44

I few days ago my boss started to send me instant messages to my private phone on my private account. He sends me error-messages and screenshots from customers.
I fully understand this may be his urgent needs but he also sends me messages in the middle of the night and at weekend.

How should I deal with this?

Edit: I don't have a company phone and I was never offered a company phone.
My job contract says noting about on-call responsibilities.

  • 3
    Do you have a company phone your boss previously sent messages to? Perhaps your boss simply mixed up numbers. – enderland Mar 8 '13 at 17:09
  • 22
    Is the problem that he is using your private account? Or is the problem that you don't want to feel like you're on call 24x7? Do you have a company-provided phone? Would you want a company-provided phone if it was offered? Since you're in Germany, I'm guessing that you have some sort of employment contract-- does that contract say anything about on-call responsibilities? – Justin Cave Mar 8 '13 at 17:35
  • 5
    You have to stick up for yourself. It's not okay to do that without it being in the job description. Just make sure you didn't miss that part of the job description. – Erik Reppen Mar 9 '13 at 1:17
34

You need to ask your boss what his expectations are for when he sends you this information outside of working hours. If your boss expects you to instantly respond, then you need to determine whether this is part of what your contract or job agreement.

You should also determine whether you should ask for your employer to either reimburse you for (some or all of) your mobile phone charges, since they're being sent to your personal phone.

If you're not expected to respond to these outside of working hours, then you should ask your boss to send these messages to you via email (or whatever the correct method of communication is) so that you can deal with them appropriately during working hours.

The bottom line is that you can make guesses, or you can go to the source to determine what course of action is expected. Once you learn what your boss's expectation is, you will then have to determine whether this is acceptable to you and what to do if it isn't acceptable.

  • Some good points here... – Robbie Dee Mar 8 '13 at 19:24
  • 2
    How can you ask your employer to pay your mobile bill because he is sending you IMs? Do you pay for receiving IMs in Germany? – Konerak Mar 20 '13 at 7:15
  • 1
    @Konerak Nadyne is an American; You're charged for receiving phone calls and messages there, for some reason. – user867 Mar 26 '15 at 5:55
24

My suggestions below are a non-confrontational way to work through the problem using orthogonal issues that are related to it. These are not perfect, but if you want to avoid the direct approach these may give you a way forward (or give you ideas about other approaches). The main issues with these is that they can backfire - if the boss sees them as non issues you are back in square one. Additionally, they skirt the actual issue - again, this may be the way to go, depending on your boss.


Explain to your boss that your personal IM and email address are normally accessed on your own personal devices, which are not subject to company/corporate privacy and security policies.

This means that any client information sent to these may violate said policies.

If your boss doesn't understand the implications of his sharing private customer data using non corporate channels, you can share your "worries" with him - explain that you are concerned that an internal audit will frown on this custom.


An alternative is to ask your boss to sign overtime - every time you get these.

There are a few possible reactions here:

  • Your boss may simply sign. You will have to then ask that overtime be pre-agreed with you.
  • Your boss will sign but be unhappy about it. That's a good thing. It means that they will realize that your time outside of work is not free for them.
  • Your boss refuses to sign. This may indicate that your contract contains some clause that means what they are doing is OK (in terms of time) - you can insist on them providing a company phone/computer for these eventualities. A refusal can also mean you can escalate the issue to HR, if needed.
  • 3
    @Downvoter - care to comment? – Oded Mar 8 '13 at 19:32
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    Downvoter speaking. The first half seems to rather skirt around the issue. Clearly the issue isn't security - they're being asked to shoulder a lot more work at all kinds of strange hours. The second half makes assumptions about the contract/terms of employment we're not party to and again, seems to skirt around an issue that would be better discussed openly. I too have an answer if you'd also care to downvote/comment... ;-) – Robbie Dee Mar 8 '13 at 19:55
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    @RobbieDee - The question is how to deal with it. I have proposed a strategy that is not direct to the actual issue but that can address it, without any conflict - only facts. The second part is a different strategy. – Oded Mar 8 '13 at 19:58
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    OK, boss comes back and says: it is fine - nobody is likely to intercept the communication. What then? Nothing will have been resolved. I think we're talking about different communication styles ultimately so I had no right to say this answer was wrong in retrospect. Apologies. – Robbie Dee Mar 8 '13 at 20:03
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    @RobbieDee: I agree. Actually, it's even worse than "Nothing will have been resolved", because now if the OP wants to resolve his/her real issue, (s)he'll also have to admit that (s)he made up a fake reason in a failed attempt to manipulate his/her boss. That is likely to go over poorly. – ruakh Mar 8 '13 at 22:38
13

