Is It OK to Contact Employees After Hours?

When I leave my office at around 6 p.m., or a little later, my expectation is the employment-related part of my life is over for the day. If my boss were to send me a text at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., I would balk to the point that I probably would just ignore the message to send a message of my own that the time he chose to contact me in the evening is off limits to him.

How do you feel about it? Are you cheery and good-natured about your boss, or an executive, at your company, contacting you after you get home, feet up on the couch, watching TV, or with a good book in hand? As you can tell, I wouldn’t be good-natured about it.

But then I also don’t have positive feelings about my boss. If I felt good about him—thought he was a great manager and a friend—I might not be angry about after-hours contact. I would be happy to help a person who often helped me.

According to a recent Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., survey, more than 80 percent of employers would contact workers after hours. Does your company have a policy about contacting employees after hours? Or do you leave it up to individual managers to decide what’s appropriate?

With such a high number of managers feeling that it’s OK to text, e-mail, or (most horribly) call after an employee gets home at night, or on the weekend, putting a policy in place about contacting employees about non-emergencies makes sense.

If it isn’t an emergency, then is it ever justified contacting an employee after he or she has ended a full day of work for you? What are examples of when it’s not an emergency, but it would still be OK?

The next question is what constitutes an emergency. I come from a health-care family, so for my parents, especially my father, who is a medical doctor, an “emergency” really is an emergency—as in this person is bleeding uncontrollably and needs your help, or this person needs surgery within the next hour. Compared to those scenarios, nothing that happens in my life as a writer and editor seems like much of an emergency.

That said, I can imagine situations in which nobody will die, or be irreparably harmed, if not helped, but the business could be significantly damaged. For instance, if you have a transactional retail Website, and the shopping cart features goes down, so customers are not able to purchase your products. True, nobody will die because they couldn’t buy skinny jeans, but if the problem isn’t fixed promptly, you could lose thousands of dollars.

Another “emergency” I can imagine is a multimillion-dollar client finding late at night that the service they paid you to deliver either wasn’t delivered or was delivered incorrectly. In that case, again, nobody is dying as a result, but you could lose so much money in losing that client that the company’s life would be threatened, including the jobs of your employees. Human life, physically speaking, isn’t threatened, but a financial lifeline is in jeopardy.

What’s not an emergency, and shouldn’t be allowed, is contacting an employee after hours to ask a question that could easily wait until the morning or contacting them to get their opinion on something that doesn’t need to be decided at that very moment.

It might be worthwhile to create a guide for new managers, printed out, and available digitally, that offers examples of when it is and is not OK to contact employees after working hours.

There also should be a way for employees to submit complaints about their managers abusing access to them by contacting them at night or on the weekends over things that could wait until the next day or Monday morning. If you’re a large company, in which each manager has many employees, you could even offer a system for employees to submit complaints anonymously. If you’re a small company in which managers each have just a few employees, then making employees feel safe about speaking up is harder. What are some ideas of how you could do that?

In addition to giving new managers parameters to follow in contacting employees after hours, employees should hear executives, including the CEO or president, talk about the importance of all employees, including managers, respecting one another’s off-hours time. It should be an often-repeated part of the cultural message that employees are more than employees—they’re humans with lives, interests, and needs that have nothing to do with the work they do for you. They’ll be more productive for you if you give them time to do the things that mean the most to them in life.

How do you guide your managers in helping employees maintain work-life balance, including giving them time to live their lives outside the office?