am I supposed to return missed calls from coworkers if they don’t leave a message?

A reader writes:

I work for a large organization (10,000+ employees) in a role that involves a good amount of staff engagement. My team tries to be supportive and responsive to our colleagues, which is kind of unique in our organization. I think we do a pretty good job of this overall, but there’s one piece that I can’t quite figure out.

Often, I come back from meetings or events and have missed calls from staff. They don’t leave a voicemail, send a follow-up email, or otherwise provide any information about why they called. What am I supposed to do with these? I don’t want to look like part of an unresponsive bureaucracy, but I also don’t want to be roped into conversations I can’t respond to as the junior person on our team, serve as the help desk for questions tangentially related to the work we do, or otherwise spend my time chasing down wrong numbers, questions someone else on my team answered, or questions they ultimately found an answer to. Do you have any advice on how to respond, or if I should?

If they didn’t leave a message, you have no obligation to follow up.

In fact, it can be annoying if you follow up in this context. If I called you with a question, didn’t reach you, and got the answer some other way, I’d rather not field a call from you later that day asking what I need. If I need something from you, I will leave you a voicemail or send you an email letting you know.

It’s reasonable to assume that’s how people are operating.

The exception to all of this is if your workplace norms contradict the above. It’s possible some workplace out there has a culture where you’re supposed to see missed calls and assume you need to return them. Or you might end up with a boss that day who expects you to read her missed calls as a signal to call her back. But that’s not the norm. In general, no message means you don’t need to reply.

{ 128 comments… read them below }

  1. TheLazyB*

    God this used to drive me mad in LastJob. I sat in reception so often picked up calls to put through to others. If there was no answer we were supposed to check if they wanted voicemail which often they didn’t. So i regularly used to get calls that went ‘you rang?!’ and would have to flick back through my memory – did i want to speak to them? Had i emailed or got an answer elsewhere? Oh no, it was That Guy from Toffee Teapots Ltd. No he didn’t leave a message. I am not a mindreader FFS!!!!

    Ahem. Carry on.

  2. Meg Murry*

    Can I take a minute to rant on the idea that (in my personal life) a missed call in my caller ID is supposed to mean “call me back” now? If you want to talk to me, either leave a voice mail, send me an email, or shoot me a text that either says why you are calling or says “give me a call please”. My younger sister is the worst for this – she’ll whine that I never call her back, but in my mind if she can’t bother to leave a message, how am I supposed to know that I wanted her to call me back and wasn’t just calling to ask a quick question? So she is my one exception to the no message callback.

    At work, no, I would not interpret a missed call as someone you have to call back – chances are they moved on to the next person on their list to ask or are sending you an email. The only exception I would say to this is if it is someone you work closely with and you just missed the call – as in, it was ringing when you stepped in to your cube/office and you just didn’t grab it fast enough – I might call back right then. But otherwise, wait and see if they left you a message, especially if it’s someone you don’t regularly work with, because that could just be a wrong extension dial.

    1. Chocolate lover*

      I’m with you on the personal life calls! It drives me crazy. Especially if it’s during the day, because I keep my cell phone on silent at work (it sets a poor example for my students – and if it’s a real emergency, my work # is easy to find). One friend kept calling and calling. I finally caught one of her calls and she complained that I didn’t call her back. I pointed out no message. She said “I don’t have time to leave messages.” ok, but you have time to call me at least 4 times today? I don’t have time to call you back during work unless you tell me what it’s for.

      1. azvlr*

        My dad does the opposite! I’m not a fan of voicemail, so I’ve told him all he needs to do is call and if I don’t pick up, no need to leave him a message. Unless its an emergency. I’ve told him this on more than one occasion thinking I wasn’t clear enough the other times. He still calls “just to say hi”, and leaves a message to say so. Then I check my voicemail in a panic thinking something’s wrong.

        But I agree that in general, no voicemail = no obligation to call back.

          1. MaryMary*

            My Dad still identifies himself when he leaves voicemails. “Hi honey, this is Dad…” I think he forgets that all cell phones have caller ID now, and that I would recognize his voice anyways. I think it’s adorable.

            1. Cath in Canada*

              I sympathise with him, because I still haven’t broken the habit of stating the date and time when I leave a voicemail message, even though almost all systems will let the recipient know this info automatically. Hey, it’s what I was taught to do!

              1. TheLazyB*

                On my phone I have to press some random button to tell me the date and time. I would appreciate this, especially as my DH just leaves messages saying ‘call me’, no time, no context.

            2. Jessa*

              Just because you have caller ID doesn’t mean someone did not borrow a person’s phone. I think it’s good to identify yourself when you call someone.

            3. Windchime*

              My mom does this, too. And every single voicemail is this exact format: “Hi Windchime, this is Mom. Call me back.”