Ignore them until working hours, it's not ideal as you'll almost certainly still be thinking about them when you see them but replying to them is absolutely guaranteeing that you'll get more in future.

Giving contact details to your company is pretty much mandatory, I'd question the wisdom of any company that doesn't have the support infrastructure in space to cope when someone isn't in work.

  • @Michael Good point - the implication here is that all messages are urgent and must be dealt with. They could just be informational and just require a little thought before being picked up in earnest during working hours. – Robbie Dee Mar 8 '13 at 19:23
  • 2
    I think this excellent advice. Come in the next morning and immediately get stuck into the issue that your boss IM'd you the night before. Unless he takes to phoning you after sending IMs, in which case you have a whole new issue to discuss. – Carson63000 Mar 9 '13 at 6:19
  • This doesn't address the issue of how inappropriate the communication may be. I'm usually happy to respond out of work hours, but I wouldn't be happy responding at 10am on a Monday to a personal IM message. – Nathan Cooper Mar 12 '13 at 14:29
  • Unless there's an existing agreement that messages will be dealt with off-hours, when you choose to answer is entirely your discretion. If they ask why you didn't answer, just be honest - it was off hours. – Allen Gould Sep 3 '13 at 20:17
11

If that was me and my mobile was up for contract renewal, I'd change my phone number.

At a previous job - all IT staff were asked to submit their personal numbers for support reasons should any system go down. We all refused point-blank.

If he wants to contact you in this way, you should be supplied with a phone. Additionally, there should be an agreement on what is expected should you receive any out of hours communications.

  • 3
    Unless there is a clear understanding as to how this should work, the system can (and clearly is currently) being abused... – Robbie Dee Mar 8 '13 at 19:16
  • 1
    The last sentence pretty much sums it up IMO. – a CVn Mar 8 '13 at 21:02
  • 3
    Changing your number is a very passive aggressive way to handle the situation. – stoj Mar 10 '13 at 2:14
  • Not even sure what that means but a) You get a new phone b) No more messages. I'd call that: Win-Win... ;-) – Robbie Dee Mar 10 '13 at 23:00
  • 2
    @stoj - If the boss has your number and won't "see the light", sometimes it's the only way. I had a boss who kept every number I had ever called him from and worked his way down the list for any/all questions. Personal cell, home phone, wife's phone... he never questioned when they stopped working (and I was equally diligent about not calling him from any non-work number from then on). – Allen Gould Sep 3 '13 at 20:19
6

The best way to resolve this issue is

(1) understand the situation and the need what makes him to act this.
(2) Discuss and Provide alternative solutions and come up with agreeable plans.
(3) Come up with workable plans with mutual agreement.

Now the action plan for you is

(1) Request for one on one meeting: Request him to one one meeting for the closed room discussion. Most of the managers have scheduled one on meetings with their team members. If you doesn't have any such scheduled meeting request his/her time for discussion and block his and your calendar for that meeting.

