Over the holidays, I received a great question from a reader in Brooklyn, NY, and I thought I would share it in this week’s blog. I think we can all relate to her dilemma:

I recently started a job at a new company where the entire team frequently communicates over weekends, and even on holidays. I understand the importance of our work, but I would like to disengage during my time off so that I can enjoy some much-needed quality time with my family. Should I just give in to the workplace culture and live with it, or should I set my boundaries? If so, how do I explain that I would rather not communicate on my days off without sounding like a total jerk?

There’s definitely been a paradigm shift within the past ten years when it comes to this topic. I now know many people who thrive on constant contact with their co-workers. In some cases, they truly enjoy it; in others, it’s simply a “given” for the type of work they do, and they’ve become used to it. (I recently spent the weekend with two friends, both of whom work at Apple, and their managers simply assumed they would be available for work-related questions via text, Slack, or IM—and this was actually Labor Day weekend!)

So, for starters, I’m going to assume that you’re not required to be available 24/7. (If this is not the case, then we would handle the situation differently, and you would need to negotiate your way out of that job requirement.) Secondly, I’m going to assume that you prefer to set boundaries, rather than acquiesce and lose your private family time.

Oftentimes, when I’m working either as a psychologist or as a career coach, a client will ask me a question similar to the one you’ve just asked. And guess what? The answer to their question lies within the wording of the question itself! It’s really pretty amazing: people will tell me what they wish they could say to their spouses, children, employees, co-workers, or bosses, and while they’re busy visualizing the conversation, they’ll express their message absolutely perfectly. All I have to do is encourage them to venture out and deliver the exact same message to the appropriate person(s). And the same is true here—you’ve already nailed the words down beautifully, and all we have to do is discuss how the conversation should take place, and then give your message a few little tweaks to make it more powerful.

So, let’s begin by examining what you’ve already said:

I understand the importance of our work, but I would like to disengage during my time off so that I can enjoy some much-needed quality time with my family.

Excellent! You’ve employed a method that’s technically called “empathic assertion,” which makes use of a two-part communication formula. You start with an empathic statement (“I understand the importance of our work…”), which lets your listener know that you’re both on the same page, and then you finish with a basic assertive statement that says what you want (“I would like to disengage during my time off…”).

Here’s my only suggested change: eliminate the phrase, “so that I can enjoy some much-needed quality time…” and substitute something less emotional, less debatable, and more to the point. Something like, “so that I can have some uninterrupted time…”

Now let’s put it all together:

I understand the importance of our work, but I would like to disengage during my time off so that I can have some uninterrupted time with my family.

Depending on your personality and the relationship you have with your co-workers, you can add a few flourishes to your message if you wish. For instance, you might continue with something reassuring, like:

However, during the week, from 8am to 6pm, I’m all yours.

Or something a little playful:

You know I love this place and I love you guys, but sometimes I just want to chill with my family, OK?

Or something sincere:

I truly enjoy my work, and you know I’m a total team player, but I’ll appreciate it if I can recharge my batteries with some genuine time away from the office.

Be sure to add one other vital message: you acknowledge there may be extenuating circumstances which make it necessary for you to be contacted on your time off (for instance, a monumental power failure that requires you to save perishable inventory, or a sudden emergency deadline that involves your entire department), and that you’ll be right there, along with everyone else, as a valued and reliable member of the team.

Next, let’s talk about the time and place for the conversation. You’re probably going to need to deliver this message to several different people, and they most likely won’t all be in the same place at the same time—the perfect reason to send out a group email, right? No, not in this case. Since you want your message to come across in the most positive way possible, mere words on paper (or on screen) won’t do the trick. You want “all systems go”—you want to use your facial expression, eye contact, hand gestures, and voice tone to communicate your sincerity and committedness to both the job and to your fellow co-workers. Find the time to go around to the people in your work group, and share your request in person. Express yourself positively and assertively, and be sure to thank people for their time and understanding. You may be surprised how many people will respect you for your honest and forthright request, and who knows? They just might agree with you—and join you!


How about you? Do you have a question or problem you’d like for me to tackle in a future article? Please submit it to me on my website: denisemdudley.com. And thanks—I always love hearing from my readers!