          2. azvlr*

            I totally agree and I’m sorry it came off as a complaint. Its more like one of those things that makes me smile and shake my head. In the days of long-distance, he never stayed on the phone long, even on my dime! My parents are getting older, and I am worried that any moment I may get “that call”.

        1. Cripes!Jinkies!*

          At least twice a day:

          “Hi Bill, it’s your Mom, I love you, call me back!”

          I know who it is, Mom. I know your voice and your phone number. No need to specify.

          1. Graciosa*

            But at least you know the love hasn’t faded away to nothing since her last message –

          2. Vicki*

            Spouse mother used to leave messages like this:

            Hi [Name]. It’s your mom. In [Town].

            As if she’d be calling from anywhere else.

      2. Melissa*

        If you have time to call me and ask me whatever it is you wanted to ask me…you have time to leave me a message. I mean, seriously, it takes 15-30 seconds. Sheesh.

    2. Ellie H.*

      I disagree, I think there is a very strong convention that when you see a missed call on your personal cellphone, if it is from a person you know (i.e. his or her number is in your contacts) you understand that to mean “call back” even if there is no message. To be a little more formal, the missed-caller might also leave a text message (“Hey, tried calling, call me back when you have a chance”) but not everyone would consider this necessary.

      It’s quite possible that this convention varies in different social/family circles. But pretty much everyone that I personally know interprets a missed call from someone in your contacts, on your personal cell phone, to mean “call me back,” even without a message. If my mom, boyfriend, friend etc. calls and doesn’t leave a message, I will always call back. I feel it would be rude otherwise, and that it would be very strange to just ignore a missed call. (Note, this wouldn’t be true for a call from an unknown number – that would require an accompanying message for me to call back. And I don’t consider it a valid rule in the work context either, just as in the above question and answer. At work, I would never think I had to return a missed call that had no message.)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It really varies depending on your peer group. Mine definitely does not have that as a convention at all, let alone a strong one — but there are social groups that do.

        1. Chocolate lover*

          It really does vary. My family/social group convention is that people call back when they feel like it. Or not. Even IF there is a message. And that may not be for days or weeks, depending on what’s going on. As much as I love my friends/family, I also have work to do, I like my alone time, etc. Just because they want to speak to me, doesn’t mean I’m “required” to speak to them (I realize that may sound mean to some people, I really do love my friends/family and have close relationships). And it works both ways. My best friend has 2 young children and is in grad school full-time. I understand completely that she can’t always respond quickly to my “I just felt like chatting and catching up” calls. That’s life.

        2. Cath in Canada*

          My husband and I follow this rule, specifically when we know that the reason for the other person not picking up is probably because they’re driving or cycling at the time. If I see a missed call when I finish my ride home, I’ll call him back. But I don’t do this with other friends.

          1. Chinook*

            This is one of the cultural/generation gap issues DH and I have (he is Gen Y from greater Toronto, I am Gen X from rural Alberta). I now understand thathe never leaves voice messages and he understands that I will if it is important. Our compromise is BBMing each other (handy because we can tell if the other person has read the message) to tell the other person to call us (because sometimes the other person is in a place where a ringing phone could tick off a judge, a reporter or a bad guy with a temper).

        3. Liz in a Library*

          My peer group does not have this convention either. Neither does my family. A phone call without a voicemail or text does not need to be returned.

          That’s the way it has been in all of my workplaces, too. After all…given how often I accidentally clear alerts from my phone, there’s no guarantee I’ll even see a missed call without a message of some sort!

        4. sam*

          It definitely varies depending on peer group and age group, but I also think this is VERY MUCH a cellphone convention if anything and should not be something that implies a behavior that should carry over to other settings like business phones.

          1. NJ anon*

            Agree. My kids always text so if I miss a call with no voice mail, I always call back. My dh never texts so I call him too (no message required.)

      2. treytrey*

        I agree with you about personal calls. If I have a missed call from a contact, that to me is enough to call them back. They called for a reason and it is specifically to speak with me. At work, they could get their answer elsewhere if they don’t reach me, so a message is necessary to let me know that they want to speak to me specifically.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          I’ve called people I know and it was a wrong number. I didn’t mean to call them, I meant to call the person right next to them.

          I’m just glad that most of the people around me don’t interpret a missed call as a reason to call back. If they did, I’d probably turn off and unplug the phone.

      3. LBK*

        Personally, a missed personal call to me only means “please call back” because all of my friends know that I never, ever answer the phone, so they would only call me if it were an emergency or something serious enough that it needed to be discussed via voice instead of text.

