How to ignore your boss outside work hours… if you don’t live in Portugal

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In November 2020 Portugal took the unprecedented step of introducing a law that made it illegal for bosses to contact employees outside of working hours. Employers in Portugal will now face sanctions if they text message, phone or email workers who are off the clock.

The new labour law is in response to the boom in remote working amid the Covid-19 pandemic. For all its positives — less travel, more time at home, relaxed dress, cost savings, productivity gains — remote working does have its drawbacks. 

Notable ones include digital boundaries and struggling to down tools. It can be difficult when your work day roles into personal time without a distinct change, like leaving the office to go home. 

Furthermore, the computers, tablets and smartphones we rely on to work remotely are also the gadgets we spend a lot of our free time on, especially sending messages to friends and family. It can be difficult to draw the distinction between a text message to a friend or one to a colleague or employee.

When work happens at home, it’s tough to separate our two lives, for bosses as well as staff.

So, if you don’t live in Portugal, but would like to set some boundaries so you can switch off without fear of needing to respond to a message from your boss while you’re eating dinner, here are a few tips.

You can probably ignore it!

Simply put, for accounting and finance professionals there are very few things that can’t wait till the next work day. 

If your boss wants to work in the evening, it’s their prerogative. You’d hope they’d be sensitive enough to understand that sending employees communications outside of office hours is disruptive and intrusive, even if they’ve said they don’t expect an immediate response.

Nevertheless, this is something to talk about with your boss and it helps to understand why they do it; it could be they work better in the evening, as it’s quieter, perhaps they have a young family so they work once everyone’s in bed. 

So it’s a good idea to arrange a meeting to clarify this and their expectations around out-of-hours responses — whether late night emails are for immediate attention or more of an FYI.

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Email vs messaging and the personal/work mobile phone conundrum

There is a difference between email and messaging: emails are more easy to ignore by turning off or silencing notifications after work; you can separate work accounts from personal ones and set their rules differently; yet messaging can more easily get to you at any time, especially if you only have one mobile phone you use for both work and your personal life; and while some messaging apps have notification muting, some don’t.

Again, you need to know from your boss whether you’re required to respond to out-of-hours communications. If you’re not, but you still receive messages throughout the night, which isn’t unusual for multinational teams, then silence everything — even your phone — till the workday starts.

If your boss wants you to be available out-of-hours, but you don’t…

Gently push back. If you can prove that you manage your workload and stakeholder/client relationships perfectly well during office hours, then there should be no reason for you to be on call out-of-hours, especially considering that once people see that you are, they will start to expect responses at any hour and more comfortably contact you at any hour too.

Again, set up a meeting with your boss, tell them it’s not necessary, in your case, to be on call 24/7 (which is true for many accountants); argue politely that it is or could eat into your personal life and have a detrimental knock on effect on your overall productivity and wellbeing.

If they insist!

If your boss insists that you need to be on call out-of-hours, then perhaps, if it’s a request you really do not like, consider a tougher stance. 

Try renegotiating your role and renumeration to reflect the extra workload and stress; try to find areas in which you can balance the extra workload of being on in the evening by requesting, for example, a later start in the day, or home working some days; or ask for a promotion to reflect the added responsibility your boss is requesting.

If none of this works, or if you’re completely sure that being on 24/7 just isn’t for you, it could be time to look elsewhere and for a position that reflects your desire for distinct separation between office hours and personal life. 

Thankfully this is getting easier to do in a job market that favours the candidate and with more companies offering remote working as a norm since the pandemic.

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