Ten rules for contacting staff after hours

KATE JONES
Last updated 11:45 30/06/2014
Ebony Centazzo

24/7: Ebony Centazzo is in constant contact with staff.

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When small business owner Ebony Centazzo needs to contact her employees after-hours, she doesn't hesitate. Texts, emails or phone calls - Centazzo uses whatever means she must to get in touch.

"I have four employees and most don't seem to mind and always reply, although one hardly replies," she says.

"Being a start-up business, I rely on them to help me with business decisions and encourage them to give me their ideas - even at 10.30pm."

The owner of Australia's Cat Napping Suburban Retreat says she has a friendly relationship with her small staff and in addition to work matters, will also text them about non-work related topics.

"It's a regular thing for me to text them to see if a cat's been picked up or a customer has paid," Centazzo says.

"I feel I have a open relationship with my employees and they would tell me if I was invading their personal time."

But recently Centazzo has changed her ways. Memories of working for a boss who texted her at all hours inspired her to observe some stricter rules around after-hours contact.

With technology making after-hours contact with staff easier than ever before, it's more difficult for small business owners to see the fine line that separates an employee's work and personal time.

To make the distinction, here are 10 rules for contacting staff after-hours:

1. Set boundaries
Discuss what does and doesn't work with your staff from the outset, says psychologist Alexina Baldini.

"It's important to know what's an OK time to disrupt someone's personal time and what's not," she says.

"Have a meeting with staff to see what the preferred procedure should be, for example should you only contact them on the mobile or their home landline? And during what times?"

2. Be realistic
Your life may be dominated by your business, but that's probably not the case for your employees.

Managing director of human resources consulting firm Corporate Canary, Anne-Marie Orrock, says it's fair for highly driven managers to expect similar standards of their employees, but not outside of work hours.

"It comes down to the personal work ethic of the manager, but respectful managers are realistic and know some things may just have to wait until Monday, unless there's a crisis situation," she says.

3. Be consistent

If you have agreed to only contact your staff in the event of a crisis, stick to your word. Don't be tempted to text or phone them about day-to-day issues that can be dealt with at work the next day.

4. Don't call after 9pm
As a general rule of thumb, 9pm is the cut-off for all work calls. Only break this rule in the event of an emergency.

5. Be respectful to your employee's family members
You may be in a state of panic, frustration or big-time stress, but if an employee's family member answers their phone use utmost respect. After all, you are interrupting their personal time - time they may be having important conversations, arguments or just sharing some downtime together.

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6. Show your appreciation
Let your staff know you are grateful for their after-hours help. If these hours are racking up, you may increase their pay rate or give them days off in recognition.

7. Research the rules
Technically employers usually have the right to ask employees to work reasonable time beyond their set hours.

But it's harder to get firm rules on what form extra work takes - whether it's at the work place, via phone or email.

Legislation isn't always up to date in our world of technology, yet some employers do have call out allowances paid to employees, depending on their type of role.

8. Fair's fair
Don't berate your staff for taking 10 minutes extra on their lunch break or checking out Facebook if you expect them to be available for after-hours calls. Not only will you earn the hypocrite label, but seeds of resentment will be sown.

9. Avoid after-hours emergencies

After a workplace emergency has passed, set up processes to try to avoid it next time.

10. Spread responsibilities

Are you contacting the same staff after hours? Time to spread the responsibilities evenly. Consider a roster to make sure one employee isn't lumped with the role of being the after-hours workhorse.

Do you have an out-of-control after hours boss?

- Sydney Morning Herald

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