      4. Lunar*

        I agree with this about personal calls. When I make a personal call I often won’t leave a message because it is just to say hi or to chat so I don’t really have a message to leave. If I see a missed call I’m likely to think it is something similar and will call back when it is convenient for me to get into a conversation.
        I think work is the opposite. With work calls people are trying to get something done so if they don’t leave a message or send an email I assume they got whatever they needed elsewhere or went ahead and did it.
        I think it is fine to not call back in either case, but I personally tend to call back in personal situations because I take a missed call to mean “I want to chat”.

      5. Kara*

        I think there is a very strong convention that when you see a missed call on your personal cellphone, if it is from a person you know (i.e. his or her number is in your contacts) you understand that to mean “call back” even if there is no message.
        Honestly that drives me up a wall. It is one of my biggest pet peeves – someone will see my number on their cell phone when I didn’t leave a message and call me back. If it is a “convention”, it’s one that needs to stop forthwith!

        1. Ellie H.*

          Why? I honestly don’t understand. I call someone if I want to talk to the person. I’m probably not going to stop wanting to talk to him or her. This is because these days, if you have a quick, expedient question (“What time do you think you’ll want to meet up?”) such questions are typically reserved for text messages. A different type of conversation – something that involves back and forth, simply catching up and saying hi – means that a return call would be appreciated. I don’t NEVER follow up with a message; if I have a specific question, I’ll follow up with a text message asking that question. Why do you not want the person to call you back?

          1. Kai*

            I think with close friends and family, it’s different, at least for me. If I see a missed call from my mom I’ll call her back. Work calls, I don’t bother unless there’s a message.

          2. esra*

            Eh, if they want to talk that bad, they’ll leave a message, text, or call back later. And I hate getting calls like 12 hours later asking why I called, when it was just some random one off.

      6. KAZ2Y5*

        I have to disagree with you. Of all the people I know, only 2 return calls with no message. One family does because they used to have caller ID, but no answering machine on their phone and they would call back every call from someone they knew. And the other is my son. Drives me up the wall, because he will not leave a message (not even a text message!) but will call 3-4 times in a row if he thinks he needs me. So he is the only one I will call back without a message, and I never leave a message for him (except text) because he hates to listen to them. Otherwise, if someone calls me and doesn’t leave a message I figure it isn’t important or they got what they wanted or it was time-sensitive and they needed something right away.

      7. louise*

        In my area, cell phones coverage is spotty enough that you don’t always get the vm. So when I see a missed call with no vm in my personal life, I call them back because there are 50/50 odds that they did leave a message and I just didn’t get it.

        On the other end of frustrating, often a call won’t ring, but if they leave a message, I’ll get a notification of a new vm. With my phone that didn’t ring sitting *RIGHT THERE.*

        But in business? On office landlines? No vm means no return call.

        1. TheLazyB*

          “On the other end of frustrating, often a call won’t ring, but if they leave a message, I’ll get a notification of a new vm. With my phone that didn’t ring sitting *RIGHT THERE.*”

          That happened to me lately. Someone called with the result of an interview I’d just had while I was picking my son up from childcare. I’m not supposed to use my phone in there so I asked her to call me straight back, ran to my car, then sat outside trying to keep my son quiet all ‘why hasn’t she called back yet??? has she changed her mind?!’ She called back half an hour later. Immediately after we finished talking I got a voicemail from her from 15 minutes earlier. I HAD HAD MY PHONE IN MY HAND. I was poised to answer it. Aaaargh.

          (I was offered the job but had to withdraw because it was temp and I got a permanent offer!)

          1. Bea W*

            This happens to me at work where coverage is crappy, but it also happened at home last week. I am certain the person just called straight into voice mail, particularly since it was 6 PM and they left a message saying to call back during business hours 8:30-4:30. It was a Friday too, so it was particularly annoying, because it was to schedule a really important appointment, and the weekend is a long time to remember to return a call.

      8. Kat M*

        I disagree. If I see a missed call, I’m not going to call back. If someone wants me to speak to them, they are free to leave a voicemail. Otherwise, I don’t have time to go through and catch missed calls-to me, that feels like mind reading. Especially because, more often than not, the person usually pocket dialed or something…..

      9. Graciosa*

        Definitely not the convention in my social group.

        A call without a message in mine means either I’ll try again later as it wasn’t that important, or I’ve just mysteriously lost my ability to speak in the intervals between dialing and getting the opportunity to leave a message because I would certainly have had the courtesy to do so otherwise.

    3. jhhj*

      Funny, in my personal life I always interpret a missed call from a friend or family member as a request for a return call about something unimportant — if it’s important, text or email me also. I hate listening to voicemail though and have finally trained my parents out of doing so. But this seems pretty standard among my friends.

      1. lulu*

        This. I hate voicemail, so a missed call is all I need. Why would you call me if you don’t want me to call you back?

