In response to an earlier post about calling coworkers at night or over the weekend, I wrote that (a) it can be okay if you know they're fine with it, which some people are, (b) you should avoid doing it if you're a manager, even if you know/think they're fine with it, because most people will be less comfortable telling you "no," and (c) it's never okay if you're not sure where they stand on receiving such calls, unless it's an extreme emergency. One commenter wrote this in response:
While I agree with everyone who said "just don't pick up," what about working with coworkers and managers who just don't get that? My boss and a coworker (who has been with my boss for a long time and modeled his behavior after hers) have a nasty habit of calling at ALL HOURS. I've gotten calls at 3 a.m. on a Friday, midnight on a Tuesday, 6 a.m. on a Wednesday, you name it. And if you don't pick up, they just keep on calling and calling until you do! In fact, I once had to field calls from my boss, who was in a complete tizzy, one weekend day when the part-time employee who I supervise wasn't picking up his phone, despite the fact it was his day off. Turns out he'd gone to the beach, again as it was his day off, and his phone was out of range -- but our boss was livid (how dare he not pick up).
It's never an emergency, but the culture in my office is EVERYTHING is urgent. Seriously -- I was lectured once because, after working till 9 p.m. I mentioned to my boss that I was glad we'd finished that project, even if we had to stay so late, because I was hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at my house the next day (a weekend). And she asked me what made me think I could have a party on a weekend -- she might need me.
Same goes for vacation: I was on unpaid leave at home when my grandmother died, and received almost hourly emails, texts and calls. When I was unable to answer or reply, as I was in the hospital while she was dying unable to use my cell, I was berated for having my priorities out of wack. However, god help the person who calls my boss on her weekends or vacations: even if we need approvals from her to continue the work, if we interupt her we're going to be screamed at.
So my question for all of you: if office culture is so important, how does one change it?
There are two different issues here: the question of how to change an office culture, and the question of your crazy, out-of-line boss.
Because let's be clear: Your boss is completely, 100% over the line, unreasonable, deluded, and a jerk. You were berated for having your priorities out of whack when a family member was dying? You were told that you couldn't have a party over a weekend because she "might" need you? What is this job exactly, member of the president's cabinet?
Did you knowingly sign up for this? When you were hired, were you told that you'd be expected to be on-call 24-7? I'm betting not. This is not reasonable. This is not even approaching reasonable.
You know, some bosses really don't understand how this is supposed to work because no one has ever taught them that it's not okay, and it's possible to get through to them if you approach it correctly. And if that were the case here, I would advise talking with her and explaining that the vast majority of people need to have actual time off, time that's your own, time when you'll only be contacted by work if it's a true emergency (and make sure you define what that is). And that your company will have trouble retaining good employees in the long-run if they deny them this type of quality of life, because what good person with options wouldn't rather go somewhere that respects her personal life? Some bosses do respond to this conversation, especially if it comes from someone with high value to the company and/or influence.
But her problems go beyond that kind of naivete and bad judgment -- because she's also a jerk. And thus, while you could attempt this conversation, my expectations are not high that it will get you anywhere. She is a tyrant, and she's likely a tyrant in other areas too, not just this one. So my advice is to get the hell out. Start looking for an employer who understands that your paycheck does not buy your life, and that treating people badly is not a long-term strategy for success.
Now, on the more general question of how one can change office culture: It can be done, but it's really hard. It requires a serious commitment from people at the top of the organization, or at least from someone in a key leadership role with a lot of credibility and influence, and even then it's hard. When the culture you want to change is really the boss, the odds are so against you that I would again say to leave and find somewhere that operates in a way more aligned with your values. I know it's easier said than done, but once you do it, you'll wonder why you ever waited.