How to deal with needy relatives while you’re at work

Being connected at all times time is amazing – except for when it isn’t. While it’s hugely convenient to be able to use an app to catch up with family while you’re traveling overseas, it’s a lot less appealing when you’re trying to negotiate for a raise and your notifications keep endlessly pinging.

Besides, it’s not realistic to tune out your nearest and dearest for your entire workday. I remember a tense few weeks when I wrote a few chapters of one of my books from the waiting room in the intensive care unit. It was far from an ideal situation, but it allowed me to meet my deadline and be with my relatives.

For less dire situations, balance is key.

Set realistic boundaries

“For better or worse, I am always checking my phone – it goes with the territory as both a realtor and a mom of two little (accident prone) boys,” said real estate agent Allison Chiaramonte of Warburg Realty in Manhattan. That said, Chiaramonte said, “I have made it clear to everyone (my family, caregivers and children’s schools) that they should NOT expect me to pick up my phone during the workday.” Chiaramonte tried to imagine the flip side “I find it incredibly distracting when a showing agent is on the phone. I want to give my clients 100% of my focus when I am with them.”

Create an alternative

Chiaramonte created a backup plan. She said “If there is a true emergency, I have people text me that and then I will call or answer them via text right away. That means I lose 15-20 seconds checking a text message and don’t get engaged in needless conversations.”

This system allows Chiaramonte to “not worry about missed calls from family members since I know if it were a serious matter (worth interrupting a work meeting for) – that I would have a text which I can check discreetly at a showing.”

Test it out during calmer times

It took a while for Chiaramonte’s family to get used to her method, “It took them a little while to get the hang out of this, but now everyone knows the best way to reach me right away is by text. While this isn’t a perfect solution, it means that while I am always checking my phone, I am not always on my phone!”

If you’re planning on trying a similar setup, make sure to implement it during a slow work period so you can ease your family into this new way of communication.

Or go cold turkey

Steven Rothberg founded College Recruiter 27 years ago and has worked from home for 22 years. “Working from home is no longer unusual for professionals, but it certainly was when I started,” said Rothberg. “Many relatives did not understand that when I was working, they needed to interact with me as if I were in a downtown office building. No, I wasn’t available during the day to run their errands.”

Rothberg said that he learned quickly and trained his family members “to only call during the workday if there was something truly urgent that could not wait until after I was finished for the day.”

He said, “A few family members would “forget”, and I would then get into the habit of being unavailable when they called and so their calls would go to voicemail.” While it’s easy to blame relatives for trying to muscle into your workday, Rothberg says “I believed, and still do, that the responsibility for keeping my work hours separate from their personal hours rested with me. If I weren’t disciplined about that, I could not expect them to be.”

Or, as Chiaramonte puts it: “It’s all about setting boundaries and making work time meaningful and productive, and family time – just that.”

A few more tips to consider:

Set home boundaries too

If your loved ones can’t understand why you have to be out of touch during the day, make the same effort during off-hours. Try shutting your phone completely during dinner time or not answering any work-related emails after a specified time.

Create check-ins

If you have an elderly parent or toddler at daycare consider calling at set times every morning, afternoon and just before you head home. In this way they know you’re around, though perhaps not immediately reachable.