Balancing act: How connected is too connected when it comes to work?

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 10 2013 3:29 p.m. MST

In a new survey, about 38 percent of respondents said they would always answer an after-hours call from the boss, while 17 percent said they sometimes would, 11 percent rarely would and 34 percent never would. Would you?

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Like many of us who have smartphones, my wife is fairly attached to hers.

Sometimes, it appears she may be literally attached, in fact.

She uses it for almost everything, from keeping our family calendar and navigating with Google Maps to keeping a shopping list, tracking our children's activities and appointments, playing games and listening to music.

I know this about her, so I'm always a little surprised when I call her and she doesn't answer. I'm absolutely sure she has her phone, so why wouldn't she answer? Is she OK? Did she get in some kind of an accident?

My thoughts immediately go to worst-case scenarios. It's a curse.

Discounting those thoughts, I start wondering if she's screening my calls. Hmmm.

And then I realize that the most likely reason for her lack of answer is one of three things, none of which is scary or serious. First, it's possible that one of our children is playing on her phone and ignoring all calls, texts and other outside stimuli. Second, she may have turned the sound off on her phone while attending a meeting and didn't turn it back on, so she doesn't even know I'm calling. And third, she may have left her phone at home, which does happen at times.

All three of those are acceptable excuses for not answering, and frankly, I'm not usually calling due to an emergency.

However, the same isn't true when the roles are reversed. I also have my phone with me pretty much all the time. When my wife calls me, I try to answer right away or, if I'm in a meeting at work, send her a quick text just to make sure everything is OK. She rarely calls unless there is a problem or one of our children has done something cool, so I don't want to leave her hanging — or send her chasing worst-case scenarios of her own.

Such phone etiquette issues can be tricky, especially now that so many people have communication devices with them at all times and are never really disconnected from work, home, family or friends.

GetVoIP, a VoIP provider comparison website, addressed one aspect of this challenge in a recent survey.

In late October, the company used Google's Consumer Survey tool to ask 1,504 U.S. workers the question: "How often would you answer your boss's phone call after business hours?"

The results were interesting. About 38 percent of respondents said they would always answer a call from the boss, while 17 percent said they sometimes would, 11 percent rarely would and 34 percent never would.

"With cell phones and mobile devices making it easier than ever to stay in contact, being available by phone has become an expectation rather than the exception," GetVoIP said in a prepared statement about the survey. "This expectation can make achieving work-life balance difficult for employees who may feel pressured to answer phone calls any time of the day or night."

I've written before about technology's tendency to keep us connected to the office, but I was focusing primarily on email. Phone calls are a different animal.

Because people seem to make voice calls much less often these days — opting instead for emails and text messages, or communication through social media — an actual call has grown in importance for me. If someone from work is making the effort to pick up the phone and call me, I assume it must be an emergency, or at least something important.

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