HR wants our personal cell numbers in our out-of-office messages so we can always be contacted

A reader writes:

This morning, we received the following from our VP of HR:

Team,

As we know a number of us are in and out of the office due to travel, business meetings, conferences, events, or PTO, etc. Due to the nature of our business in our absence, there is a good likelihood someone may need an answer, an update, or need information that they would usually secure from us, etc.

Therefore, going forward we would like a consistent out of office message set when you are going to be out of the office, with clear direction as to where people should go for the necessary information, so that we are best able to ensure business continues as usual.

Effective immediately, we would like an out of office message set up by you in gmail with the following information when you are unavailable for response:

Sample Below for Managers and above:

Thanks for contacting me. Unfortunately, I am currently unavailable and out of the office from DATE to DATE. In my absence please feel free to contact NAME, PHONE, eMAIL regarding questions related to ITEMS, or NAME, PHONE, eMAIL.

If there is an immediate issue or you are unable to receive the necessary information in a timely manner please free to contact me at YOUR CELL NUMBER.

Non-Management should simply state who should be contacted in your absence […]

Hopefully, with this consistent approach by all team members, your teammates will be in a position to continue to move the business forward when you are otherwise unavailable.

Thanks so much

Setting aside the fact that I’m a professional adult who can write her own out-of-office messages (and use commas properly)…

It’s bad enough that this sends the message that managers or anyone above have no expectation of time off work at hour. I work a lot anyway and am generally available by email (though it makes me mad on behalf of colleagues who have better boundaries).

My cell phone number is a personal one I’ve had for decades, not paid for by the company. Putting it in my out-of-office message not only gives anyone permission to call me at any hour, it also sends my personal number to anyone (legitimate or not) who emails me at work. I screen my calls and don’t answer unrecognized calls — and sometimes I don’t have reception. In short, there is almost no one who should “feel free” to call my cellphone number.

I bet that (like any number of unreasonable requests) this is legal for them to ask, so how do I not do it? I’m thinking about just never using an out-of-office reply because I’ll probably check email anyway and how would they know? Is there some way of asking that doesn’t have “Boy, this is moronic” as the subtext?

I’m usually the person who speaks out about these things, but I just got a promotion in a struggling company — and the overreaching HR director has been noted for inappropriate glee during “staff releases,” so I don’t want a target on my back.

Yeah, this is not the sort of company-wide edict that’s okay to just toss off this casually. What she’s asking/ordering is a huge imposition. And frankly, if it’s going to be imposed, it shouldn’t be coming from HR anyway; this isn’t an HR thing. If for some reason it was necessary for a particular role, it should come out of a conversation between that person and their manager, accompanied by a conversation about what it will mean for that person’s availability and free time.

But it’s highly unlikely that there’s an entire company full of managers who need to be reachable on their personal cell 24/7.

You’re right that it’s legal, but it’s obnoxious and unreasonable.

You’ve got several options here.

1. Ignore it. Go on with what you’ve been doing, since it sounds like you’re generally on-topic of your email anyway and she’s unlikely to find out about it. If she does ever ask you about it, you can say, “Oh, I’ve found this has worked better for me because I check my email when I’m out anyway — and if I don’t, it’s because I’m actually unavailable and couldn’t take work calls anyway.” If she pushes, say, “Hmmm, well, I’ll talk about it with (your actual boss).”

2. Talk to your boss about it: “Hey, I got this email from Jane, and I’m not really up for sending my personal cell number, which I never use for work, to every person who happens to email me when I’m out. I check my email when I’m out anyway — and if I don’t, it’s because I’m actually unavailable and couldn’t take work calls anyway. Plus, I’ve always been able to leave my team with what they need to field anything that comes up while I’m away, and they know how to contact me if there’s an emergency.”

If your boss is reasonable add, “I don’t think it’s great to require people to be available 24/7.”

3. Push back with a group of coworkers. I bet you’re not the only one who finds this ridiculous, and there’s power in numbers, which you may need with an HR director who takes glee in laying people off. (Speaking of which, WTF? That’s shockingly disgusting behavior, and I fear for the health of your organization if she has any influence, or — given her position — even if she doesn’t.)

{ 292 comments… read them below }

    1. Cakezilla

      I was coming here to say this! It doesn’t fix the needing to be available all the time problem, but I have a Google Voice number exclusively for handing out to people as a “work cell” when I don’t want to just give out my cell number.

    2. Student

      This probably works for many people, but doesn’t work for every company.

      If you handle business-sensitive or personal-sensitive information, don’t do it! You’re potentially handing anything that goes through Google Voice to a big searchable commercial for-profit database.

        1. IT-Type

          Google has different agreements for different products in their commercial and educational offerings. At my educational institution, the core services (Gmail, Calendar, Drive) are covered in such a way that they comply with the relevant regulations for the information that might be in them. Other services (which would include Google Voice) are not.

          We do not have Google Voice turned on for my institution’s Google domain for that reason — and because supporting it becomes a nightmare!

      1. Observer

        Well, if that’s the issue, they shouldn’t be mandating people to give out their personal cell numbers, either. Even with iPhones. Given that more than half of all smart phones use Android, that’s a double whammy.

        The bottom line is that you can’t really expect people to be careful of stuff that the company doesn’t care about.

        1. Tinfoil Hat Wearer

          Yeah, I agree. For all the company knows, their employees have crazy cellphone contracts that record all their calls and email them to Russia/the CIA/People Magazine/the Men in Black. If you don’t pay the phone contract, you don’t control the data.

          1. Observer

            And then you have the actual phones and the fact that who knows what kind of garbage people are installing.

      2. MM

        There are also other apps that allow you to set up a second number that still goes to your same phone. It doesn’t have to be Google Voice.

      3. Engineer

        That is something the company should be making a conscious decision on, not the employee. If that is a risk to the company, then there should be a formal policy. After all, there is likely not much different in the tracking capability of Google Voice versus Project Fi (Google’s mobile phone MVNO). If this is a concern, the company should not permit personal phones to be used for any business purpose.

    3. HS Teacher

      She shouldn’t have to. If work wants her to have a cell phone available for clients then work should be providing one.

        1. epi

          I agree.

          You have to know your own work environment, but in some (dysfunctional) workplaces this is an adjunct to ignoring. You may know something is a bad idea that is unlikely to be enforced long term even without any action from you. Like, say, morale-killing unenforceable directives from someone with no direct authority over many of the people they are offending. Yet, this person may have enough time and energy up front to notice whether they are being outright ignored. You need to find the minimum level of acceptable compliance while you wait for their thing to fail, while getting your job done and avoiding any permanent damage, such as by emailing out your private number to everyone and their mom.

          I hope it goes without saying that environments where this behavior is necessary suck, and you should try not to work in them long-term! But I wouldn’t get getting into what you “should” have to do with an HR VP with a sadistic enjoyment of layoffs.

          1. AnnaBananna

            ” Yet, this person may have enough time and energy up front to notice whether they are being outright ignored.”

            Yep. Will this VP take the time to send out test emails to all that are out of office and then penalize them? Are they that petty? Depending on your answer, you’d react accordingly. Though I lean toward the group-complaint. It’s not like you’re a bunch of emergency doctors on call. That spreadsheet can wait until you open your email next. She’s absurd.

            1. Darren

              They may not even need to email. I don’t know about gmail specifically but a lot of organisation email providers provide out of office messages when you put the person in the address bar allowing you to read it without even sending them an email.

              And given it’s the HR VP they know exactly who is on leave so they definitely would know who to check (if they can be bothered).

      1. Wendy Darling

        She definitely shouldn’t have to but if the company refuses to become more reasonable about people handing out their personal phone numbers and the LW doesn’t want to leave her job over this issue, setting up a separate number that forwards to her phone could be a good option. Sometimes there’s just BS going on at your job and the best way to deal with it is to find a workaround you can tolerate.

    4. Four lights

      FYI Google voice can
      -filter spam calls
      -send you voicemails as text messages

      I believe you can have it sent straight to voicemail.

    5. Antilles

      As a similar alternative, if you have a desk phone, you might want to check the settings on that – a lot of modern phones give the option to automatically forward calls to your cell (either simultaneous or if not picked up within X rings). This way, you still get the calls as HR wants but don’t need to actually give out your personal cell.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yes, or you can have your desk phone email/text your voicemails to your email or cell. That’s how I keep up with OOO calls instead of listing my cell phone or making it available in my outgoing vmail message.

        1. AnnaBananna

          May I ask which phone you have? I have a Cisco IP phone. I’ve never heard of it generating such magic, but I’d like it to!

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I have a Cisco IP phone, too! You can set the voicemail forwarding using your online interface for your Cisco phone (you can’t set it up directly from the phone’s hardware).

            1. Tracy

              Yes! I have this setup and I get voicemails in my email. We had to set it up through the web portal with our provider.

    6. MLB

      That shouldn’t be necessary. I understand as a manager, you’re paid to be available outside of normal working hours when something urgent comes up and as necessary. But unless a company is giving me 24/7 pay, the majority of my off time belongs to me.

      If you’re not preparing your co-workers, managers, etc. to get their jobs done when you’re out, that’s a bigger issue here.

      1. Greg NY

        I totally agree. An employee’s job is one of two things:

        1. Be there on specific days and times. It doesn’t even necessarily mean you’re actively working the whole time, sometimes it means you’re around in case a call comes in or you have to provide administrative support to an issue that suddenly crops up. But you have set, defined working hours, and you come in at your starting time and leave at your stopping time. You must be in all days and hours you’re scheduled unless you’ve cleared that absence with your manager, but you are completely off the job outside of those specific days and hours.

        2. Do a specific set of tasks. You work as long or as short as it takes to complete those tasks. Some days may require long hours and others may allow you to leave early (or come in late the next day). You may be required to work into the evening, and occasionally in the very early morning (for international conference calls) and sometimes on the weekend, but if you need to take time off for anything, and it won’t unduly disrupt your workload, there shouldn’t be an issue. Hours are usually flexible for these roles, although certain managers may need to be available during the majority of the (set) working hours of their reports to answer questions.

        There are abusive employers who try to get the best of both worlds out of their exempt employees, requiring them to be there all “typical” working hours and work more if necessary, but never less. These are the employers that everyone should stay away from if at all possible. The employment relationship is about give and taken on both sides, and too often, employers don’t recognize that. They expect all give and very little take.

      2. EPLawyer

        that’s the real problem here. And HR is trying to fix it with a sledgehammer. IF the issue is people don’t know where to find information if someone is out, then they need to fix their training, access to information. NOT make everyone available 24/7.

        What if someone gets hit by a bus? You can call their personal cell phone all you want, but you still aren’t getting an answer to your question. There needs to be processes in place to find information WITHOUT involving the out of office person.