        1. Dan*

          +1 to both of you

          I hate listening to voice mail – such a waste of time.\

          “Hey, this is Wakeen, I wanna talk to you , call me back”. Duh. Caller ID tells me you called, presumably because you want to talk to me. Two minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Geez :-|

          Then you get the long winded, tell-you-their-life-story VMs. Ugh…

    4. Audiophile*

      I don’t return calls if a person doesn’t leave a message or text me that they need a response from me. I don’t think it’s rude, either. I get calls from random numbers or wrong numbers all the time. (For the past two weeks, I’ve been getting calls for girl named Mercedes, that her place is ready or something. I even returned a text message they sent, that they had the wrong number but the calls have persisted.)

      Now, if I leave you a message and you don’t call me back, well that’s irritating. I have a friend, who has a habit of this, but I’ve know and accepted this.

  3. Ihmmy*

    I call back my manager if she gives me a ring, but otherwise if there’s no voicemail, I assume it was solved without me. That said I’m usually at my desk and able to pick up the phone so there’s not many missed calls

  4. ThursdaysGeek*

    And please, this is the case outside the workplace too! If I didn’t leave a message or try to contact you some other way, it was probably a wrong number or I found my answer someplace else. No need to call me and say “I got a call from this number. What did you want?” I wanted to dial the correct number the first time, and I didn’t. I wanted to see if you were home, because I was driving by several hours ago. I already sent you a message on FB telling you what I wanted, and now I have to repeat it.

    1. JMegan*

      I once had the phone ring at 1:00 am, scaring the everloving @#$@!! out of me. The person on the other end said “I saw this number on my caller ID, but there was no message so I thought it might be important.”

      So let me get this straight. You saw a number that you didn’t recognize, from a call that was placed mid-afternoon, and you thought that it was so urgent that you had to call back in the middle of the night??? Trust me, dude, if it was a middle-of-the-night, call-me-back-it’s-urgent type of emergency, I would have left a message. I promise.

      (What had actually happened, was that I had dialled a wrong number earlier in the day. Heard the answering machine, realized it was a wrong number, hung up and called the right number, and forgot about it. I wasn’t expecting a call back at all, let alone one that made me wonder if a family member was in the hospital!)

      1. Retail Lifer*

        This. And also people who see a missed call on their call, don’t recognize the number and no voicemail was left, but immediately call back saying I GOT A CALL FROM THIS NUMBER.

        Well yeah, you did, but have you not heard of wrong numbers? If it were the right number and it was important, wouldn’t you expect them to leave a voicemail for you?

        1. Chinook*

          “also people who see a missed call on their call, don’t recognize the number and no voicemail was left, but immediately call back saying I GOT A CALL FROM THIS NUMBER.”

          As a receptionist who handled a switchboard with 100 people on it, this was the bane of my existence.

          1. Salyan*

            Even worse? Being at the switchboard and getting people calling you back ‘because I got a call from this number’ who *had* a message but didn’t listen to it before calling!!!

            1. Chocolate lover*

              hahahah I wrote a post on this exact topic, warning my students not to do this to employers when they were in a job search!

            2. MaryMary*

              Or working at a call center with a blocked number, where people would get mad because no one called them back to follow up…except we did, and left messages, but you ignored them because the number was blocked.

          2. Kelly O*

            This is the bane of my existence. Seriously.

            We are a global company. Many times people will dial in from an international number to call out from the Houston number to avoid long distance charges. Anyone in North America will show my number as the dial-out number.

            So no, I can’t tell you who called you, or why. I don’t know who it was, much less what they wanted. But “I GOT A CALL FROM THIS NUMBER!!!” like somehow that connection means I owe them something.

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          But, if you had left a message: “sorry, wrong number”, they wouldn’t listen to the message, they’d call back and ask what you were calling about. So once you’ve mis-dialed, you’re out of luck, and your only hope is they won’t call back in the middle of the night.

        3. tango*

          I haven’t had this happen too often but the few times it has, it’s been women on the other end saying something along the lines of “I got a call from this number. Who is this?, etc”. I would say wrong number and apologize or whatever. It made me wonder if they were women with cheating partners/spouses and interpreted a hang up with no message as some woman calling for their man and when he didn’t answer (or no answer at all) just hung up. I would NEVER call a random number that didn’t leave a voice mail message. Only possibly investigate further if there were multiple calls with no messages left and it was apparent it wasn’t a telemarketing call from a business.

          1. Ellie H.*

            I have to admit, I will often call back unknown numbers with no message, especially when I recognize the area code, but this is more out of curiosity/boredom/the spirit of adventure.

        4. Melissa*

          Yes, but honestly, I’ve done this before and realized it was someone calling me over something important who just didn’t think to leave a message.

