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How to Protect Yourself When Work Takes Over Your Life
I have a confession. My workplace, mostly spearheaded by other employees, have begun urging us to volunteer as a company during our free time. It grinds my gears. Every time I see a new email, a picture of co-workers volunteering with company bling, or do-gooder messages on chat, I can’t help but feel a brief spark of rage.
Why should the company take credit for the money, food, and time I donate? Why should I grant my workplace more of my time free of charge? It might be for a good cause, but I’d essentially be a walking, talking advertisement for them.
I know I shouldn’t be upset. It’s volunteering. Volunteering can save and enhance people’s lives. My problem stems from it a tamer version of the trend of companies that promote a “work isn’t just a job, it’s life” cultural policies.
Modern technology has granted us many positive opportunities such as marketing utilizing data science, security and risk algorithms, and the ability to work from home. But, technology is not without its price, it’s changed, in some cases, a company’s expectations of employees. There are very few true 9-5 jobs. Our day job, like Beans from Even Stevens or Urkle from Family Matters, follows us home.


How to Protect Yourself When Work Takes Over Your Life

1. After Work Events

As much as I complain about people at work encouraging company volunteering, I’m fairly lucky. All I tend to get are the occasional non-mandatory after-work events. Employees are free to ignore the events. Which I have and probably will continue to take advantage of.
The downside? This is not a good tactic for individuals who wish to ascend to upper management. Before you begin to chronically skip events, I would recommend you utilize caution. Participation in these events might affect how upper management thinks of you and your ability to land that promotion you’re vying for. If you do plan on joining upper management, you might have a higher chance if management sees you participating at least half of the time.

2. Social Media Conundrum

Businesses take how the public views them seriously. Before social media and the internet, personal beliefs, unwise comments, and the occasional grumbling had a lower chance of getting you into trouble. Whether you like it or not, many companies expect you to have some level of professionalism as you navigate around the internet (even in your free time).
These days you can ruin your career with a few taps of the keyboard. Even if you do your due diligence and restrict who can see your social media posts, you still might be unlucky enough to get a random person reporting you to your company for “inappropriate conduct” out of work. One Georgia teacher was given an ultimatum, resign or be suspended, when she posted a picture of herself drinking while on vacation.
You can save yourself from this headache by:
  • Get a sense of how much upper management pays attention to your Facebook feeds.
  • Set high-security settings.
  • Create a penname for your more spirited, inappropriate posts.
  • Don’t disparage your workplace online, especially by name. (Higher chance you’ll be reported).

3. On-Call 24-7

The Devil Wears Prada is still one of the best examples of the 24-7 on-call phenomenon. You might be done with the official work week once you physically leave the office, but you still might be expected to answer emails, take calls, and do emergency work on week nights and weekends. Some employers have employees trade off who is on-call. For others, it’s an unofficial expectation to always be available.
How do you deal with this?
  • Make it clear to your employer that the “always on-call” policy does not help employee retention or productivity. According to an article that dives into the psychological impact of Internet of things at work, always on-call workplace policies can lead to lower employee morale and less restorative off-time.
  • Stop working for free. As an hourly employee in charge of staffing, my mom was required to take what could be hour-long phone calls at all hours. She was never paid for that time worked. Hourly employees should not need to work for free. Even its five to ten minutes at night. That time adds up. If your employer refuses to pay you, you may want to get smart on the previous cases where employees successfully filed lawsuits against their company for unpaid work.
  • Take it up with HR. Your situation might be a case of the policy coming from managers that don’t understand labor laws. If you let HR know that you are being required to work for no pay, they might change the policy to protect the company from a lawsuit.
Technology has led to many of us never truly being unplugging from our jobs. The new importance of “always available” culture has led to an increase in legal issues with after work activities. Tweets and posts in an individual’s free time have and can affect job security. Unofficial and official on-call policies have led to an extension of traditional work hours.
As a modern career professional, you need to take steps to protect yourself from mandatory and non-mandatory company time-sucks.

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