        1. NotAnotherManager!

          I completely agree with this, but the OP’s VP of HR does seem to indicate that the phone numbers are *only* required for management, not everyone. (And, I admittedly work in a demanding industry, but, as a manager, I am required to have a personal cell number posted on our internal directory as well as mobile email, though my mobile service is subsidized by my employer. This is not required of non-management personnel.)

          Non-Management should simply state who should be contacted in your absence […]

          Unless I am misreading this, non-management would simply indicate the in-office coworker or their manager who is handling their workload when they are out? If I am misreading it, though, this is indeed a sledgehammer solution. Requiring every single person in your organization to provide a personal cell for out-of-office contact indicates serious cross-training and out-of-office coverage failures.

          1. AnnaBananna

            There is a way to have Outlook send different out of office messages depending on the recipient. OP could create two email lists – one for management and above, which lists a cell number, and another for everyone else so that business is escalated up the chain appropriately. Just something to consider in the interim.

        2. Emily K

          Or at minimum, there should only need to be a couple of the vacationing person’s immediate coworkers who have their cell number, and they are the only ones empowered to decide that 1) the information can’t be found without contacting their colleague who is on PTO and 2) the information is legitimately time-sensitive and critical enough to justify contacting their colleague who is on PTO.

          It does require coworkers with good judgment, but this is informally how a lot of people on my team operate. They don’t list their own cell number in their OOO reply, but the designated “for all other inquiries, contact ______” person does have their cell number, and understands their role as a gatekeeper to keep people from disturbing the colleague on vacation unless it’s truly unavoidable. It’s usually the vacationing person’s direct report if they’re a people manager or their immediate supervisor if they aren’t, so it’s someone whose knowledge/abilities have a large enough amount of overlap with the vacationing person and who has a shared interest in keeping the work/department running smoothly while vacationing person is away.

          1. media monkey

            “It does require coworkers with good judgment”

            so not my old boss then who used to phone us up on holiday to ask where something was saved on the network… (“where are the plans for xclient project saved?” client drive/xclient/project/plans argh!)

    7. Greg NY

      That should only be considered if the employee’s only problem is not wanting to give out their personal cell number. If the problem is not wanting to be available at all hours, a Google Voice number won’t solve that and they should push back. It’s unreasonable, outside a very narrow scope of positions that appropriately compensate the employee for essentially being on call 24/7 to answer questions, for any employer to expect this kind of availability.

    8. GovSysadmin

      I was going to come here to suggest this, too. One other advantage of Google Voice is that you can configure it to forward to your cell phone during certain hours, but not forward it overnight or other times when you’re unavailable. I believe you can also set it so if someone calls back, it’ll be forwarded (assuming it is an emergency).

      I have my cell phone number on my signature, but I can understand why a lot of people wouldn’t. What we do is have an internal-only document listing everyone’s cell numbers, and if it’s an absolute emergency, someone with access to that list can contact people who don’t publish their cell numbers.

    9. Amethystmoon

      Yeah, this. I would set up the Google Voice number and then just not tell them it’s Google Voice.

    10. Betty Boop

      That’s what I put in my out of office email or if I give my coworkers my phone number. Plus then when they leave me a voicemail or send me a text, I get a transcript in an email that I can read rather than listening to my voicemail.

  1. Green Cheese Moon

    I would definitely push back at the mandate. However, one much less intrusive option would be for you to get a Google voice number, that you could set to forward to your cell/home number. That way you aren’t giving out your actual private number and can control where the Google voice forwards to (or not).
    It’s a very different situation for me, as there’s no pressure for me to give out a personal number, but I have been pleased with how I can use the Google number to open up more flexible communication options.
    (No, I am not a bot selling Google products! I’m sure there are other providers of free alternate phone numbers out there as well, which are just as good.)

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      That doesn’t actually solve the problem, which is that she (and likely most folks) don’t want or need to be available 24/7.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        True, but I think pushing back and saying “if this is a business necessity, you need to pay for it” will make them realize that OH hey, it really isn’t a business necessity.

        1. AKchic

          This right here.

          If HR feels the need to have all managerial /supervisory staff available at all times (even when on leave!) then they need to justify the extra costs associated with that. Which means work cell phones, extra billing on the timesheets for each call (sorry, I bill 2 hour call-out time for the first phone call, and 30 minute increments for each additional phone call on my time off). If it is something that I determine could have been asked of someone else or could have waited until I got back? That’s an email to a higher-up for wasting my time off. I’m petty.

        2. Observer

          This.

          Also, as a practical matter, it’s a lot easier to shut off a work phone than your personal device. And it avoids forcing people to give out their personal phone numbers if they don’t want to.

          The problem here is not just the 24/7 access, and a company phone solves those things as well.

    2. Magenta Sky

      There’s case law on that in some states. And when it’s *all* management, that can add up to a lot of money.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        And in some states (California), they have to cover the cost of you maintaining your personal cell phone for company purposes. If OP can’t get the policy walked back, OP should look into a use agreement with the employer or request a company-issued/owned device. BYOD opens all sorts of miserable doors that infringe on a person’s privacy and control over their phone, and oftentimes those legal pitfalls are not well-explained to workers until the ish hits the fan.

        1. 2horseygirls

          I am envisioning an educational institution bound by FERPA and FOIA regulations requiring employees to turn over personal devices if a FOIA request comes in.

          Nopity nope nope on using my personal phone. Give me one – and plan to pay me accordingly if I am non-exempt.

          1. Cassandra

            I was just about to suggest getting organizational records management / information governance / legal counsel in on this mess for this exact reason. :) IT might also be a practical ally if OP works with sensitive or confidential information that IT is tasked with keeping secure.

            None of these folks, if they know their jobs, will (or should) be happy at the idea of work business on non-work devices.

    3. Jubilance

      Was about to post this exact same response. I literally said “nope nope nope” as I was reading this.

      It really bugs me how so many organizations are run as if they are life or death when they really aren’t. Will someone actually die if they don’t hear from you immediately? There are very few organizations/jobs where that’s true, and they already know that. Treating questions – whether from clients or internal team members – as life or death urgent items that MUST BE ANSWERED RIGHT THIS MINUTE does everyone a disservice.

      1. Kyrielle

        This! I *was* expected to be available 24/7 in my last job, as much as possible, but that was “…for calls where a 911 center’s software is down and the on-call worker can’t solve it, nor can their backup if they still have/need one”.

        That was both pretty rare, and one of those scenarios in which calling me and asking was understandable for real-world reasons. (It also made hearing the ring-tone I assigned to the on-call phone kind of gut-wrenching, because I knew I probably wouldn’t like whatever-it-was, but so it goes.)

      2. epi

        This!

        One of my best friends is a fourth year medical student. We used to work together in a research role with direct impacts on patient care. In four years, I was *never* called urgently during my time off for that job. People are quicker to page my DBA husband than *anyone* is to page my almost-doctor friend, or she is to page an attending.

        Being on call all the time and never being guaranteed a true vacation is terrible for people’s physical and mental health. It’s also terrible for our society when companies squeeze free, just-in-time work out of employees instead of hiring the coverage they really need. The idea many companies have, that their business needs merit all those external costs and greater urgency than many medical situations, is straight up offensive.

        1. TL -

          I’ve worked with attendings and they get paged all the time – if my attending boss was on-call (I worked in her lab) she was guaranteed to get at least one call; it wasn’t unusual for her to get several. The other MDs in the lab were the same way. She, however, had a schedule of when she was on-call and wasn’t expected to respond at other times (though she always wore her pager, just in case.)
          They did call her once when she was not on-call, because they knew she worked across the street, but that was definitely extraordinary circumstances, even for a medical emergency.

      3. Michaela Westen

        “so many organizations are run as if they are life or death when they really aren’t”
        This is what makes them so dynamic and exciting!!! :p /s

      4. Anonymeece

        I agree. It also tends to set up a bad precedent, because then clients expect you to be available 24/7 and get really angry when you’re not. Sorry, I have a life?

        (We had a professor who used to CALL HER STUDENTS PERSONALLY to wake them up for her 8 :30 AM class to make sure they got there. She actually won an AWARD for how great of a teacher she was. My colleagues and I were appalled – especially considering what a ~wake-up call~ they’ll have when their uni prof laughs in their face when they complain that they couldn’t make it because they didn’t get a phone call.)

        1. Pippa

          WHAT
          NO
          YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING
          I’ve heard and seen (and probably done) plenty of nutty-professor stuff in my career, but this takes…the entire cake shop.

          1. Artemesia

            I know of several cases where parents called college advisors or deans to ask that Sonny be given a wake up call ‘because he just can’t get himself up in time for classes.’ Much merriment ensued when the parent was off the line.

            A professor who would do this? Bizarro.

            1. aebhel

              Oh, lord. Sonny is an adult; if he can’t get himself out of bed early in the morning, then he shouldn’t be signing up for early morning classes!

        2. aebhel

          Ugh, this. My spouse’s boss gave out his personal cell number to a bunch of clients, and for a while he was getting calls constantly at all hours of the night/on weekends. I think he finally (somewhat less than politely) told one client that if they called him again at 3AM he was going to block their number. They complained to his boss about it, but at least that got them off his back.

        3. Chameleon

          NOOOOOOOOOOOO

          I teach at 8:00 (and about to be 7:45) and if you can’t figure out how to set an alarm clock you probably aren’t going to understand the nuances of DNA replication anyway.

      5. Detective Amy Santiago

        I did on call work years ago when I worked for an interpreting agency. It was primarily calls from ERs who got deaf patients on evenings/weekends and I needed to send out a terp and it was probably less than 2% of our overall business.

    4. DJ Roomba

      So I have a few thoughts about this: first, I agree that they should either give you a company phone or offer to reimburse a portion of your cell phone bill (my company reimburses $75 a month).

      Second, in general I don’t find the request unreasonable. I get that in certain industries this may seem over the top, but in the corporate environments I’ve worked in it is standard to leave your cell phone number in your OOO for emergencies/urgent issues only. I think the distinction that this is for certain levels or above makes sense – as you climb the corporate ladder, you often have to make time sacrifices. I know at one company I worked for Directors worked on weekends occasionally, VPs worked Saturdays consistently and SVPs and above were always available. Elevated titles, elevated responsibilities, higher pay and benefits, extended work hours. So I realized based on people’s work/life balance sacrifices how far up the ladder I’d actually want to climb.

      All that said, I totally agree with Allison that it’s strange to be passed down to everyone from HR – if it was the department leader then ok. But HR requesting it is a bit strange.

      OP, if it makes you feel better, I have taken several vacations in the past year, I’ve always left my cell phone in my OOO and no one has called me. Most people respect PTO and will truly only call if you are the only person who can save the company from burning to ground immediately.

