To Be or Not to Be…Reachable

I have been having this discussion more and more often recently, and reading quite a few more articles than before.

A lot of people I interact with today complain that they are expected to be reachable 24x7x365 by their employer and/or customers. My question to them is : “Why do you accept this, if you don’t want it?” to which the answer invariably is that not answering one’s phone on a weekend or late at night my result in getting poor performance review or losing a client. Is this a fact or is this an assumption people make?

My point of view on this topic is that of both an employer AND a consultant whose livelihood depends on building effective relationships with existing and potential clients in India and around the world.

Personally, I have never seen anyone being passed for promotion, or lose business, because they did not answer a phone call. The huge majority of employer judge employees by the quality of their results and customers judge service/product providers by the impact their service/product has of their business, NOT by the fact that one did or did not pick up their phone.

Most of the time, I am told that this is cultural. “It’s okay in the West as you have laws to protect your personal time, but Indian bosses/customers will consider not picking up the phone as a sign of disrespect.” Really? After 13 years in this country both as an employee and as an owner of a consulting firm, I can firmly say that this is not true. I have never lost business because I didn’t pick up a call on a Sunday or late at night. Once again, it might be culturally accepted for people to call each other for business purposes outside working hours but whether YOU pick up or not is on YOU, not your culture. It’s a question of being assertive enough to set the right expectations.

My assumption is that people feel the need to pick up the phone anytime to overcome their own insecurities. It makes them feel important and indispensable. I also think that for some people, they create this expectation of availability as a way to compensate for a lack of a fulfilling personal life that they can then blame on others.”It’s not my fault i am not free for family time, it’s my boss’ fault.” Isn’t it convenient to use work as a justification not to go to this distant relatives wedding or not to take the kids down to the park?

If someone answers all emails and messages within a five minute period, whatever the time of day or day of the week, of course that others will expect them to always be available. The same goes for calls at ungodly hours.

Fair enough, there are some industries that necessitate 24×7 availability to customers, like tech support or companies that provide critical infrastructure for other companies to run their business. However, these companies have answered this by making sure they have intervention teams working in shifts, NOT by asking its managers to be personally on call 24×7.

If you are one of these people who feel stressed out because they are expected to be reachable at all times, ask yourself these questions: “How did your company do before you had a smartphone?” “Would the business collapse if you forgot your phone somewhere for a day or if you were out of reach?” “Would I pick up if this was my wedding day and if not why is it different today?” “If your business needs someone to be operational 24×7, what can you do to make sure this load is spread evenly among different people or teams?”

The best way, in my opinion to handle this issue is to model the behaviour you expect. If you don’t call people on weekends, chances are they wont either, except in case of emergency. This also means that you must define what an emergency is along with the people you work with…and then define with them what is an emergency.

At the end of the day, people will not respect your personal time if you don’t respect it yourself. You reap what you sow…

Remember BUSY stands for Because You Say Yes.

PS: I just read that some companies actually disable email on all company issued smartphones from 6:30pm to 7:00am

This entry was posted in Business, Communication, Organizational Culture, Personal Effectiveness and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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