Since the release of the smartphone, we have all become more interconnected over the internet. It has definitely improve our lives in general by allowing us to access content from wherever we are and do the things previously we need a computer for. The side effect of that is it has also given rise to the expectation that all of us should be readily contactable even in the wee hours of the night.
There are stories I heard from my friends and read about online where some bosses would wake up as early as 4am to start sending work-related emails and messages to their subordinates and expect them to reply within minutes. Failure to do so would mean certain kind of penalty. Maybe you are pass over for promotion. Maybe you won’t get as much bonus as your colleagues who are more active.
As a software engineer, I’m not spared from that kind of expectation. There is this unspoken rule where I have to be available on weekends and late nights to respond to issues the customer faced. And I’m not saying all software engineers face this issue. Some get to work in a very chill culture where they can focus on just development work. So much so, I’m envious. Then there are those who work on projects or products that are available 24/7 will have to be ready to troubleshoot issues 24/7 too. Think engineers working at Netflix, Amazon Web Service, etc. So in a way, you are no different from doctors and nurses working in an ER.
Now, depending on your personality and tolerance, you may find yourself stressed out just by the very idea of anticipating receiving messages late in the night. I know I will. And for those who can handle such a culture will inevitably burn out when they have to be on edge or standby for long period of time. So you can see how, the requirement to be constantly online and available is just bad for your mental health.
Therefore, it’s very important to set boundaries if you don’t want to fall sick. Different people require different amount of rest time. Some people are also just better at compartmentalisation while some are not. Then there are highly-sensitive people to consider since they may not operate very well under high-stress, suffered from reduced rest and have tons of things to do, especially if they haven’t develop their own proven system for stress management and reduction.
For a start, you have to be assertive. You have to be ready to set expectations when it comes to your rest time, play time and work time. If you keep quiet, your bosses, family and friends would expect you to reply as soon as you receive their messages.
In the past, I would just keep quiet and be ready to respond to any messages received about work issues. But it always stress me out and tend to ruin my day. And bad mood spreads very fast especially when you are out with friends. These days, it’s different. I realised I could no longer keep quiet. So now, my team lead knows I need more rest and my body is ultra sensitive to certain allergens, and can fall sick easily. Thus, I don’t get that much work-related messages from him. Of course, it’s important that you are empathic here. Your colleagues are also humans and they need their rest too. And the company hire you to do a job and be professional. So they would expect business problems to be solved on time. So you have to compromise sometimes and do the work when required.
And it’s obvious that you can’t quit or leave work-related WhatsApp chat groups unless you have no intention of keeping your job. So what you can do for the sake of your mental health is to mute those groups. This way, you still can continue to use your phone for other purpose without seeing those work messages until the time you should.
But then, why should you stay on your phone for such a long time?
If muting chat groups ain’t enough and find that you are still susceptible to receiving calls from work, you can also activate your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” mode where calls, messages, notifications will all be silenced if not rejected. The latest iOS 12 release come with Screen Time feature that you can use it to limit your access to certain apps too. So in this case, you can block all the communication apps.
For me, I schedule “Do Not Disturb” to be active from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. Having an internet-connected smartphone doesn’t mean you have to be online 24/7. Your situation probably is different. So you have to schedule the “Do not disturb” mode according to your needs. But the idea is you get to switch off from work when you are not working. That way you can focus on doing the things that you should be doing at home.
If your bosses have boundary problems and make a big fuss about you blocking their calls late at night, then maybe you should evaluate whether your happiness and health is more important than the job.