      1. Sloan Kittering

        I have seen my (otherwise reasonable) company do this, after some stupid crisis where they needed someone ASAP and couldn’t get them. It’s an overreaction to what should be an expected thing that occasionally happens … you can’t send people out into the field all day but also expect them to respond instantly to email. Sorry. Maybe you shouldn’t have cut out all the admin staff. I didn’t push back, I just didn’t do it, and nobody ever came at me about it.

      2. Tabitha

        I read the letter as if OP got emails from many people (some they work with, some more random, as if they are exposed to the public).

        That would make me hesitant to post my phone number as well.

      3. Temperance

        I’m happy to give my personal cell number to colleagues, but I wouldn’t ever put it in my OOO for clients to receive. I already have to draw a hard boundary about not texting any clients for work purposes. I’m an attorney who manages pro bono, so some of my clients are what I’m going to call overeager. One will email me 15 times in a week just to check on the status of his green card (which I have told him multiple times to look up himself), and I know that if he had my cell phone number, he’d call it.

        1. DJ Roomba

          That’s a good point – my outlook OOO allows you to have one message for internal senders and one for external which would address this issue, but I’m not sure if gmail allows for that?

          1. Reluctant Manager

            Turns out our version allows you to have one message, and you can decide whether it goes to colleagues, contacts, or everyone. I haven’t figured out how to set up more than one.

      4. Totally Minnie

        My worry is that there are a lot of people in the world who have a skewed sense of what is and is not urgent. With that sort of person, I’d be in the Bahamas fielding calls about where the red stapler is, which they feel is an incredibly urgent question. It’s better to just draw a very clear boundary up front.

      5. the_scientist

        Yeah, this doesn’t strike me as unreasonable, on it’s face. It’s very similar to how my company (which is generally decent about work-life balance) operates: managers and above are expected to include their cell phone # in their email signature, and get Outlook installed/set up on their personal phones by IT. They get a monthly phone allowance as well but I don’t know the exact amount. Non-managers can’t get the required permissions to get Outlook installed on their personal devices and aren’t expected to make their cell numbers available. Actually, now that I’m remembering, this decision came from HR even; it was part of a brand standards roll-out initiated by them.

        The expectation is never 24/7 availability, it’s more that you are available in case of a crisis/ there is no one else that can answer/make a decision on your behalf. One you reach a certain level of seniority (and compensation), this is sort of what is expected. But again, my company is VERY good about encouraging work-life balance and disconnecting from work– one of our director level employees was able to take a month-long leave of absence! With a company that doesn’t support you in fully disconnecting, this could easily slide into wanting 24/7 availability without a good reason to need it.

      6. a username

        Yeah, but you’re assuming two things:

        1. The people who are emailing the person’s work account are a specific set of people. At my work, there’s a public-facing element to your work email address, because we offer programming to the general public. We have had managers get explicit and harassing messages on their work e-mail as a result of this. In this situation, those harassers would then have the employee’s cell phone number? Not acceptable.

        2. The people who are emailing the person’s work account have a professional level of judgment with regards to emergencies. I have had a boss calling my cell phone at 11 pm on Christmas Day to ask me to RSVP to the employee New Year’s Party on January 15, and a coworker calling me at 1 am on a Friday night to ask if they can please borrow some of my equipment for a training the following day. These are people showing that they cannot be trusted with personal contact information, because they do not have acceptable judgment.

        Now if you’re fortunate enough to have an email that is only ever contacted by a restricted number of contacts with professional judgment, including your cell number in your OOO reply makes sense. If you work with everyone else, not so much.

      7. media monkey

        i think there’s a big difference between people in the office having your personal number to call in an emergency and any random who emails you having your personal number.

      8. JessaB

        I am very careful of who has my number and I have had it since the very first mobile phone I had. This is a number that people who have not spoken to me in years can call me on. I am not going to risk it going out so public that I have to change it. You (the company) want me on call, then you give me a phone. I once had a minor fit at a friend who gave my phone email out by putting it openly in a large group email. There are maybe five people who have that email, directly and another five who if they email my home account will forward. Luckily I own the domain. Took me five minutes to change it and email those five people that it had changed. He did not get the new email, because he doesn’t like my raging paranoia settings on my personal device security. I am not going to risk some company subpoenaing my phone nor deciding to wipe it because company business is on it.

  2. Tammy

    Of Alison’s choices, I’d tend to go for #2 myself.

    But I wanted to add that, in addition to the other reasons why this is bad, implicit in the message from HR is that the managers using that verbiage don’t trust their teams to be able to handle things in their absence. That’s not a great message, in my opinion, and it breeds teams which are unable or afraid to grow, cultivate and exercise professional judgment. The codependency this fosters is a bad thing – this was the culture in part of my company when I became a manager, and I’m still working hard to change it within my sphere of influence.

    Last time I went on vacation, my boss told me “If I find out you’re checking e-mail while you’re on vacation, I’m going to be really upset with y0u. You need the time to unplug and recharge, but you also need to demonstrate to your team that you trust their judgment enough to handle things in your absence. They can come see me if they get something they don’t feel like they can handle on their own, but they need to know you trust their decision making if you want them to be able to make good decisions.” Unplugging was hard for me, but the trust and morale in my team are a lot more solid because I’m willing to do that.

    1. Rey

      Wow! I’ve never thought of it like this. I also wanted to add, I think vacation can be a great time for different levels and individuals to interact, because maybe that makes your boss aware of something that you’re handling that they weren’t previously aware of, and aware of your team dynamics and strengths/weaknesses in a way that they might not see otherwise. This is a great opportunity for your boss to really see your team shine (thanks in part to your great training and leadership as their manager) in a good workplace, and see the team dysfunction in a struggling workplace.

    2. bonkerballs

      Hmmm, I have mixed feelings about this. One the one hand, I agree about your team needing to know you trust their judgement and that they can form a relationship with your boss in order to solve problems with him in your absence. On the other hand, there is nothing relaxing or recharging in knowing that I will be coming back to 500 emails I’ll need to wade through on my first day back from a week long vacation. I think I would need to explain to that boss that there’s a big difference between *checking* my email (deleting some clutter, being prepared for things I’ll need to prioritize when I return, etc) and *answering* my email when someone I manage could take care of the issue for me. Also, a boss deciding for me what the best way for me to relax, recharge, and do my job – unless I’ve demonstrated already that this is an issue – would make me feel micromanaged and like my own decision making isn’t trusted. I would not take kindly to a boss telling me he’d be upset with me for checking emails.

  3. Portia

    It doesn’t seem terribly unreasonable to require an out-of-office auto response — that’s pretty common. What’s unreasonable here is the expectation that you will be available to handle problems even while out of the office, via your personal cell number.

    I would add a fourth option – to just set up a modified version of their out-of-office template, something that states when you’ll return to the office, whom they can contact in your absence about certain things, and stating that you’ll respond promptly to their inquiry as soon as you’re back. Ignore the part about personal cell number, other contact info, etc. It seems like that might work better than just ignoring the request outright.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      Yeah, I think a standard OOO is not a terrible thing (kind of like standard signatures). But I was also thinking to use the template and just remove the cell phone line.

      1. Project Manager

        Removing the cell phone line was my thought as well, keeping the rest of the layout so that it shows compliance. She does say it’s a “sample.”

        And if there’s push back, I’d probably act surprised and respond along the lines of, “Oh I don’t have a company cell phone, so that section did not apply to me.” I used that to push back on handing out my cell phone number to clients that wanted to text me (whenever they want, at all hours) and it wasn’t worth it to my boss to start paying for my phone when I was very responsive via email anyways.

        Frankly, I’ve seen some amazingly unhelpful OOO messages, so the template itself may not be totally off-base. But the cell phone part should be at the discretion/needs of the manager.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago

          There are apps you can use to send/receive texts via a landline. We used ZipWhip at my old job. There was a desktop version that I could use right from my computer.

        2. NotAnotherManager!

          I provided an OOO template because some of my folks either weren’t putting them up or weren’t providing the necessary information. Mine is very basic – when are you out, when are you coming back, who can help while you’re gone and how to get in touch with them – and the feedback has generally been positive.

          I work with a group that manages complex projects, and they are also required to some prework before vacations to facilitate hand-offs, anticipate needs that will arise while they’re out, and introduce their backup. It helps a lot, and we very rarely have to call people who are OOO.

        3. Mad Baggins

          My favorite amazingly unhelpful OOO message is “I will be out of the office until January 26, 2015”

          Uh, good to know, Fergus…

          1. Cassie the First

            I saw one that just said “I am out of the office and do not have access to a computer”. Didn’t even give a return date or who to contact instead!

          2. media monkey

            “please speak to someone else in the team”. yeah, thanks for that. if i knew who the rest of the team were i would try them anyway…

          3. CDM

            I received an email OOO from a co-worker that said “Please press 0 and the operator will connect you with someone who can help you.”

            Ummmkay.

    2. Murphy

      Yeah, I think it’s reasonable to request that OOO responses indicate who should be contacted in your absence, but that’s it. The whole point of designating another contact is because you’re not going to be available!

    3. The Original K.

      Yeah, I was cool with the verbiage until we got to the “include your cell number” part – that got a hard no from me. I agree with you – I’d just leave that out, and if called on it, say I’d discuss it with my boss, with the expectation that that that conversation would be, essentially “I’m not going to do this, OK?” “OK.”

    4. TootsNYC

      I agree–set up an OOO message, but put in it the information that works for YOU.

      That was labeled “sample,” after all.

    5. Bea

      I was like “and why is this template a problem…oh hell no.” when I got to the cell phone requirement. I’m shocked the numbskulls are smart enough to only require management to put theirs up but it’s still complete bull.

      My response is to omit the part about calling. Then pull a “I don’t give out my cell number” card if it’s ever brought up. Or “I don’t have a phone” if you never use it at work, I know plenty of folks who don’t so it would work.

      I’m not protective of my number and don’t care who calls…until I’m told that it’s required, then my inner 2 year old is triggered and my response is “no.”

    6. CanCan

      They are mixing up two different types of out-of-office: business and personal. If you’re away at a conference, business meeting, etc. – you may want one type of message (“I’ll be out of office Monday and Tuesday but will checking my email periodically.”) and if you’re off, just say “out of office.”

      Your personal cell phone number should be available to a select few people with clear instructions on how to use it (e.g. your assistant and your boss) – so that if you’re on vacation they only contact you in absolute, fire-equivalent emergencies. (But if you’re going to be out of the country, you can tell them that you’ll be unreachable, period.)

  4. Dust Bunny

    H-E-double-hockeysticks no.

    If you want me on call all the time, you get me a company phone and pay me overtime. Otherwise, my time is my own.