(2) Be empathetic about his needs and situation: You first bring the topic to the table and don't rush into your concerns. First you show empathetic about his needs and the situation. May be he is working late and suddenly and he feels that if he shares information with you immediately and you can start your work on as soon as possible. There might be other good reasons and needs behind his actions. However you first show your empathy towards his situation and needs. And willingness to understand and support for his needs and project. If you don't know ask him and confirms that the reason behind your questions is understand the situation and support him

(3) Explain him what bothers you: Once you understand his needs and the situation, now express him what bothers you or what concerns you and how it is affecting you in polite way. You can express your concerns to him/her on the similar lines of "I fully understand your needs and situation. However receiving messages @midnight disturbs my sleep a lot. After that I am unable to sleep properly and I am ended up with work related. Bad sleep makes bad start for the day and sleep deprived brain doesn't yield better productivity for the day.".

(4) Suggest alternatives: Suggest alternatives which works both of you. Like request him "Send mail about the work to your official mail ID and flag it is Urgent. You promise that you will see all the Urgent mails first and act upon them immediately " or ask him similar alternatives. Come up with list of alternatives and choose one which suits best for both of you.

(5) Come up with the agreeable plan or approach: Once you choose alternative come up with plan with mutual agreement. Next time onwards you both act as per the agreed plan.

Hope it resolves your issue

  • Yes. Good answer. The one danger here is that your urgent flag becomes worthless. The questioner seems like they work in IT, so if they've ever done IT maintenance they should know the dangers. – Nathan Cooper Mar 12 '13 at 14:33
4

Block him.

If he asks about it, engage in a discussion about off-hour responsibilities.

If the company requires you to be in constant contact, they should provide the device, or at least pay for yours.

3

Absent some agreement or schedule or the like, you are not obligated simply because your boss reaches out. My own response in those kind of situations is to respond if I am able, and to help if I am able, but not be concerned if I am not.

Next time it happens when you aren't willing to be available, respond that you are not available. Be polite, but firm. Something like:

Sorry. I am not available to help right now.

If he follows up with a call, decline it and re-send the that you aren't available.

If you are not challenged, you have effectively resolved the situation, and can set your own terms about after hours work.

If you are challenged, which may happen immediately or the next day at work, DO NOT respond specifically about why you were not available. You want to avoid a discussion about what things are OK to be interrupted by work. Just say that you are/were not available and it is personal. Don't challenge or be disrespectful, but avoid specifics.

Then move the conversation to a discussion about after-hours responsibilities, what is expected, a schedule, comp time or additional pay, and so forth.

3

Where You Stand

Unfortunately, it seems as if you've already tacitly agreed to accepting these messages (I assume that if you had ignored or blocked from the first message, they wouldn't still be sent to you). That means you have already set an expectation of behavior from your manager saying, "I am willing to do this".

This puts you in a sticky spot where just blocking him or ignoring the messages runs the risk of really pissing off your manager because he may assume there is a tacit agreement that this behavior is okay, and yet you are suddenly changing the rules without so much as a hint. It's passive aggressive, and may not go over well, so I would discourage it.

How Do You Feel?

Clearly something about this is bothering you. But which aspect is it? Do you not like getting texts in the middle of the night? Not like working without getting paid? Not like using your mobile phone?

You have to sort that out first. Which things are absolute no-gos, and which ones are you okay with, and under what circumstances/conditions?

For instance, if you don't like getting texts in the middle of the night, and you don't like getting them to your personal phone, but don't mind doing a little "on-call work" if you get paid for it and it isn't through your personal phone, then you can figure out what you want:

  • Overtime pay for on-call work
  • Company phone
  • On-call hours of X o'clock to Y o'clock

How To Get What You Want

I would recommend not being confrontational about it. Yes, these may be unreasonable requests, but the guy is your boss, and if you know what you want you are far more likely to get it taking a positive forward-looking approach.

Preparation

  • Check your contract to see your legal obligations to the company (does your job description actually include any provision for occasional overtime or anything else this may fall in to?)
  • Check with your coworkers to see what the company actually expects (does everyone else in your office do the same thing?)
  • Quickly summarize the amount of time it would take to do what is being asked (are these short 5-minute tasks that can be tackled in a couple minutes, or do they require actual work?)

