A friend just called me in a panic. We had scheduled (some time ago) a performance event at her house to happen one evening next week. But she came into her newish job this morning to find that they expected her to attend an evening board meeting at that time! She was both irritated by the work requirement – though she knew the job would not always be 9-5 she felt like she had no control over her personal time due to this conflict – and guilty/concerned about messing up the performance. What should she do about it all?
I pointed out that this was two issues: the specific conflict (the performance can be rescheduled if the other group members agree – it wasn’t a big public event), and how she should deal with this kind of work demand going forward.
I asked whether her work uses a shared calendar system with which people can check for conflicts before scheduling people for a meeting? Yes, she replied… but she didn’t put any of her personal appointments on it.
THAT, I explained, is the issue! While you do not need to make all of your personal plans publicly visible to your co-workers, you DO need to block out any time when they might try to schedule a work event that would get in the way of your life.
For example, at my day job I arrive in the office at 7am and leave at 4pm. Other people in my large IT department work 8am to 5pm, or 9am to 6pm. They don’t know that by 4pm I’ve already been there for 9 hours. So to avoid someone using the Outlook calendar system to book me for a meeting at 4pm, I have a repeating appointment set for 4 to 6pm every week day. When (if!) they use the “scheduling assistant” function it will tell them I am not available. A lunch hour is similarly scheduled.
Granted that just blocking your personal time will not always work if your job sometimes requires out-of-band work time (e.g., sometimes in IT you can only take the mail server down at 3am when everyone who wants it is hopefully asleep!). But it gives you an opening to have the conversation by making it clear (or pointing out it should have been clear if the requester used the scheduling assistant) when you are NOT normally available, so a request for your time cannot be assumed without prior negotiation.