    1. Bunny Girl

      This is how I am. The only person in my office who has my cell phone number is my direct supervisor. I don’t allow anyone else to have it. There’s literally nothing that I do that could ever be considered an emergency by a rational person. When I’m out of the office, I am unreachable and unavailable. I don’t answer work emails on my off time. As far as I’m concerned. the second I walk out of my office I cease to exist. If there’s an actual emergency, you probably need to call 9-1-1, not me.

      1. Ms Cappuccino

        I am the same. There is no way my co-workers could reach me when I am off work except my line manager but he’s very respectful so he never contact me.

      2. cat socks

        Same here! My out of office has back-up contacts for each of my projects and my manager’s name listed. My manager has my cell phone number. Updating a slide deck with the latest project status is not any kind if life saving work, so I can’t see any reason to be contacted while on vacation.

    2. TK

      Even if I have a company phone, PTO is supposed to be just that – time off. I’m about to go on vacation for a week to a time zone on the other side of the world, and while I may check email once or twice, you can bet that I won’t answer a phone. I agree with the notion of paying overtime (if that applies to the worker) but companies also need to respect PTO.

  5. KR

    Something I did that worked is put several coworkers as my “if you need immediate assistance please contact coworker”, and trust that they have the knowledge to determine if something is important enough to text me/call me. It might work for you too. For instance I know if my manager texts or coworker in another team texts me when I’m off it’s because they considered it important/urgent and there was no other way to get the info, but I don’t give that info to people outside my organization or people I don’t work with all the time because they don’t know my job or my team very well

    1. E

      I do this as well, my boss and coworkers have my cell phone number and know they can call or text if there’s something urgent that they can’t resolve without my assistance. No need to put my personal cell phone number on the out of office email message.

    2. Tammy

      This is what I do too. My OOO message usually says something like “if you need immediate assistance, please contact [coworker]. For urgent high-profile matters requiring executive attention, please contact [boss or grandboss]. Otherwise, I’ll respond to your email when I return on [date].”

    3. epi

      This is a good solution and I think for people on functioning teams, this is likely how things naturally play out. Coworkers close enough to cover for you, who have had a legitimate work need for your number, very likely already have it. If you have decent coworkers, they are natural gatekeepers because they will use their judgment about whether to call you.

    4. joriley

      Yep! My coworkers have my cell number. If something were truly an emergency and no one else could handle it, they could get in touch with me–but first I’d want someone else to try to handle it.

  6. MyDevon

    I work as a retail manager and my number is posted to the public. Any calls are expected to be answered first time, don’t let it go to voicemail. It has added a level of stress every time my phone rings and my phone is ALWAYS within a few feet of me. Push back OP, this type of policy will leave you mentally in work mode after work hours.

      1. Antilles

        Or at a movie? Or a funeral? Or while getting an X-Ray? Or vacationing in a remote area? Or the billion other places where you cannot use your phone either due to societal expectations or technical issues.

      2. Amethystmoon

        Or sleeping. There are many people who often can’t sleep without medication. I am one of them. At 3 am, I am totally zonked out. No phone call would awaken me.

    1. Stone Cold Bitch

      This is just stupid. You’re expected to answer your phone rather than being present in a meeting or when you’re talking to someone in person?

      1. MyDevon

        When I’m in a meeting or with a customer in person I handle those issues, but outside of work, yes I have to answer. I have a very supportive partner who has been very patient, but yes this policy means a work life balance does not exist.

        1. animaniactoo

          “I’m sorry, you don’t pay me enough to have this kind of on call access”.

          I hope you’re job hunting?

        2. Stone Cold Bitch

          Whatever they are paying you, it’s not enough.

          I work in emergency services and we answer phones when we can, even when we’re on call. (Some positions involve being available to come in in case of certain events, unlike first responders who are stationed at fire stations during work hours.)

          It’s not legal here to hold a phone in your hand while driving, and not everyone has a car with handsfree. Your company’s phone policy is a traffic hazard.

          I find it very strange that retail can be more urgent than actual emergencies.

      1. JM60

        I doubt their employer would accept that. If they’re ridiculous enough to have this “always answer your phone on the first ring, even on your personal time” policy, they’re probably ridiculous enough to madate that they always remain where there is cell reception.

        1. Greg NY

          Not just cell reception, it could be in a place where you truly can’t answer the phone (and may not even know you are receiving a call), like a movie theater. Would they mandate that you never go to those places? Would they mandate that you never mow your lawn, wash and wax your car, or do home improvements? There are plenty of times when someone can’t answer their phone for more than a 5-10 minute stretch.

          1. Amethystmoon

            Exactly. This would mean I could never go visit my parents, who live in a small town with crappy cell phone reception during the holidays. I wouldn’t work at such a job to begin with.

            Also, a Toastmasters speech contest, during which everyone is expected to silence their phones. Since I am an active district officer, I attend a lot of speech contests during that particular time of year.

      2. Lily in NYC

        I would just pretend I was really into camping in remote areas all of a sudden or I would write my cell phone number in the outgoing message but “accidentally” transpose two of the numbers.

    2. Sloan Kittering

      Ugh, I’ve had this happen and the company did provide me a stipend to cover the use of my personal phone, but nothing replaced my peace of mind.

    3. Kathlynn

      WTF, I literally not allowed to give any numbers out other then the customer support number. Especially not management or coworker’s numbers. And I work in retail. It’s a huge security issues, because stalkers, angry customers and such.

      1. MyDevon

        Those are other issues with this position along with the giving out of my number that concern me. I am not given a stipend either, unfortunately push back has been met with a brick wall.

        1. Annoyed

          When you get that new job invest the $15/20 to change your number.

          I know it’s a hassle notifying everyone and such, but you can’t trust a company that wants RETAIL managers to post their personal number (WTF anyway???) to remove it after you’re gone.

  7. miss_chevious

    Another thing to consider (aside from the gross violation of work/personal boundaries) is that providing this number allows people to send you work information in the form of voicemails and texts to your personal device, which brings your device into the realm of discoverable information in the event of litigation.

    If your company has a BYOD policy, check it and you’ll likely find something requiring you to produce your device in such circumstances. If your company doesn’t have a BYOD policy, that’s almost worse, because it means there are no parameters around what you can expect if something you’re involved in becomes subject to subpoena. They can, literally, seize your phone and everything on it in some circumstances.

    People think this can never happen, but it does, regularly, and even if you don’t mind strangers seeing what’s on your phone, consider whether you’d want to hand it over for even a couple of days while they clone it.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Yup. I think it’s worth pushing back, but even if OP cannot get them to give up this policy, OP can and should press them on providing a company-issued/paid cell-phone. They may offer a subsidy to cover part of the bill—don’t do it, OP!

      I am a firm believer that people shouldn’t BYOD whenever they have the option not to. But if you are going to do it, make sure you have a use agreement with your employer. You don’t want them to have the power to remote wipe your phone or keep it for a litigation hold, especially if it’s your personal device.

      1. miss_chevious

        It’s shocking to me how many people go along with BYOD without understanding the ramifications of what they’re signing up for. I hope OP chooses one of the other options or pushes for a company phone — combining work with personal on a phone gets messy fast.

        1. SarahKay

          Yes, my company recently brought out a BYOD option for phones. I was quite tempted…until I read through the terms and conditions, at which point it was: No. NO. Oh hell, NO!!!!

    2. Bee Eye LL

      Via our Exchange server, we can remotely wipe any phone that connects to it. Just takes about 2 clicks and as soon as you open the email and it queries the server, the phone screen goes black and starts wiping. It reboots before you even know what has happened and all your pics, data, etc is GONE.

      1. Amelia

        It depends on the tools being used. My company’s availability to wipe off a device is restricted to the items in our app – calendar and emails.

        Even if the worst occurred, it’s a bit different with the cloud these days. I just had to factory reset my iPhone to fix an issue and last year my phone got wet and I needed a replacement. None of it really mattered since it’s consistently backed up. The moment I logged into my Cloud account, everything reappeared – all data, all pic, files, apps etc.

    3. Gatomon

      Yep, this is exactly why I suffer through having two phones! My personal data is personal, thanks, even if it is all just cat photos and promotional emails….

      Also I like knowing that if work phone is ringing it’s something serious vs. another stupid spam call on my personal phone, which I’ve had forever. I know you can set up custom ringtones and stuff for different contacts/groups of contacts, but I also live in mortal fear of accidentally texting someone from work something meant for other eyes. If I’m dumb enough to get past the different sizes and shapes of the phones and the passcodes being different, then it was meant to be.

      1. miss_chevious

        A side benefit of two phones is that you don’t accidentally get sucked into work on your personal time. If I’m off, I have to choose to check my work phone as opposed to being lured in by notifications when I’m just trying to check Instagram. :)

  8. Kelly White

    What happens if you don’t have a cell phone? Would work provide one?

    I realize it’s rare these days, but I know a couple of people who still don’t have phones.

    1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant

      I also wonder if companies tend to have minimum specs for the Own Device that you Bring. If I were in this situation, I’d be tempted to get a cheap flip phone to be my work phone, so as not to risk my personal phone having to be wiped. But if the company mandated a smartphone, of course it would be more expensive to get a separate one…

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego

        Ebay. I have purchased decent second hand phones to take on vacation for less than £30.

    2. Greg NY

      It’s rare these days to not have a cell phone at all, it has become quite affordable with prepaid and family plans. But it’s not that uncommon for someone not to have a smartphone. It’s one thing to be able to receive calls from someone at work, it’s another to be able to check emails or sign onto messaging clients while you’re out and about. Not a small number of people wouldn’t be able to do that. And that’s to say nothing of weekends when you are truly out of cell phone range or in an environment when you cannot answer your phone at all (like a movie theater).

  9. Leela

    People can usually guess a work e-mail if they know your name. Any stalker, former abuser, or would-be harasser now has your phone number if they manage to guess firstname.lastname@company.com or whatever permutation your company uses if you’re out of office. Push back on this so hard; the company is opening itsel up to lawsuits and its employees up to harm.

  10. animaniactoo

    I work in an industry where deadlines can be serious things and timely responses are needed.

    I have on rare occasion CHOSEN to leave my cell phone #. But a) it was my choice, and b) it’s actually been a long time since I’ve done that because I now follow what has become the industry standard for people in roles with issues that may need urgent responses.

    Instead of leaving my cell phone #, I leave the name of someone else who is available to contact as the backup option. Both of those people – within my company – have my cell phone # and can contact me if it’s really urgent (and they have). They also have the appropriate level of understanding about whatever situation may arise to make the call on whether they should contact me.

    I would offer this as part of the pushback on the idea of being required to disclose personal information that would be open to misuse after I got back from vacation.

    1. TootsNYC

      yeah, leave your own cell phone number off, and instead say, “If the issue is urgent, Susie (x0000) knows how to reach me.”

      And then work w/ Susie to determine when it really IS urgent, and how to reach you best.

      That thing was labeled a sample, after all.