    2. KAZ2Y5*

      “I wanted to dial the correct number the first time, and I didn’t.”

      Ha! This is going to be my answer the next time I dial a wrong number and they call back later asking what I wanted.

  5. Oryx*

    Our phone system is tied to our email so every time we get email notifications with a missed call. It is AMAZING how many people will call and call and call but not leave a message. I’ll come in in the morning and have all these missed calls from the same number just seconds or minutes apart and have no idea what they wanted or who they were.

    1. Chocolate lover*

      I have students who sometimes do that to me. Then they’ll finally get hold of me and say “I’ve been trying to reach you all day!”

      If I knew who you were and you had actually left a message, I would have called you back!

      1. Oryx*

        Exactly! These are students, too, and it’s the same thing when they finally do get a hold of me.

      2. Higher Ed Admin*

        Students do this to me constantly! I stopped hearing about student complaints to my supervisor that I’m “impossible to reach” after the first few times I showed her that I had no outstanding messages and was caught up on my return calls with no indication that the complainer ever called. Since then, the question “did you leave a message?” usually shuts it down. We only recently even got any kind of reliable caller ID. My favorite is when they call 10 times in a row while I’m trying to work with another student, then don’t leave a message.

        1. Chocolate lover*

          Oh don’t get me started on that one! I don’t answer the phone when I have a student in my office, as far as I’m concerned, it’s rude. So if you call me every two minutes (I mean that literally), it’s so disruptive. Thankfully it doesn’t happen often these days, and I’ve turned my phone volume down so it’s not as loud.

    2. NickelandDime*

      I think calling a number repeatedly, and not only doing that, but letting voicemail pick it up and then hanging up without leaving a message repeatedly, is kind of rude. Just leave a message or send a voicemail! What if they’re in a day long meeting, or on vacation, or traveling for business?

      1. Bea W*

        My mother did this. It drove me nuts! If it’s that urgent, you need to leave a freakin voicemail with at least the minimum “Call me as soon as you are free. It’s really important.” Also, what a time waster for the person who keeps calling and calling. Just leave a message or follow-up with text or email and move on with your day folks!

    3. LBK*

      I’ve never understood the impulse to call multiple times in a row. If I’m not available the first time you call, I’m rarely going to be available 15 seconds later. If I am available but I’m screening my calls, I’m certainly not going to be more apt to answer if you start annoying me! Either way, I’m going to speak to you when it works into my schedule. Leave a voicemail, I’ll listen to it when I have a chance and I’ll call you back once I’ve been able to prepare an answer.

      1. Dan*

        I usually call twice. I assume the first may have been missed by someone not hearing it ring in the other room, or not feeling it vibrate in their pocket. So I’ll try a second time. If it’s missed again I’ll send a text if it’s urgent, otherwise, I expect they’ll call back when they have time.

    4. HR Generalist*

      A lot of people (mostly younger people, from my experience) are scared of leaving voicemails so they think calling repeatedly is okay – personally, I hate that.

      At work now, I’ll often have repeat callers who don’t leave a message because they don’t want any evidence of what they want to discuss. For example, they might be intentionally ignoring policy and I will advise them by email, they’ll try and call to discuss. I ignore the call because I want what they’re saying in writing (or recorded) so I wait until I have a voicemail or email. If they are clogging my phone line repeatedly calling, I’ll silence the line and send an email saying, “Sorry – I’m very busy and don’t have time for a call right now. Leave me a voicemail or send me an email about what you’d like to discuss instead” and that is usually direct enough for them.

  6. JB*

    Amen! I feel like if it wasn’t important enough for the person to leave a message, it is not important enough for me to call back.

    I did have a younger worker try to tell me that “his generation does that” and “you are supposed to call back”. After he failed to deliver something citing me not getting back to him. I explained that is not how it works in the professional world.

    1. Danielle*

      Nope. Not a generational thing.

      I’m 25 and if the issue is important enough for me to call, rather than email, you can bet that I’ll leave a message.

      Also because I hate the phone and don’t want to call again and again.

    2. Chocolate lover*


      I find the “supposed to call back” frustrating. Not that I’m unwilling to call you back by any means, but I have a variety of work to do, and if you leave a message, I can prioritize it. If you don’t leave me a message, I’m going to assume it’s not that important and keep on with my work.

      1. Mabel*

        If you don’t leave me a message, I’m going to assume it’s not that important and keep on with my work.


    3. Youngster*

      I’m in that generation- we don’t call back, we text. Or at least people I know barely use the phone functionality of their smart phones. I don’t work with many, if any people in my own generation however our phones don’t store call history here either.

      1. Just Ducky*

        +1 Outside of work. If I see more than one missed call, I assume someone’s dying and/or on fire and call back.

