Careers - Wake-up calls

19th February 2010 at 00:00
When you leave work, it is your time to relax, but some managers don't see it that way and continue to text or email. It's time to ring the changes

If you see the half-term break as a welcome chance to forget about work, the last thing you want is your head of department pestering you about lessons plans or checking you are on top of your marking. But email and text messages mean that it is easier than ever for an over-zealous line manager to intrude on your time.

"My head of department sends me messages most evenings and weekends, and even during the holidays," says Helen, a secondary teacher in London. "There is nothing malicious - it's usually just to remind me about something or to sound out my opinion. But it's still invasive. I try not to reply, but that doesn't stop me feeling stressed when messages arrive."

Being contacted at home can be particularly stressful for teachers, says Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University.

"Teaching is a tough enough profession as it is because marking and planning already eat into your free time," he says.

"But at least you are in control of those things. If a manager starts pestering you in the evenings, or dumping stuff on you, then the line between work and home gets very blurred. There is nothing worse than getting a work-related email late in the evening because it can stop you getting a good night's sleep."

Professor Cooper's advice is simple: when you are finished with work for the evening, switch off your phone and don't go near your email. "Put yourself back in control," he says. "It can take a little willpower to break the habit, but you will be surprised how good it feels not to be checking messages all the time."

Once someone finds that their messages are going unanswered, the chances are that they will stop sending them. But not always. Some line managers pester colleagues because they themselves are stressed or anxious and find sending messages reassuring.

Others use electronic communication as a means of avoiding face-to-face interaction - especially when they want to say something critical or negative. In these cases, you will need to deal with the situation more directly.

"Sit down in private and tell the person calmly and politely that you don't wish to be contacted at home unless it's essential," says Kevin Piper, a consultant at training provider Creative Education, who runs courses on dealing with difficult colleagues. "Explain how it makes you feel and why you think it's unnecessary."

As well as emphasising that you need time to yourself if you are to function at your best, it may also be worth suggesting other ways of communicating that would suit you better - like notes in the staffroom that you can pick up first thing each morning.

"Try to remember that you aren't the one who is being unreasonable," says Mr Piper. "You absolutely have rights, and need to be assertive."

PRESS THE RIGHT BUTTONS

- Don't reply to messages immediately. Always take time to reflect.

- Have a separate email address for work colleagues.

- Think carefully before giving out your mobile number.

- Make a point of finding your line manager at the end of the afternoon for a brief chat. It's less likely they will need to contact you later.

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