      Just do what you can to make sure people can keep business going while you’re away from the office. Don’t take it so literally.

      This reminds me of the people who get upset by the “tell us something about yourself no one knows” icebreakers.

      1. animaniactoo

        It’s more than a sample when the directive above it says they want the info in the sample to be contained in the OOO message. It’s a sample of how to write it, not a sample of what “can” be in it.

  11. BadWolf

    Having had my personal number called inappropriately by a coworker, I’m protective of giving out/internally posting my home number at work. Much less to random strangers.

    1. animaniactoo

      Oh, I pushed back HARD when HR released an internal company directory at one point that contained home and cell phone numbers for all employees. I was not okay with it and refused to update any of my contact information until they removed that info. They literally could not understand why I would not want all of my co-workers to have my personal phone numbers. I don’t remember how quickly it was resolved, but it was resolved in my favor. Now the most contact info people can get out of the company directory or HR is our extension numbers.

      1. NotAnotherManager!

        I had this problem with my address. Director of HR at OldJob, who was a disaster in myriad ways, insisted all managers publish their home addresses in the internal directory. I flat-out refused and offered to get a PO box, if necessary, because I had (1) someone at that job had already misappropriated my personal information in a manner that made me quite uncomfortable; (2) someone else within the organization had already sold the internal address list to a marketing company once; and (3) was in the midst of an issue with a coworker with significant temper and boundary issues and didn’t want him showing up at my home. I ultimately “won” but they acted like I was asking for someone to sacrifice their first-born. I am reachable by cell and email at nearly all times, and only 3 of the 500 people I worked with needed to know where I lived.

  12. Amelia

    I see “business travel, meetings, conferences and events” as very different from PTO.
    I travel a lot for work and generally find it reasonable to field certain types of urgent calls while on the road.

    My OOO at these events always provides:
    – a number for our central helpline where customers can immediately speak to someone
    – a cell number where I make it clear that I won’t be able to immediately respond but I’ll do my best
    (I will be at the National X conference from September 10-12th. I will be able to check VMs 1-2x per day)

    My company provides is BYOD but has a $50 per month reimbursement. I find it easiest to have a Google Voice number and access via my personal cell. I’m surprised a company with heavy travel wouldn’t have a clear policy on this.

    But on PTO days and with my private phone number? No way.

    1. TootsNYC

      Agree!

      It might mean tailoring the OOO message for vacations versus conferences.

      And if our OP thinks there’s any likelihood of people truly needing to reach her during conferences, she should ask for a company phone.

    2. Liz

      Totally agree. I think it’s important to differentiate between PTO and the other work-related activities in handling this with leaders and HR (if OP decides to have a conversation with her). It’s completely reasonable to ask that employees make themselves available for urgent needs when they are participating in work-related activities. When they are on PTO, though, they should be considered inaccessible.

      I think a lot of this could be resolved by simply suggesting an alternative process to solve this problem. For example, I might suggest to OP’s boss (or maybe even HR person) that the management team put together a limited-access spreadsheet with contact info that can be used in an emergency. The list could be shared on a need-to-know basis (ironically, HR teams often control access to this type of PII), either by an individual or a team of trusted people who can discern actual emergencies from fake emergencies.

  13. BRR

    I’d probably to a combination of one and two. Another option if you know you don’t have a choice with this might be to list a fake number. There’s a risk but I would so it’s low.

      1. Lily in NYC

        Remember all those stories about the prank calls anyone with that number used to receive? I’ve always hated that song.

      2. BRR

        A former roommate was a go-go dancer and that’s what he would give guys at the bar who asked for his number.

        1. Polyhymnia O'Keefe

          If you ever shop at a grocery store that gives membership discounts with a phone number, and you don’t have an account with that store, try that number with your area code. Chances are good someone has set it up.

  14. Persimmons

    No no no no. BYOD is a nightmare even before you get into IP, discovery, and the like. I am not taking the chance of the nursing home being unable to reach me because Company bricked my phone.

    That said, I live in the sticks and have no cell reception until I get about 1/2 mile from my house. If forced to do this, I would have to forward a Google Voice number to my landline. Even if given a company cell, I wouldn’t get bars.

    1. msroboto

      If you have an internet connection most phones can use that. It does have some phone setup. If that doesn’t work for you depending on your carrier there are devices to provide a a signal. I have a MicroCell from AT&T if you have another provider they may have a similar device. I did a quick google and Verizon has an equivalent device. So at home there is probably no reason not to have service.

  15. It's only Wednesday

    I feel like this has the potential to bump up against some FLSA, non-exempt time tracking, etc. issues as well. I’m not sure what the make up of the org is (perhaps I missed above) but if they are requiring non-exempt associates to respond either on PTO or after hours etc, utilizing personal cell phones there needs to be good education and tracking of that time or they will end up on the wrong end of miserable lawsuit.

    1. Not A Morning Person

      The OP’s letter indicates that the organization exempted the non-exempt from providing their personal cell number.

      1. Cool Cool

        That’s not necessarily true; the OP’s letter only indicates that the organization exempted the non-managerial staff from providing cell numbers. I personally am both exempt and non-management.

  16. Marty

    I teach adult education and I use a drug dealer burner phone line (Burner app for Android). It works great and costs $6/month for peaceful separation of private/work boundaries.

    My husband, a police officer, recommended it as it was all the rage with his clients.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      “Honey, the criminals I arrested today had a great solution for you on that cell phone issue…”

      I love everything about this comment.

    2. LCL

      Wow, thanks, I didn’t know there was an app for that! I will be adding that to my phone. I was just going to suggest a burner phone, they are so cheap.

    3. Icontroltherobots

      +1 this is awesome. My fav parts is that the drug dealers in question are being referred to as his clients!

    4. EMW

      Lots of my teacher friends who tutor do this! Keeps (former or potential future) students from having the personal cell number.

    5. MatKnifeNinja

      Tell your husband a big THANK YOU from me.

      Burner app will keep the cray relatives off my back.

  17. Lily Rowan

    Honestly, not giving out my cell number is a big reason why I’m not interested in a regular work-from-home day. I don’t need the few boundary-crossers to have my personal number! When I’m on vacation, a couple of people have my contact info for emergencies, but there shouldn’t be any emergencies, really. When I’m travelling for work, I’m online.

  18. Reluctant Manager

    OP here. I might do the Google Voice thing… I’m always amazed at what people think of as an emergency!

    It might be generational; I pretty much never call anyone or get voice mail to start with, but some people higher up the food chain default to picking up the phone.

    1. EMW

      I think if you have coworkers’ phone numbers listed in the out of office reply – they should be trusted to have your personal cell number and treat it respectfully. There is no reason to provide your own number in any work communication unless it is paid for by the company.

      I personally put my cell number in my out of office reply inside the company since it is paid for. I don’t put it in the external auto reply even though it is a work provided phone and number.

      I think the best course of action is just to leave it off and address it if anyone asks.

    1. Amethystmoon

      Good point. I had an odd co-worker who seemed like he had mental issues at my last job who literally stalked me around the building. I’d hate to think of what he would have done had I given him my personal phone number.

  19. Ali G

    If you absolutely have to put a number in your OOO (and Google Voice is not an option), put your office line in it and forward it to your cell. It should be obvious if it’s your office number calling and you can choose to pick it up or not. Bonus – if you don’t answer it should kick back to your office VM, so no one will have access to your personal device. Then you just know to check your VM regularly. I was always able to enable/disable this by calling in, so you don’t need to be in the office to do it.
    And if you incur any charges on your bill from this, expense them.
    But I would also start with just not doing it and looping your boss in. Then make sure your team does know how to handle being the OOO contact, so you don’t trip up and make it worse on yourself.

    1. Lily in NYC

      Does that work with most office phones? I can’t forward my office phone to my cell phone, only to another extension here.

      1. Judy (since 2010)

        Our pbx does that now, it’s a cisco. I have my desk phone forwarded to my office phone on weekdays from 8-5. It rings both places at once, and I can pick up both places while it looks the same to the person calling. If I don’t pick up, I get a voicemail on my work system. I have a cisco app on my phone, so I can place calls that look like they come from my desk phone from my cell phone. I can also be talking on either my desk phone or my cell phone, and press a key on my desk phone and transfer the call to the other, when it’s working inside the app.

      2. Ali G

        It’s always worked for my office phones – and I mean the ones at my physical office. You just have to make sure to set it up like you would dial it (so in most places for external calls it’s 9-1-xxx-xxx-xxxx).

      3. kitryan

        when my office just upgraded my operating system I got the capability to set my office phone to forward to my cell while remoting into the office computer! I’m so happy since the one missing link in my work from home set up was the office phone – I want to be responsive so I can keep my WFH privileges and some people call before emailing. Now I can have it forward while I’m on the clock and turn it off when I’m done for the day. It’s great!

        For my out of office, my work is all internal, so I only set an out of office for internal emails and I first give the name for my coverage person, then I say that if it’s necessary I can be reached at my cell #. This is ok with me only because from experience, I know no one’s going to call unless it’s very urgent and I’d rather know that there was some major issue in time to fix it rather than come back to it having all gone haywire, when I could have nipped it in the bud. Knowing that if they really need me they will call allows me to relax and not check my email constantly, whereas if I thought no one would check with me if they really needed to, I’d end up obsessively checking to make sure everything’s ok while I’m on vacation. Which definitely has more to do with my personality than a general rule for how everyone should handle things.

      4. Bea

        Our new upgrade includes call forwarding. You punch in a *accessnumber and then it forwards to your cell. We really have no use for it but it would be super handy if someone is in field work.

  20. I'm A Little Teapot

    I have a very simple rule regarding work and my cell phone: if you don’t pay for it, you don’t get to use it. OP, I’d start looking for a new job just based on what you’re saying. HR who’s gleeful about layoffs, struggling company? No.

  21. MyDevon

    When I’m in a meeting or with a customer in person I handle those issues, but outside of work, yes I have to answer. I have a very supportive partner who has been very patient, but yes this policy means a work life balance does not exist.

  22. Kelly L.

    I would bet five internet dollars that they aren’t even intending to mandate that everyone put their cell number in their OOO. It’s probably aimed at a few miscreants who don’t have any OOO message at all, and are always gallivanting off to Bermuda without letting anyone know, so voice mails and emails pile up unanswered. But in the eternal way of offices everywhere, a message meant for two annoying people is being blasted to the entire company rather than just being directed to the people it’s really for.

    1. Pikachu

      I thought this too–this message seems reactionary, like there was a recent “situation” and this is how they are communicating a change to prevent it in the future.

      If I were OP, I’d go with Alison’s #2 advice. If the boss is happy with how OP is handling things during out of office time, that should be good enough for HR.

  23. MyDevon

    I live in a major city so that wouldn’t work. The missed call issue hasn’t happened to me yet so I haven’t had try to explain it yet.