        At work, I’ll return a call with a call. I probably wouldn’t if we all had cell phones, though.

    4. Snowglobe*

      I recently had this same argument with a (younger) family member. She insists that “etiquette had changed” since cell phones and caller ID, and that people shouldn’t have to leave a message that just says “call me back”. She believes it’s rude not to call back when you see you missed a call

      1. Just Ducky*

        I can see her side of it, but at work, you need to do what’s polite to the people you work with. If that helps your side at all :)

      2. EB*

        The protocols I’ve seen is call, if no answer, then text (unless calling a land line), though with younger students I just get texts.

      3. Bea W*

        I disagree with that person that etiquette has changed, and that it’s still in fact not considered rude to not call back someone who didn’t leave a message, but then I was raised alongside dinosaurs and had to walk to school 10 miles in the snow uphill both ways. Maybe someday it will change, but for now people like me are still the majority of the work force. There are also differences between workplace etiquette and just normal everyday etiquette, especially where work phones are still often landline phones, and do not necessarily have caller ID. Even if they all did, that would be annoying has heck responding to calls where no one leaves a voice mail, especially if you receive a lot of outside calls from people you don’t know and numbers you don’t recoginize. It’s a huge time waster, and I’d argue it would be rude to expect someone to return these types of calls in working environment because it shows a lack of consideration for someone’s time and right to work efficiently.

    5. LBK*

      Huh, I would actually expect the opposite argument – that phone conversations have fallen so out of favor and there are so many other methods of contacting someone now that the younger generation would be less apt to expect a return call (because they’d usually just send an email/IM/text instead if they couldn’t reach you by phone).

  7. Mockingjay*

    I just came back from the break room to find that the boss had called, but left no message…

    Since he’s the boss, I called back.

    AAM topics are always so timely!

  8. John*

    Lots of us no longer like voice mail. If you can’t reach someone, it’s easier to send them a quick email so they can just hit reply from wherever they are, versus having to dial into their voice mail, listen to a long message, take down the caller’s number and dial them back.

    I’ve found my younger colleagues have absolutely zero tolerance for voice mail. I’m getting the same way.

    1. Chocolate lover*

      I don’t love voicemail either, and I’m much happier when they send an email. But send me *some* kind of message.

      Well, not text. I’m not giving students my personal cell phone, when even most of my coworkers don’t have it (that’s not how we communicate with each other).

      1. Judy*

        My husband just got a google voice number to share with his (college) students. He places time of day limits on it. He gets texts from it. He can call on his cell phone using it, so they don’t get his number.

    2. Artemesia*

      I left a message on mine at work to email me if they didn’t reach me and then stopped listening to it. We had a system that didn’t allow you to dump or skip and it was excruciating to listen to the rambling messages from people you had already talked to — I hate the dang things.

    3. Chris*

      Yup, I hate voicemail. If I’m calling someone within the office, it is likely because I want to speak to them right away. If I can’t connect right away or don’t need to right away, I might as well send an email. And, email, as John described seems much more likely to get a quick response.

    4. Just Ducky*

      The funny thing is that newer phones make voicemail so easy to deal with. On my iPhone, I can see who called and choose which message to play. I can rewind and skip ahead in the message. But I have so much residual hatred from the days of all messages at once with no caller ID that I’m taking a while to come around.

    5. LBK*

      I don’t like voicemail either, but if you’re going to call and expect a call back, I’d much rather prefer a voicemail accompanying the missed call than not. If you don’t leave a voicemail, I often have no idea who you are and I definitely don’t know what you want. I also get a lot of calls where the callback number that comes through is a generic one rather than direct. If you didn’t leave a voicemail, I now have to play the fun game of making the receptionist try to figure out who would’ve been calling me.

      While I prefer a follow up email or IM to a voicemail, if I have to choose between a random missed call and a missed call with an accompanying voicemail, I’d gladly take the latter.

      1. Sheepla*

        But why do you do this? If someone didn’t leave a voicemail, why even waste your time trying to figure out who was calling?

        1. LBK*

          That’s exactly my point – if you didn’t leave a voicemail, I’m usually not going to bother tracking you down to call you back. Even if I’m not a big fan of voicemail I prefer receiving one over not if you’re going to call me.

    6. Retail Lifer*

      I HATE voicemail and I’d rather text or email instead, but you can be sure I’ll do one of those things if I expect a response. It’s stupid to think someone will call you back when you don’t leave any kind of message. People call the wrong number, butt dial, get their question answered by someone else, etc.

    7. Kathryn T.*

      My voicemail message says “This is (my name)’s voicemail. If you leave a message at the beep, I will never, ever, ever listen to it. Unless you are my doctor, my lawyer, or my senator, please text me instead.”

