Working hours – should you always be available?
What expectations for working hours are reasonable?
The ping of an email or a ringing phone can bring us all out in a cold sweat. If it’s a client who is in desperate need of your help, it can be almost impossible to avoid the urge to respond. But as your dinner is getting colder by the minute, consider this – has your number of working hours and being contactable every minute of the day affected your relationships with your clients? Although in general workers work shorter working hours than they used to is there still room for change?
Should clients expect the same working hours as a 24-hour supermarket or should business owners be stricter with their working hours?
Perhaps it’s technology’s fault?
It’s all too easy to blame the invention of mobile phones, the Internet, Wi-fi, etc, etc.
But where does it stop? We can’t uninvent the mobile phone.
Yes, technology has made it possible for us to be contactable at all times but that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to be.
Perhaps we should take some personal responsibility for allowing our clients to email us on a Sunday afternoon and expect a response before Monday morning?
So people are just becoming more unreasonable when it comes to working hours then?
Generally it’s true to say that peoples’ expectations have risen in recent years alongside the emergence of new communication methods and technology.
Are we, as clients, perhaps expecting too much?
Many services are now being provided with far less face-to-face communication.
When we spend time with people face-to-face, we build a different type of relationship to one which is created over the phone or via email. Suddenly, the person we’re moaning at about our end-of-year accounts is someone we know and can empathise with.
We’re then less likely to be unreasonable in our demands. We understand their need to spend the weekends with their family and friends, gardening or at their local park run.
So maybe it’s not that people are becoming more unreasonable but just that a lot more communication is now done online.
But my competitors are working longer working hours and are available all the time..
Another driving factor for people accepting they need to be on call, is that everyone seems to be doing it, including your competitors.
If you push back to your customers and tell them that you’re not going to be available at weekends or at 10pm, your fear is that they might find someone who will be.
The truth is though that you’ve invested a lot of time building a relationship with them and understanding their business needs. They won’t want to throw that away without due cause.
Have strong self-belief
You might not be available 24 hours a day but the service you provide is second to none. Can your competitors say that about themselves?
Also, unless you’re calling your competitors up at inconvenient times of the day, how do you really know they’re available?
Your best-fit clients will understand the need for you to have a life outside of your business.
And let’s face it, very few people truly need to be on call 24/7!
So how can you build healthy client relationships?
Decide what your boundaries are
Are you going to check your emails over the weekend or on holiday? If so, will you respond to them? Once you start responding to clients at certain times, you’re setting the boundaries for them. If you’re going on holiday and you don’t want to (or really need to) look at your emails, just make sure you let your clients know in advance.
This sounds very clinical but it’s worth asking new clients some questions about what their expectations are. Can you deliver the service they expect? If you can’t, then don’t take them on as clients.
Setting expectations and boundaries up front in a signed client agreement to include hours of availability, methods of contact, clear deliverables, deadlines, cancellation and refund policies is often a very good idea.
Is a client needy for a reason?
A needy or high maintenance prospect often has hidden, unmet needs. Try to find out what those needs are by asking lots of questions.
Make sure you paraphrase what you’ve heard to check your understanding.
If something gets uncovered, you can then manage that client in a better way and it may avoid the extra or out-of- hours requests.
Perhaps a client is worried about something and they don’t feel reassured that you’re in control of it. They may have been let down by a previous supplier and be more nervous as a result. For the short-term it might mean you have to over-communicate. Be clear that you fully understand what it is that they need and that you are sure you can deliver it.
This should go a long way to reassure them.
Know when to let them go
Sometimes, you can invest in a client relationship but it’s just not a good fit.
If a client persists with unrealistic expectations around your availability it can have a negative impact on your mental health.
If you can afford to let a client go financially, it could be the right thing to do.
The energy you have been using to keep that one client happy could go into numerous other more rewarding projects. You are also more likely to enjoy your evenings and weekends, getting back to working on your schedule and not someone else’s.
Use technology to help you with longer working hours
There are instant messaging systems available now which you can set when you don’t want to be disturbed. A message which says you’ll be able to respond to their enquiry first thing in the morning, for example.
You could also set your email to send automatic out-of-office responses. It doesn’t have to be clinical. Just say that weekends are your time to recharge your batteries but come Monday morning you’ll be back in the office and keen to take their call.
There will of course be times when something happens that you can’t just ignore.
If a client has rung you at least twice and/or left countless messages then it might be a good idea to check in with them. They may be going through a big change with their business, for example, which temporarily requires demands outside of the normal hours.
Perhaps they are selling their business or buying another business etc. But once that stage is over you should be able to go back to business as usual.
Give us a call during our long working hours!
As an accountant we understand what it means to be there for our clients. Whether it’s help to get off the ground, to grow or to prepare your business to be handed over to the next generation, we have the experience to guide you along the way.
Our online chat system is there to help until 10.00pm most days but if you call us at 2am, you’re unlikely to get any response until the next day!
About Jon Pryse-Jones
Since joining THP in 1978, Jon Pryse-Jones has been hands on with every area of the business. Now specialising in strategy, business planning, and marketing, Jon remains at the forefront of the growth and development at THP.
An ideas man, Jon enjoys getting the most out of all situations, “I act as a catalyst for creative people and encourage them to think outside the box,” he says, “and I’m not afraid of being confrontational. It often leads to a better result for THP and its clients.”
Jon’s appreciation for THP extends to his fellow team members and the board. “They really know how to run a successful business,” he says. He’s keen on IT and systems development as critical to success, and he continues to guide THP to be at the cutting edge and effective.