  24. Lore

    My standard out of office email/voicemail points to the covering person (for long vacations, we often have a floater literally covering our desks/emails; for shorter times, one of my colleagues). I give that person my cell phone and personal email; if it’s an honest-to-god emergency, that person and only that person (or my boss, if something needs to be escalated) knows how to reach me.

    It almost never happens. Sometime I’ll get cc’ed on something where they’d love my opinion, and if I happen to see it in a timely way I’ll respond, but I think I’ve gotten an actual call maybe twice in almost ten years.

  25. Goya de la Mancha

    Nope, no, nuh uh, nah bro, for reals no. I would push back with all my might – but if there was no other option, google voice is the way to go!

  26. Crystal

    As others have mentioned, legally this opens a can of worms. That’s reason enough to Nope that one.

  27. TootsNYC

    that’s a sample script, no?

    So if you are off for personal reasons, don’t include your cell phone.
    If you are off for work reasons, and could be reached, then do so.

  28. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer

    In addition to this being a garbage shitty policy, LOL at the idea that people are universally good at identifying what’s an “immediate issue” and/or a “timely manner”. I work in an industry where there really are unforeseen urgent non-negotiable deadlines and yet most of the “OMG AN EMERGENCY” messages are things like “the unenforced internal deadline is in two days” and “YOU HAVE NOT RESPONDED IN A TIMELY FASHION” could literally mean “I sent you a message 5 minutes ago and you haven’t solved my problem yet.” Has this VP of HR never worked with humans??

    1. Environmental Compliance

      “Has this VP of HR never worked with humans??”

      This is a question I ponder every time our parent company calls in.

    2. sweet potatoes

      LOL, right? Once I got 7 phone calls–on my private cell–and 3 on my desk line from one of the sales guys. they had a backordered material that they needed to deliver to the customer urgently, without delay, ASAP, the whole nine yards. What urgent, critical piece of equipment did they need, you ask? 5 dish sponges. Like, the ones you buy at Target to wash your dishes at home.
      I also got a talking to from my boss asking why I hadn’t picked up my phone, to which I replied: I was in the bathroom.
      This is why I have all their phone numbers blocked in a “do not disturb list”.

    3. BadWolf

      A peer of my manager burned the bridges with me about what was an after hours emergency. At the time, I was living somewhere that was a 10-15 drive to work. There were people at my job who bring their laptop home every night. I only brought mine home when I have a particular reason. One night, he calls me at about 9 and wants me to look at something. I say, “Okay, it’ll be about 15-20 minutes, I just have to drive into work.” He was quite surprised by this (that I didn’t have my laptop at home to pop onto immediately) but said okay. I put on my shoes, get my keys, wallet, etc (feeling sort of grumpy). I start my car. He calls back, “Nevermind, don’t drive in, just look at it tomorrow.” Yeah.

  29. Stone Cold Bitch

    I have a company phone (we have no land lines, only cellphones) and this is the only number I use for work.
    My personal number is only known by my boss, HR, and my two closest co-workers.

    If you call me during non-work hours with anything other than a quick question I’m putting that down as time worked.

  30. voyager1

    I really don’t think this is unreasonable, I would probably add a sentence about being difficult to contact when you are using PTO, but if it is a company event then no I don’t think you can go off the grid.

  31. Shrugged

    I didn’t have time to read through all the comments above, so if this has been said already, I apologize.

    If you’re in California, a fourth option may be to point out the tenuous legal ground – if you are required to use your cell for company business, in California, the company is required to pay for a portion, based on when and how much you use it. So if they start requiring this and are in California, you can go to your boss and/or HR and point out the issues this could cause them, if suddenly all managers and above have to have their cell bills paid by the company.

  32. Jam Today

    I would just object to this on security grounds — I don’t even put my cell number in my company directory, I have no intention of letting 2000 people I don’t know within my own company have that kind of access to me; I’m definitely not exposing my private contact information to anyone who happens to send me an email from wherever. I give it out only to my boss and immediate colleagues by request.

    But more importantly: if you’re out of the office, you’re out of the office. PTO is just that — time off. No work. End of story.

  33. Wine not Whine

    This reminds me of a (praises be, LONG gone) former HR person here who sent out an all-hands message with very similar phrasing “someone may need an answer, an update, or need information that they would usually secure from you – if they’re taking the time to contact you, it must be important!” and stating bluntly that regardless of the reason for being away from the office, we were expected to check and answer all messages daily.

    I’m a sales-data analyst. There’s nothing you’re going to be asking me on Saturday that can’t wait until Monday.

    Ever since then, my OOO messages include the line “without phone or computer access for the duration.” If someone complains, it’s on them to prove otherwise.

    I’ve never had a complaint.

  34. Chatterby

    If you’re hourly, you may have a way to push back while seeming to be on board.
    Respond asking for clarification on:
    -How to track and bill the extra time.
    -Does this mean we’re getting company phones or BYOD compensation? (sound super excited when asking)
    -If I’m using PTO, how do I get the time spent answering back? What is the process for submitting that request?
    -If I’m not permitted to have overtime, should I not answer any calls, or should I answer and then leave early either the next day or on Friday to ensure I don’t go over?

    It would signal that they’ve made a mess for themselves, and might want to backtrack.
    In the meanwhile, just leave your cellphone off the automatic response. How frequently does HR actually email people? If they ever even notice, let alone ask, just say “Oh, sorry, I thought they had my number.” and then never fix it or give them your number.

  35. Holly

    The only issue with this seems to be the personal cell part – it’s pretty standard in my office for everyone not just management to have an OOO with contact info for who you can contact instead if it’s urgent. I’d just use the sample sans personal number.

  36. GiantPanda

    One more option:
    Depending on your mail software you may be able to set different OOO messages for different contacts.

  37. Kat

    My colleague gave out his personal mobile to a few clients and — 5 years after leaving — still gets calls, many times from people or companies he (and we) have told to not call him because he does not work here anymore. Oh, even better. They gave out his number to every delivery driver.

    One day we got an irate message from him while he was in another country in a much different time zone that our product was delivered. Which we knew. Because it was delivered to us. So we got it. But the driver was apparently told to call us and let us know and was yet again given this man’s number.

    It can make a person wish they’d never worked for a company.

    1. irene adler

      Yep!
      Ten years after my bro left his job at a local gas station/mechanic’s shop, I got a call for him. The lady was very anxious. Her car needed immediate attention. The antenna motor wasn’t shutting off. She didn’t know what to do. Needed my bro ‘right away!’
      I explained that he had joined the Navy and was out at sea. He’d be back in about 4 months’ time.

      I offered to call another mechanic for her.

      And I did. And he said to have her bring the car in on Monday. Gonna need a new antenna motor anyway so not to worry about this one burning out. Not an emergency.

      I called the lady back and explained this to her.
      Her adult son got on the line and chewed me out royally, “Enough if this! Get your brother out here NOW! FIX THIS THING!!”

      I told him to call the President of the United States and hung up.

      1. irene adler

        So, NO to giving personal phone numbers out to work contacts. Never know who or when someone will try to find you. Or what they might want.

      2. AdAgencyChick

        Why’d you hang up? This story is already amazing, but I so want to know what she would have said to your brilliant comment!

    2. Justme, The OG

      I changed my number when I left one job because they didn’t believe me that I no longer worked there. I feel bad for whomever got the number after me.

      1. Bryce

        Back when I had a landline we’d get fax calls. You know the old gag of telling someone that if they shout loud enough the person on the other end of the fax will hear it? After six months of that you’ll try anything.

  38. Grouchy 2 cents

    Because I’m a passive-aggressive jerk I’d look for the HR person’s private cell number and start calling them all hours of the day and night with weird vacation/PTO/company policy questions. After all, that’s what they’re suggesting everyone else in the Company sign up for, right?

    (No I wouldn’t actually do this cause I’m also a coward. But man the fantasy is fun.

    1. irene adler

      I like this.

      I think I’d simply dummy up a phony phone number. Or put the phone number to a local bar. A real busy one.

    2. pleaset

      Or how about this – ask if you could put the HR person’s cell number into your out of office message, with a request that HR vet if any call is legit or not before passing it on to you.

      That’s reasonable, right?

    3. Lily in NYC

      It was not my proudest moment, but I did this to a contractor who was doing renovations to my apartment and building complex. He was completely non-responsive for three months (even though he was on site many times) and then missed 5 appointments in a row after I finally got in touch with him (I had to leave work early for each one). I am a vengeful person so I called his cell at 3am when he was on his honeymoon. He actually answered!! He must have thought someone died. I said HI MATT, I just wanted to congratulate you on your wedding! And then hung up. I’m pretty sure he never knew it was me – he had a ton of people in my building who were furious with him. I feel way less guilty about this than I should. He still hasn’t completed the work (12 months later).

  39. Kat

    Get a Google Voice number and give that out. You can set it up to forward to you only during certain times.

  40. mcr-red

    So my work doesn’t require you to be available 24-7, but we deal with a lot of clients that want to be able to text us. We also do a lot of work where it would be really handy if you had a camera, or a tablet/iPad to show clients work, etc.

    Note that they don’t require any of these things, and they don’t provide any of these things. But in order to work with our clients in modern society, we need these things. So basically, people end up using their personal equipment or personal phones to do their job.

    1. Temperance

      I push back on clients who want to text, but since they’re getting free service, it’s a bit easier. I don’t want my personal number to get out to people looking for free legal help.

      1. mcr-red

        I do too Temperance. I tell them to email me, and they act like I’m wanting them to hand-write a letter or something.

        I’ve had to give out my personal cell phone number to a few clients that work opposite shifts than me, to the point that we would never be able to speak otherwise, and so far it hasn’t been a problem. But I’m the holdout in a group of people who just go ahead and give out their personal number and buy the tablets, cameras, etc. I may go ahead and check out the Google app, that would be handy!

  41. Apocalypse How

    I just went on a mission trip to Cuba. We were warned by the trip staff that internet and wifi were going to be inconsistent at best, so I told my coworkers in the weeks leading up to it that I would be unable to respond to work e-mails at all. It’s a good thing I did–there is no free wifi in Cuba. You have to pay the equivalent of $1 an hour. While that could get annoying, it felt SO good not to have to deal with work e-mails on that trip.

  42. Rey

    Last year I went on a two-week vacation out of the country. I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of internet connection, and my boss didn’t want me to take my work laptop, so I just set up an out-of-office that specifically said that I had no email access. I was so grateful for my boss’s support in that decision, and I was so grateful for the two-week vacation from work (I only took 3 days when I got married, so this was the longest I had ever been out.) Your boss needs to realize that this is going on, especially if this is not the kind of office culture that they want to build. And if this is a change from the past work culture, your boss is supportive of it, and it is not what you want, then you need to decide how much you are willing to adjust or if you should start job searching for something that is more in keeping with your own wants/needs.