    8. Melissa*

      I also hate voicemail – but, particularly if it’s a work call (but even with personal friends and family), if I wanted something specific I still leave one, or send a text. I want the person to know whether they still need to call me back or not and if so, how soon. Also if we’re talking about cell phones hear, you don’t have to dial into your VM anymore.

      Actually, that’s one of the perks about Google Voice – I can read the text of voicemails. The speech to text isn’t perfect but it’s usually good enough that I can tell who called and why.

  9. Hannah*

    This is a pet peeve of mine. I agree with AAM that there should be no obligation to return a missed call if they didn’t leave a voicemail or send a follow-up email.

    My office’s phones will send an email with a voicemail, but not just a missed call, so if you’re away from your desk you have no way of knowing you missed a call until you return. I have coworkers who will use unreturned calls as an excuse for late work, saying “I tried to ask so and so about this and they never responded”, so depending on the person, I will call them back to ask if they still need something. If that’s annoying, fine, I’d rather be overly responsive than be someone’s scapegoat.

  10. NotMyRealName*

    And if you’re not going to leave a message, please hang up before the beep. Otherwise I get to hear your discussion with your spouse about why the repairman (my husband) is not answering the office phone midday (Could it be that he is out fixing things?).

  11. Savannah*

    I might be this person. I never leave messages at work. If I can’t reach you within two tries during the day I will email you asking to call me when you can. But the only reason I am ever calling someone (maybe 1-2 times a week) is because the matter is too complicated over email and I really do have to talk to you. I hate phone messages both in my professional and personal life because very few people leave more information than what I already have received via the missed call notification. I also am not physically in the office as much as many other people at my office. It is very inefficient to receive emails referencing messages left on my office line when I have been offsite all day or week. Additionally our VM system is old and burdensome to check offsite, and my message system actually instructs co-workers to send me a email if they wish to get a prompt response.

  12. scmill*

    Our department uses our internal instant messaging system heavily to communicate (and as a datapoint, we’re all over the map re both location and age). I rarely get an incoming call without getting a ping first asking if I’m free. I love it and am annoyed when the phone rings without a heads-up because it’s usually a telemarketer or other wrong number!

  13. J-nonymous*

    I’m of a slightly different opinion about this in that it depends on both the company culture but also the communication tools being used.

    At my job, we use unified communications (e.g., calls and instant messaging come over the same system). So sometimes I’ll see that I have a missed call from someone in my IM client. To me, it feels wrong not to IM them to see if they need anything. I don’t call back, but I do follow up.

    1. LBK*

      I think that’s fine – an IM is non-invasive enough that if it was something quick or they got the answer somewhere else, they can easily IM you back and say “handled – disregard”. That’s less annoying than a return phone call an hour later when you’ve already moved on.

  14. AW*

    I don’t even think my desk phone will let me know I missed a call if there isn’t a message.

  15. BadPlanning*

    Caller ID at work is an intriguing idea. Our phones are old and have no caller ID (but they have push buttons at least!). They also take away your voice mail if you don’t access it frequently enough. Many people (me included) no longer have voice mail. It’s amazing how long callers will let the phone ring.

    But we’re pretty “out of the blue” phone adverse anyway. The norm around here is to ping someone on instant message and ask if they have time for a phone call prior to calling.

    Not to be confused with scheduled phone conferences/meetings. We have those all the time.

    1. Jozie*

      Wow, that’s really interesting – also, your phones may be old, but you guys are light years ahead of us if you have an IM system!

    2. Cath in Canada*

      Caller ID is great, but occasionally dangerous if people ever use someone else’s phone! A couple of times, a manager has stopped by a colleague’s desk, realised they need to loop me in, and called me. Unfortunately, I tend to answer calls from this particular colleague (a fellow HUGE Game of Thrones fan) with either “NO SPOILERS I HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET!” or “Valar Morghulis” (“all men must die”). Fortunately, the manager who called me has a good sense of humour! And I’ve stopped doing that now.

  16. Jozie*

    I only call a colleague back in this case if the call came within 30 minutes of me noticing the missed call. Otherwise, I assume they would follow up with an email or another phone call. Likewise, I get calls back from colleagues along these guidelines. With an office of about 60 people, generally people will find a way to get a hold of you if they need you. Rarely does someone leave a message; it’s actually weird if they do.

  17. tango*

    If my daughter calls and does not leave a message, I call her back pretty quickly. If my mom calls and DOES leave a message, I usually don’t call her back or it can be days before I do. Whether I return a personal call when a message is or is not left all depends on how much I want to talk to you.

  18. Amtelope*

    Yeah, if I call somebody at work, they don’t pick up, and I don’t leave a message, it usually means “I was going to ask you about X, but I will call person Y instead(/email you about it/whatever), because obviously you’re busy/not there.” I don’t expect them to call me back.

