligation to respond to non-work-related messages (and it’s getting in the way of either your workload or is interrupting your life outside of work), know that you aren’t being paid to be your boss’s friend. The thing about texts is that you don’t have to respond to them.
5. They’re skeptical of you taking time off work for a doctor’s appointment.
Maybe you feel a sense of guilt adding your appointment (or whatever it is) to your calendar and inviting your manager so they know when you’ll be offline. What’s worse is that you still might get messages from your manager during the time off you requested. You’re entitled to sick time, and that includes doctor’s appointments. Usually, sick days don’t carry over to the following year, so make sure you use them up to your benefit and don’t ever feel like you need to be dealing with work even if you’re just getting your teeth cleaned.
6. They assume just because you’re WFH you have more bandwidth.
Just because you’re not commuting to work anymore doesn’t magically extend your workday. If you suddenly start seeing meetings set at 7 AM (unless this is done due to coastal differences of course) and 7 PM, talk to your manager and let them know your hours haven’t changed. If you feel like your manager has been assigning you more work than you can possibly manage due to the fact that you’re working remotely, try to email them (#receipts) and let them know you’re feeling overwhelmed, or perhaps ask for an extension.
7. You find your work-life blending into your personal life.
A pretty prevalent issue I’ve noticed with people who work from home is that they’re finding it harder to disconnect from work. They’ll be watching a show, or reading a book and get a Slack message or email, and they’ll feel like it’s less of a hassle to just deal with it right then and there than wait until the following day to respond.
Many of us don’t turn our Slack or email notifications off, so we’ll still be getting messages while we’re eating dinner or walking the dog earlier in the morning. Somehow, the loss of the office has made it so that our home life has become a forever office — but it shouldn’t be that way. This might not even be your manager’s fault — but you should feel safe to talk to them about it and see if they can deal with what’s become a remote office culture problem. You need to be able to unplug once you’re done with your workday, and if it takes putting your phone away while you watch the most recent season of Dead to Me, then so be it.
But the truth is, you shouldn’t have to resort to physically hiding from your phone or communication devices to disconnect. If it’s getting to this point, have an honest conversation with your manager.
Gina Vaynshteyn is an editor and writer who lives in LA. You can find more of her words on Refinery29, Apartment Therapy, HelloGiggles, Distractify, and others. If you wanna, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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