  43. senatormeathooks

    If it’s not coming from my boss, it’s not going to happen, especially if it’s from a department that has no idea how I do my job. I would ignore it until your manager or whatever brings it up.

  44. Dave

    As someone who has a company provided device that I also use personnaly (company approved), and list my cell in my regular signature I would object to this. If the boss actually needs me they can call me. (They do not abuse this.) Anyone else (including coworkers) are ignored.

  45. Nanc

    Unless death, dismemberment, fire, flood, tornado, earthquake, plague, pestilence, or some other end-of-life-as-we-know-it event will occur by my not answering my cell phone while away from the office, I don’t care. And even if the above were happening, I have confidence in medical personnel, fire fighters [there have been hundreds in my smokey neck of the woods since July 5 and they are awesome!), police officers, other emergency responders and yes, even my local, county, state and national government that they would handle the crisis.

    Cross train your staff and give them autonomy to handle your business emergencies–they can do it!

  46. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow

    Yeah no.

    If the situation is truly urgent then my boss or trusted co-worker can reach out to me. I’ve also found there is very little that truly requires immediate attention. The people who can make a judgement about the issues urgency also have my cell phone number.

    At least where I work, the people who are the least qualified to make the determination about a situation’s urgency are the first to want to call me on my cell.

  47. Rae

    My cell is pay as you go/annual plan. I pay $100 a year because I don’t really use it as a phone.

    Years ago I had a decent phone and my manager tried to pull the BS that I was lying because I had a X smartphone and MUST have the unlimited contract. So when I was at the satellite office (provided by the company ours worked for) I needed to use my personal phone. The company didn’t have the ability to provide me with a line so he basically said if I wanted to stay employed I had to use my phone and he would not “reimburse” me because I was trying to get money for nothing.

    I went above his head bringing my TracPhone receipt for an annual card which had the phone number. I told him that unless he was going to pony up money for each call the answer was no because I couldn’t afford it. I had a great grandboss and she was livid. On the spot, she ran down to Radio Shack, purchased a TracPhone with her own money later submitting reimbursement.

  48. wayward

    I suppose you’d get in trouble for “accidentally” including the HR VP’s personal cell phone number in your OOO message instead of your own…..

  49. Rainy

    We had a situation recently where because of an office move, we had no phones or dedicated work space and until it became obvious it wasn’t going to work, we were still expected to take client appointments. After that became clear, management wanted us to do phone appointments. Without phones. From our cells. Which would entail giving out those numbers.

    Nope. So much nope. A world of nope. I’ve made that mistake before…once. I don’t think most people make it more than once.

  50. EM

    We are given a work phone, which is published for the whole internal staff, and given in your email signature externally. If you don’t want to carry two phones work will contribute to the cost of your personal phone, but you’re expected to use it like a work phone.

    No email like the above was ever sent to me, but it’s completely in line with my company’s expectations (except the gmail account bit). You wouldn’t be fired at my work for refusing, but it’s very likely that they’d assume you’re not up to being a manager. This all sounds pretty routine if you’re in a tier one law firm, or consulting company etc

    It’s not that reasonable, but we are well compensated. In the end for me it’s anout choosing if you want that lifestyle or not. I said yes, for now, but I will no doubt change my mind later and look for something less demanding

    1. Observer

      The choice to have a company issued phone makes a really big difference, because it makes it possible to keep the intrusion into personal life manageable.

      1. EM

        Yeah for sure, I think it’s different also – from a cost perspective and also in the sense that the company is actually providing you with what you need – but in terms of intrusion into your life… definitely no. I’m regularly contacted on my vacation/weekend/out of business answers. My boss took a vacation last week and I didn’t actually realise, as far as I can tell she worked the whole time. Essentially you’re given a 1.5FTE load to one FTE and you can switch off when you’re work is done. They only reason I say this is that LW might need to assess what the culture of her company is- if they generally expect 24/7 and she expects “don’t call me on my vacation” she probably needs to assess if the compensation is worth it. Or it could just be a rouge HR email, of course.

        1. Observer

          The regular contacts are as much a matter of company culture as the issue of the cell phone.

          With a personal device, leaving it home during vacation or turning it off in the evening is just not practical. With a separate device, that’s doable (assuming you have reasonable employers who are not expecting you to SOMEHOW manage to be available 24/ 7 – and always in top form, of course.)

    2. DataGirl

      Two jobs ago the place gave everyone a company cell (there were no desk phones) and said if we wanted to use it as a personal phone we could. That was nice, to save paying for your own cell. The company after that we were required to use our personal cell for work, but were given $100/mo towards the bill which was also very nice. Different approaches to the same issue.

  51. Could be Anyone

    A thousand times no! Imagine if all your clients had your personal cell phone and then you left that job.

    I wonder how places like this handle things when people travel to other countries where using your foreign phone can cost several dollars per minute. Not to mention time zone differences.

    1. wayward

      Could be especially interesting if you left to work for a competitor and the clients were using your cell phone to contact you. Doesn’t seem like a scenario that a well-run company would want.

  52. Serious Sam

    Two possible options:
    1. “Accidentally” give out a wrong phone number. Of course, Waywood’s suggestion above that this should be the HR VP’s personal cell phone number is best.

    2. Buy the cheapest possible sim, and get a dual-sim phone. Most of these have fairly good sim management options, that allow you to set it to only receive calls on a particular sim at certain times. Bonus if your sim is with a network provider with particularly poor coverage in your area.

  53. Trout 'Waver

    Eh… I’d rather field a 2 minute phone call when I’m out on vacation if it could save the company $100k+ or prevent a weeks-long disaster when I get back.

    I give my personal cell to two trusted colleagues when I’m out. I then refer to them in my OOO message and let them decide if it’s worth interrupting my vacation for. I very much trust their judgment and they respect my vacation.

    1. Observer

      Well, if only two trustworthy people have your cell number, then you have a good shot at only being interrupted for really significant issues. But the OP is being required to provide their personal cell number to EVERYONE to be used pretty much for any reason.

      Totally NOT reasonable.

      1. Trout 'Waver

        I was responding to the general sentiment in this thread of “Nope, not ever” and not specifically to the OP. I should have been clear on that. My bad.

    2. Susan

      Sure, you want to deal with the disaster – but it’s your choice and you are still limiting the people who can reach you and are trusted to have good judgement on what is a disaster. Opening it up to anyone who has your email address is not a good practice.

  54. MicroManagered

    there is almost no one who should “feel free” to call my cellphone number.

    I like the cut of your jib, LW!

    I would probably just ignore this and keep doing whatever I did before. If questioned on it, I would pull the AAM-standard bewildered/of-course response. (Genuinely confused tone): “Well of course I wouldn’t put my personal cell phone number in my away message.” If pressed: “I’m really not comfortable leaving my personal cell number for anyone who happens to contact me during my time off.” and “It’s not a company-paid cell phone, so I really can’t use it to take calls outside of work.” (Side question: I just got back from vacation. How useless would I be trying to answer work-calls when I’m day-drunk on rum punch at the beach with no laptop guys? C’mon.)

    Another thing I wondered about is: Maybe ask what prompted this? This sounds like a case of “Let’s make a really stupid-ass company-wide rule for everyone to address a minor, one-off problem that has a simpler solution!” Like, did Sally-the-Junior-Employee get stuck with a problem at 5:02 on Friday afternoon and not have anyone to ask for help? Do managers in your company maybe need to exchange personal cell numbers with their reports, perhaps even across teams? Do they need to establish a better plan across teams when a manager is out? Fergus will be out next week, so if you have a problem, ask Sequoia for help. If you can’t get Sequoia, there is a spreadsheet of managers’ cell numbers on the shared drive; but use it with caution. Something like that?

  55. RUKiddingMe

    Personal cell number? Available at all hours? No, no, nopity, no, no, no.

    I tend towards anti-BYOD anyway (ok, I am vehemently against it), but how much of your personal time/space/etc. do employers think they are entitled to?

    I get it, manager, salaried, need to be available … but 24/7 with zero expectation of ever being able to be on your own time? So much no.

    My business is my business. I need to be available 24/7 … ok I really don’t but for the sake of argument, because I am the one reaping the most benefit from said business, ultimately the buck stops here. I am super strict about people (including myself) having off time, being unplugged, not dealing anything short of a life/death emergency after COB, including not needing to use their own personal cell/number to deal with said “emergencies.”

    OP I would push back on this. If they want you to have a cell available, they really should provide it. I don’t know what to say about the expectation that you never get to have any time off at all though.

  56. Reluctant Manager

    Thanks, everybody! Those are great ideas. It didn’t occur to me to see what options my office phone might offer.

    To be clear: No lives are at risk; that’s not my field and I’m not that important. My colleagues have my phone number.

    This is not phrased as an example to be customized; it’s a mandatory template, and according to it, the manager of teapot archiving who supervises a temp has the same obligation as the CEO.

  57. Teapot unionist

    I read that as managers must leave their cell phone numbers, but non-managers need to indicate who is available to assist in their absence.

    I think the LW needs to seek clarification and make sure the directive is properly understood before doing anything else.

    1. Reluctant Manager

      Sorry, I truncated. Non-managers have all the same requirements except cell phone number.

      “Manager” doesn’t mean “managing director of a trauma center,” as I understand it. I read it as someone who manages another person. There are people who are 2 years out of college who have “manager” in their titles.

  58. Windcalleddelilah

    If I had set up my voicemail message like this, my company hr would be giving me a call.
    Because anyone who calls senior management would be able to compile a list of their personal cell numbers easily.
    Also, why would calling my personal cell phone get you a better response than just leaving a message on my company voicemail? Either way you are going to go straight to voicemail – and when I’m on vacation, I don’t actually carry my phone.

  59. DataGirl

    Hmmm. In both my current industry (medicine) and previous (automotive) it’s been an unspoken rule that your personal cell is shared. It’s on the company or department directory and in your email signature, although it’s not common to put it in your ooo unless you are at a conference or something where you aren’t on PTO but are away from your desk for a day or longer. From looking at comments it seems as if this is not the norm? Maybe it is industry based- in both of mine it’s essential that certain people be reachable anytime in case of emergencies. Anyway, to the OP I wouldn’t want to be contacted on vacation either but when traveling between locations and at meetings or trainings I personally think management should be reachable, but I agree that giving a select few a way to contact you then directing people in your ooo to contact them for help is the way it should be done.

  60. Czhorat

    I put my personal cell on my business cards and email signature; it’s common in my industry bas well.

    Where I’d push back is on using it in an OOO message; the point of saying that you’re out of the office is to let people know not to expect a reply.

    What if you’re going snorkeling? Taking a sick loved one to the hospital? At the theater? Skydiving? There are tons of cases in which you cannot or should not be expected to answer a business call.

