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I Refuse to Answer Work Calls Off the Clock...And I Feel Guilty For It.

Like many professionals adjusting to the changes in the corporate world brought on by COVID19, I found myself with a work line attached to my phone. While working remotely, I could receive calls and texts without giving out my personal number. And while it was convenient during working hours, I quickly began to despise it while off the clock.

Several times during weekday evenings and during the day on weekends, I would get calls coming in. It was not during office hours, so I let it go to voicemail. If it was important, they would leave a voicemail. However, more than once someone would call three or four times in a row and never leave a voicemail.

This happened one evening after I came home after one particularly draining day at the office, and wanted to catch up on my latest Netflix binge while doing the dishes. While my hands were wet, the phone rang. I let it go to voice mail and resumed my show. It happened again. Then again. The fourth time, I let it go for a few seconds while I dried my hands then manually declined the call. Immediately, they called again. This time I rejected the call on the first ring.

Even though I had been working back at the office at this time, I still had the work line attached to my phone. It had proven handy while I made runs out to a few clients and a co-worker needed to reach me quickly for one reason or another. I didn't mind the calls during work hours, but off the clock was another thing.

The rapid transition to working from home blurred the line between work and home for many. According to a June article released by Stanford news, 42% of the US workforce is working remotely rather than in an office. Almost overnight, kitchen tables and living rooms were converted into makeshift offices.

While being able to pop a load of laundry in the washer during lunch was convenient, it didn't outweigh several major problems.

The first was a mental and emotional burnout. During the "good old days" before the pandemic, busy worker bees would go off to work at someplace other than their home. They could leave workplace stress at work and go home to relax with their families. With the pandemic driving a majority of the workforce to work from home, we lost the defining line between our work lives and our home lives. Stuck in the same settings day after day blurred the lines and we began taking work calls and answering emails during non-office hours. Being constantly plugged into our work settings began taking a toll on our mental health.

The second problem came in the form of data caps. Once internet providers re-implemented data caps, the data usage online school and work began to add up. Before the end of the pay periods, people found themselves hitting data caps and having to pay for extra data. Or, they did like we did, and lived off of dial-up speeds offered by our cell phone hotspots and watched public access TV.

Another problem that came into focus ties into mental and emotional burnout. Employees working from home feel pressured to answer work calls and emails. While this was a problem before the pandemic, it has been amplified by the work from home movement. According to an article written by Business News Daily, "This lower ability to disconnect from work translates into poorer work-life balance and causes emotional exhaustion, which earlier research has shown to negatively affect job performance."

Our society has ingrained in us the supposed need to be on-call all day, every day. Younger workers especially feel the need to be on-call to be perceived as irreplaceable. We worry that if we draw the line in the sand between our work and personal lives, we will be replaced. And with such a competitive job market, the fear is amplified.

Do I feel guilty about not answering work calls at six in the morning, seven in the evening, and on the weekends? Yes, I do. The fear of being replaced by some mindless worker drone is not easy to overcome. But when the individual calls for the fourth time in three minutes and refuses to leave a voicemail, my guilt dissolves into annoyance. And you can bet money I have no regrets rejecting it.


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