From free work phone to life balance complaints in 2 easy steps


I’ve spotted a small but recurring pattern among some of my friends, their on-call responsibilities, and the gradual erosion of their work life balance. It all starts innocently enough with the ceremonial signing off of the new work phone. The keen new employee goes to the Corporate IT team and gets given a 2 or 3 generation old, locked down, mobile phone. It normally comes with the trinity of features, a slightly shonky battery, a larger than expected physical presence and a decent bandwidth package you never have to pay for.

For the first few weeks all is well (apart from with the iPhone users who hate having an Android device this close) and the gradual installation of all the applications begins. It starts with pagerduty/opsgenie, an ssh client and eventually the titan known as Slack. Maybe you’re modern and GitHub and some connectivity testing applications get added so you can look impressively functional on the train. Because this phone isn’t a modern day replacement for a Connection Machine, and in fairness it’s unlikely to be a current generation feature phone, it starts to slow down and have a little less life in its battery.

We now move onto the second stage. “The work phone’s too slow and too big. I don’t need to carry two phones, I can just put the apps I need on my main phone.” you say to your team, trapping yourself without realising it. You tell people how great it is to have just one, faster, phone. You rejoice at outsmarting the people in IT that saddled you with their corporate anchor. You have, as the Ghost Busters advised against, crossed the streams and the hubris will soon come for you. The joy of only keeping one device charged and ready will quickly give way to little mutterings: “I never feel like I’m off call.”, “I saw this thing and had to get involved.” and “I keep thinking my phone made a noise.”

The third stage divides people into two main camps. The first, and sadly smaller group, realise this is an own goal rather than a sneaky corporate plan, and either move back to two devices or get very good at “Do Not Disturb” configuration. The second, irremediable, group will continue to blame the feelings on the company and will either try to move to a role that doesn’t do on-call or start looking for a more “understanding company that appreciates balance”.