    When I have PTO coming, I often joke that I’ll be spending it in a Faraday cage, completely isolated from any incoming signals. There are very, very few jobs in which constant contact with you personally should be an expectation.

  61. tangerineRose

    I want to know if this HR person has done this with his/her own out of office e-mail for a while – someone who has had people call their cell at odd hours might realize why this is a bad idea.

  62. 24/7

    My company does not mandate we give personal cell phone numbers out. But they do expect EVERYONE, not just management, to be available at any time. I was on a call once (on a Saturday) where someone they ‘needed’ had been unavailable for 30 minutes and his colleague suggested, quite seriously, that he didn’t live far away and volunteered to swing by his apartment and try to find him! I am very grateful that I have a company phone. At least I know it’s work related when I get texts on a holiday. To be clear, I am not important, it is not life or death, and I am definitely not compensated for this.

    But I think somc companies just have this culture. Whether it comes in an obnoxious email from HR or not, it’s just the thing that people do and so everyone does it.

  63. alexis

    For the first time I have to disagree with Alison here. I think the OP and Alison have centered in on 5% of the wording and not the message that HR is asking to be sent out.
    The message is, if during work hours you are not available due to being off site, at conferences, or travelling, to ensure our clients are not left hanging, please ensure in your out of office reply they have someone to contact. If it is urgent and those people cannot help here is my mobile. The expectation for using the mobile is that you are off site and you may or not answer, but they can leave a voice message which they know you will hear. Saying your colleagues know what to do whilst you are not there means nothing to the clients or people who are emailing you….unless you let them know in an out of office to contact your colleagues for assistance how will they know to do so? There is nothing worse as a client to be waiting for a response from someone only to find out they have been at a conference for a week and had you sent the query to their assistant it would have been dealt with already.

    The confusion is that HR has lumped in, almost as an after thought, PTO periods into this, which should have the same out of office WITHOUT the mobile number.

    Having a consistent communication message regarding “I am not in the office” auto replies is a mark of a good company. Individualized messages that has no consistency smells of a disjointed organisation IMHO.

    If you were to ask HR if a modified the out of office for PTO then I dont see anything wrong with the HR request.

    1. Voice Mail Is The Devil

      I disagree that consistency looks professional; it looks robotic. It ignores the fact that people have different job requirements.

      If you put my mobile number in while you’re at a conference and someone sends an email, he can call it any time, whether LW is on PTO or Christmas dinner.

      Phone numbers are a common security question. Should LW close and reopen all accounts after leaving this company?

      1. alexis

        Do you really save an out of office reply? They are designed to inform a party that you are not in the office, read, acknowledge and try someone else. If you are in a type of job that it is routine for clients to call you at midnight, evenings etc then they would already have your number. Thinking that Joe Smith in accounting is going to take an out of office email with number to mean he has “permission” to call at any time is stretching things a bit. Perhaps it country related?

        1. Voice Mail Is The Devil

          The point isn’t whether I would. It’s whether the person applying for a job, trying to talk to you about their tin foil hat business, stalking you, or having issues with their leaky teapot will. Modern email programs retain huge numbers of emails; if they search for “Alexis” and it pulls up your OOO, it doesn’t matter when you sent it.

    2. Observer

      Having a consistent communication message regarding “I am not in the office” auto replies is a mark of a good company. Individualized messages that has no consistency smells of a disjointed organisation IMHO.

      Hard disagree. Different people have different styles, and there is nothing “unprofessional” about that. Diversity of experience, viewpoint and approach can be extremely useful as long as communications are clear and everyone is on the same page about the core issues.

      More importantly, the idea that the CEO and “manager” of the high school intern should have the same OOO message and routine is silly. THAT is unprofessional.

  64. Becca

    There are specific professions where this makes sense (i.e. medical), but outside of life/death, this is unreasonable. In this situation, it sounds like it’s not a life/death type of job. People have lives outside of work and it’s bad for mental and physical well-being. A person can’t shut down if they’re supposed to be available 24/7. Once it’s time to go home, I’m out. I do not want someone to contact me from work and I refuse to interrupt people outside of work hours unless its an emergency/I need to call out. I expect the same of others because we all have lives outside of work and that should always take priority in my book.

    1. Cassie the First

      Even in the medical profession, someone wouldn’t be on call 24/7. I mean, if a person needs medical attention and goes to the hospital at a time when their primary care physician is not available, there are plenty of other doctors who should be able to step in and help the person.

      I have a friend who is dealing with a professor who calls at all hours of the day (like Sunday evening). The professor will send ~10 emails in a row when my friend doesn’t respond right away. It is maddening, because the staff can’t finish the work for the professor because the professor keeps interrupting!

      1. Matt

        Exactly this. Emergency doctors have scheduled on-call shifts as well as real “off” time when they’re not on call, so even they are allowed to have a private life.

  65. Cassie the First

    I think this is a terrible idea. There’s no distinction for when the person’s out on business travel vs vacation vs out for a medical procedure. When I’m on vacation (somewhere international), my phone is going to be on airplane mode. You can try calling me all you want; I’m not going to see you called me until I get back home. If I’m out because I had my wisdom tooth pulled, I am not going to answer my phone because I don’t want to have to talk with blood in my mouth. Why would I tell people to feel free to call me, if they are just going to have to leave a voicemail and not get a response right away?

    As long as the OOO message gives vital info – who to call/email instead and when the person will be back – I don’t care about anything else like whether all the employees use the same message or why the person is out. These are things I don’t need to know because the backup person is going to take care of everything, right?

    1. SimpleAnon

      Yep I agree.
      But in some business, especially startup it has become kind of requirements. Some even require you to be online even though at home on weekend. Just so you can do your work. My former manager is also the same as your friend’s professor. She is like that because our CEO is like that and it is like a cycle. One time she even said that our CFO is sucking up to our CEO and easily changed his mind just to follow him all the way. What she doesn’t realize herself is that she does exactly the same as both the CEO and CFO do, in making her team (especially me) suffer.
      She watched my every movements, demands me to finish all my works on that day, and required me to socialize with other departments while when I do that or just have a meal, I will be chastised and criticized. In actual she and the other teammate is the one who is truly socializing and having fun.
      Glad that I resigned way before she did (she was pregnant and resigned not long after mine (3 months after she gave birth).

  66. SimpleMe

    Personally, I think it is not the HR that is at fault here. It could be that she is pressured by the ones above to get all of the employees’ phone number for a numerous reasons (e.g. unanswered but seemingly important mails from CEOs/owners (survey, places to go to eat, office’s care and maintenance,etc.- I know it seems ridiculous, but some owners do want you to check these kinds of mail and answered them quickly), they want you to be always ready 24/7 (in case of “emergency” or real emergency), or they just simply want your number so they contact you whenever they want regardless of day/hour).
    If you are outside U.S, maybe you can create a business acc/ numbers (WhatsApp provide biz acc facility) that are especially made for office if it is really a must.

    1. Reluctant Manager

      One of the most interesting things here is how different work environments can be! Individuality is generally expected (even prized) in our company. On the other hand, I’m realizing how unusual it is that HR has so much direct authority—and they do.

  67. doingmyjob

    I think it would be an interesting legal challenge–can an employer make someone disclose their cell phone number— what is essentially their home phone number–to customers and others in the workplace when they aren’t providing funds to subsidize it ?

  68. HermioneMe

    Three things come immediately to mind:

    1) I’m in HR – if I had to use my personal cell phone for company business and someone texted me regarding a complaint (harassment, discrimination, etc.), my personal phone could be subpoenaed! I don’t want some lawyer looking through my personal stuff. Or what if there was a business lawsuit and there is business info on your phone – same thing.

    2) What if you were being stalked – by a an ex, by a stranger or even by a co-worker – why would you want your personal phone # out there?

    3) If the employee is non-exempt, time spent “working” outside of normal business hours, including taking phone calls, would be paid time and could put the employee into overtime pay.

    Push back on this one! Please update us!

  69. Reluctant Manager

    So far, I have not seen the new template deployed, and all the managers I’ve spoken to have reservations. All are quietly sharing concerns with their own managers and distancing themselves from the mandate. This may end not with a bang, but with a whimper.

    In the meantime, I’ve found (but not tested) the forward-all function on my office phone and discovered the function that lets you set different OOO messages for internal, contacts, and all. Thanks to everyone for the excellent suggestions!

  70. Reinier Post

    You say this is legal, but I don’t think it is in my country (the Netherlands). I’m not supposed to use my private phone number and email address for work, and they have no business expecting me to.

  71. J

    I’ve always left my contact info with a trusted manager/peer. Without advertising it, people are forced to go to the backups, who should be able to assist them, but I’d something critical arises, they can always call me. That way, both bases are covered.

  72. CountingBeans

    It’s unreasonable to demand personal numbers within out-of-office replies. Most people will ignore that email. However, proper out-of-office replies shoud be expected from All Staff. If they are dropping the ball, their bosses you be speaking to him/her directly. Simply, include the co-worker or supervisor to contact while you are out. Simple enough. For Directors and VP level Staff, they should check their emails even when they are out of the office. Expectations from Dir/VP level are different. And, if that Dir/VP doesn’t agree, then there’s probably other concerns with said Dir/VP.

  73. 90% Snark By Weight

    Story time.

    I was at a meetup a couple of years ago, and one of the people there was talking about when their company decided that if they were subsidizing your phone, they got to make you install security software on it. So a couple of months after the policy was in place, he was sitting next to the IT department and a VP came in. “She was normally so calm and nice to everyone, and I’d never heard her swear at all. She came in, and if looks could kill, there would have been smoking piles of ash everywhere. And not only was she swearing, she was swearing in multiple languages.”

    Apparently what had happened was someone reported their phone stolen, and IT remote-wiped the phone associated with _K_Jones (the VP) instead of _J_Jones (the person with the stolen phone. And she’d spent the weekend at some sports event with her kid, and when they wiped her phone by mistake, they wiped all her pictures of it.

    Next week, policy changed. No more mandatory security malware on personal phones.

  74. screen4b

    I used to work for a large state agency who demanded our personal cell numbers. I ignored the request and several followups.
    I also worked for another state agency who provided a script for our voice mail greeting, from which no one could discern whether I was present but just in a meeting /lunch or if I was absent for an indeterminate number of days. This made voice mail ineffective for most callers.

  75. Reluctant Manager

    Update… I started the day with a colleague in my office in years of frustration. HR lady scolded her for being 5 minutes late, and when she pointed out that she’s caught up and has been working at home since 4 am, HR lady told her that there’s an expectation that she be in the office 45 hours/week. She just assumed someone else’s job, she’s a salaried employee with 10 years here, and her boss is remote.

    We’re all reluctant to believe because we love our community and the people in the trenches, but the place is increasingly toxic.

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