Once you know what the company expects, and what they are realistically asking, you are in a proper situation to negotiate. For instance, if your other coworkers are doing the same thing, then telling your boss, "I absolutely refuse" is not going to go over well (like it or not, "but everyone else is willing to do it" is a really strong argument). If they aren't, then you know that either (a) they may be able to let you know how they dealt with the situation before, or (b) the boss trusts you for a task he finds important enough to contact you at any time about and you have a lot more bargaining power.

Soften Him Up

Based on your answer to the How You Feel section, you can now have a nice conversation with your boss. Start with something that will make him happy, as it will put him in a better mood and get you a better negotiating position. For instance, "I am really flattered that you trust me enough to ask for my advice when something goes wrong, I really appreciate that you have that much confidence in my work." If he knows what he is asking is a little much, he'll appreciate you turning it in to a positive, and if he is socially dense and thinks that what he's been doing is okay, you're hinting that he finds you important which can't hurt.

Acknowledge His Concern

You want to get him agreeing with you and start off with something he won't disagree with, something like, "Since problems can happen at any time, we really should find a good way to share the burden of problem-solving outside of work hours." The point is that you're making him say "Yes" right from the start which will make him feel more willing to go along with what comes next.

Your Suggestion

Based on what you actually want/your situation you should edit this as needed, but something like, "If we had someone on-call a day a week, gave them a company phone so that the contact point was always the same, I think it would be a lot easier to get people to cooperate, especially if they get an extra day off a month to make up for the overtime." Or, "You know I'm happy to help any time I can, but there will be times when I can't respond immediately, is that okay? How should we work out invoicing the company for overtime payments?"

Basically, you want to give him a solution that will solve his problem, and couple it with a totally reasonable request (overtime pay, additional vacation) to make up for the added burden. You are saying, "Hey boss, I know this is important, so of course it's worth giving us something back for." Only in nicer terms.

Listen

Afterwards, let him talk. He may say, "Golly gee, I didn't think about the extra burden, I'll stop doing that", or he may say, "That's a great idea! I'll talk to payroll about the overtime payments!" The point is let him speak his mind, and if he gives an alternative suggestion that you can happily agree with, give him ownership of the idea and just work out a schedule for implementing it.

Disclaimer

There are plenty of bosses in the world who don't care if the request is unreasonable, and won't appreciate you asking for just compensation. If this is the case, and you need the job, be prepared to suck it up and do on-call work. If you don't need the job, you may want to make sure your CV is updated.

While I'd love to say that there is a clearly defined line between "acceptable" and "unacceptable" in the employer-employee relationship, in my experience there isn't. You are on a continuum with all the other employees and potential employees in the world. If the economy takes a plunge, people willing to do horrid things are more plentiful, and employers get away with more. If the economy booms, you have pizza drivers getting $500 bonuses because it's impossible to get people in those positions. You should evaluate where you stand, where you are willing to compromise to ("not at all" is also an acceptable answer), and take the appropriate action to find that happy spot.

In no way am I advocating that this behavior by the manager is acceptable, or that anyone should feel the need to oblige their boss' every whim. Just figure out what's best for you and find the best way to get there.

2

I would create a Google Voice number and instant message account for work. Explain to your boss (either in person or in a message) that you have a professional number/account that you use for work contacts and ask him/her to use those instead. Maybe even explain that you're trying to keep your work and home life seperate. If you do that then I think it's fine to delete/block him/her as a contact on your personal number and account. Turn off your professional accounts when you don't want to be available for work. I think on Google voice you can even forward calls from certain people to certain numbers.

  • You don't even need to explain that it's a "professional" number (especially if your boss is likely to call your personal as a backup if you don't respond immediately). Just tell them you've changed your number - and update it across any work accounts - and then no need to explain why boss can no longer reach your "personal". – user812786 Apr 13 '17 at 16:37

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