    1. TwoForTina*

      I usually try to check with the rest of my team if the caller seemed potentially… significant, I guess. Clients or higher-ups and their assistants. But even with those calls, there’s about a 50-50 chance they’re calling for something time-sensitive versus just calling with general questions.

  19. beachlover*

    I am not a person that likes to chit chat over the phone, never have (even as a teenager) never will and my friends and family all know that. so most of my phone calls are short and to the point. I do not return missed calls if there is no message left, either at home or at work. And if you leave a message, give me a clue as to what you want to discuss, not just a “call me”, especially at work. That way I can be prepared to discuss what you need. On the other hand , my boyfriend is notorious for not reading his texts or listening to messages, if he sees a missed call he will just call back, which is frustrating to me, because I left him detailed message when I called. Add that to the fact that he doesn’t carry his phone on him all the time, he leaves in his truck or out on the deck when he is in the house, and in the house when he is out on the deck. it’s really a pain, when it is urgent that we talk.

    How did we ever live without being able to be in contact by phone 24 hrs a day. I am talking pre message machine and Cell phones!

  20. testyred*

    In my current workplace, it is assumed that if someone calls you and there’s no answer, that you will call them back when you can. Most of us don’t have voicemail, and if it was something that could be dealt with via email or IM, then we would have used that to contact first.

    1. SystemsLady*

      Wouldn’t it make more sense to send a “please call me” email in that case, though?

      Seems odd to me, but I guess you have to go with the culture.

      1. testyred*

        It seems that if you’ve already tried to call, then your name is on their phone – it is seen as annoying and duplication of effort to then email them to ask to call…

  21. Jessie's Girl*

    I only return phone calls if I know the person very well. Otherwise, I just let it go since I prefer email anyway.

  22. Graciosa*

    I don’t return calls without a message, but there is one specific exception that I thought was important.

    In a previous job, I used to get phone calls from my new boss while I was on the phone with clients. I made it a practice to *immediately* send him an IM or text as soon as I saw his number come up. The gist was generally, “I am on a call with Client X about Critical Project that is expected to run until Time, but I saw your number come up. Do you need me to drop off and call you immediately or can it wait until Time?”

    The important point was that it was a new boss, and I was telecommuting essentially full time a couple thousand miles away. He never actually needed me before Time, but I did not want him to have the slightest doubt about whether or not I was really working and staying on top of my job.

    He turned out to be not a great boss, but I did get him to the point where he didn’t worry about my telecommuting. Insecure bosses may require special handling.

    1. Bea W*

      I’ve done this even in the office, while on a the phone at my desk and I see a call come in and the voice mail light comes on. (I’ll ignore it if they didn’t leave a message). If I know I will not be off the phone for a bit (usually it will be a conference call), I will IM the person and let them know I’m tied up on a call and when I will be able to get back to them. People generally only call me and leave voice mail when they have some burning question or something that is better discussed on the phone than in text.

  23. SystemsLady*

    I’m first on the contact list on a phone system that calls whoever you’ve got currently selected when you pick up the phone (and it takes a while for people to get used to).

    Yup, the answer to this question is no :).

    It doesn’t bother me that much since people usually hang up so fast it doesn’t ring…but I still get the missed calls.

  24. Bea W*

    If I see it’s my manager, I’ll sometimes call back. Otherwise, I don’t do anything. I figure if it were important, they’d have either left voice mail or emailed me, and if it were critically super urgent important they must have moved on to call someone else.

  25. TwoForTina*

    Hi everyone, OP here! Thanks Allison, and thanks to everyone who commented for your input—the immediate discussion of missed personal calls versus missed work calls brought up in my mind the fact that we have caller ID on our phones, so maybe I’m personalizing the work calls more than they need to be. Sometimes it’s because they’re names I recognize (from that other project 2 years ago or something), others because I don’t know them and what could they need? It’s a mystery that only I can solve! I was also worried the answer was going to be too obvious, so I appreciate the nuanced talk about who everyone tends to call back immediately versus letting it slide.

    I wish I could have jumped in here sooner, but I was out of town for a wedding since Thursday. Of course, I came back today to 10 missed calls, only 2 voicemails, and no follow-up emails from those other callers. It’s like they knew!

  26. Faylinn*

    I work for a small company where the norm is that we pick up the telephone when a coworker calls or, at least, return the call when we are more available. However, I can definitely see how this policy wouldn’t make much sense if you work for a large organization. I feel like most of the time when someone calls you at work and you don’t pick up they’ll think “Oh, they must be busy!” and try to get their issue resolved through some else. Yet, if a person tries to call me multiple times and you can see that, then you should probably call them back even if they didn’t leave a message.

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