Whatsapp For Work – Where's The Line?

For starters, no drunk Whatsapping your boss, okay?

Ah, Whatsapp… it’s reduced our cellphone bills, made us all slightly paranoid as to why he never messaged back (you can totally see he read it and is online right now), and infiltrated our work lives so that ‘not being in the office’ isn’t a legit excuse any more.

Yes, Whatsapp is AMAZING. But it’s also a tool that means you – and your boss – are always on. Work Whatsapp groups are becoming increasingly common, and increasingly invasive. Instead of popping off an email that you’ll only read when you are actually at work (yes, you might get emails on your phone, but your boss doesn’t know that, right?), now a manager can drop you a Whatsapp and expect a response right now. Which is amazing for efficiency and communication, but a real bummer when it comes to catching some proper down time.

So where’s the line? And can you even tell your boss there’s a line when it comes to work Whatsapp messages? I did a snap COSMO office poll to come up with a few key pointers that ensure you can stay on and efficient, but also keep any crazy-ass demands on your off-time at bay. (I even asked some of our boss ladies, so you don’t have to ask yours.)

First, Know Your Company’s Stance

Some companies do have actual internal policies on social media, including the use of Whatsapp, so be sure to give your Policies & Procedures guide a read first. Why are some businesses strict on this one? Because Whatsapp conversations can be harder to document and monitor, unlike internal emails or public social media platforms. For all you know, you shouldn’t be engaging in work-orientated Whatsapp in the first place.

And FYI, if you work in strictly regulated industries like finance and law, it’s even more important to find out from your HR manager what the rules are.

Side note: Whatsapp conversations can be submitted as legal evidence, so don’t presume chats on this kind of platform ‘free’ you from the normal rules and regulations you might follow when using email.

Set Limits, And Vocalise These

So, all good to go ahead with using Whatsapp for work? Start by being clear with your colleagues or managers about expectations. If you’re added to a group, for example, maybe open by introducing yourself via message, as well as the times you’re available to reply (say, 9am to 5pm). That way, people already know when they should or shouldn’t be messaging you.

If you work in a less corporate environment (or need to be on-call for emergencies), try to have a separate group designated clearly for this function. A ‘Work Emergencies Only’ group, for example, sets a clear tone that co-workers shouldn’t be sending funny gifs and annoying messages on this thread. Then, turn off notifications on the more ‘laid-back’ work groups after hours, but stay ‘on’ for the emergency group only.

Finding that one person in particular is messaging you like crazy out of hours? Speak to them, and offer alternative methods of contact for different queries, e.g.:

a) Email for all concerns that do not require a response within an hour, and

b) Emergency whatsapp group for issues that need to be addressed within the hour. Be clear that these issues need to be ones that literally cannot wait because someone’s life (or a big sale or deal) depends on it. (And not for letting you know they might not make a meeting tomorrow.)

Don’t Whatsapp With Crazy Colleagues (If You Can Avoid It)

We all have them: that one crazy person who loves to call/Whatsapp/email/rock up outside your house on a Sunday morning and talk about the ‘important’ Monday meeting that isn’t important at all. If you can, avoid work Whatsapps with that person. They will drive you crazy, guaranteed.

Use The Hang-On-a-SEC Rule

As in ‘Hang On, Should you Email or Call rather?’ (SEC, geddit?) The idea here is: why are you work Whatsapping in the first place? If it’s an emergency that needs an answer now (bounce back to second point, above), then fair enough. But if you (or someone else) is Whatsapping about something that can actually be emailed (because it’s not that urgent) or should be a phone call (because it really is that urgent), then that’s what you, or they, should be doing.

Bottom line: it’s still viewed as more professional to email or call versus Whatsapping, so Whatsapp shouldn’t be replacing these channels entirely.

You’re also perfectly entitled to suggest more appropriate communication channels if you feel this is needed. So, for example, if someone Whatsapps me at 10pm about a meeting in a week’s time, I am very happy to gently remind them that they are welcome to email me that info instead. Phrasing it nicely like, ‘Please email me this info, as it’s not currently urgent and then I can keep track of it on my work to-do list or calendar’ is good way to manage this.

But remember to apply the SEC rule to yourself, too. If you constantly Whatsapp things that should be emails or calls, you encourage others to do the same when they communicate with you. That, and you probably piss off your co-workers.

Don’t Drink And Type!

Are you a serial drunk Whatsapper? Then it’s maybe best to avoid work-related Whatsapps as much as you possibly can. There’s nothing quite like a drunken rant about your boss in a business group to ruin your career! (Also, a delayed response via email is always better than tipsy messages to your boss at 3am.)


You Get What You Give

You can’t expect others to respect your off-time if you don’t respect theirs. And the behaviour we show others is often how they intuit we want to be treated ourselves, too.

So if you’re happy to message at 11pm at night, it’s fair for your boss to presume you’re totally cool with getting her work messages late at night, too. And if you are regularly responsive to out-of-bounds, out-of-hours Whatsapps, then colleagues have no reason to believe that this is invading your space or time.

Its basically back to the good, old ‘Do to others what you’d want them to do to you’.

Clients? As a Rule, Avoid

My issue with this one is three-fold:

  1. Do you have a work-appropriate Whatsapp profile pic and status? Because if it’s your topless (and totally hot) #gymselfie, you should definitely not be Whatsapping any kind of client at all. And you’d be amazed by how few of your profile pics would likely pass the average company’s idea of what’s ‘work appropriate’. (FYI that is not a conversation you ever want your boss to have to have with you.)
  2. Why can’t clients follow the SEC rule? More than in-house co-workers and managers, clients tend to be treated like VIPs because, presumably, your company doesn’t want to irritate them and risk losing their loyalty or business. Which means maintaining a professional front is even more important with clients than with colleagues. So the SEC rule of emailing or calling is almost always the best approach here.
  3. Company procedures are there to protect you. Especially when it comes to clients. And most company procedures currently only cover communication over platforms like traditional emailing and calling within office hours. If a client claims you didn’t brief them properly, or you mis-sold something, you want that email thread sent from your work email address to be your witness.

Complete Eff Up? Speak To HR

If you feel like someone in your team – or even a client or outside supplier – is being too full-on and invasive with communication, report it. This extends beyond Whatsapp (constant calls after hours about nothing important are draining, too), but is especially important for instant messaging because we tend to forget that this can infringe upon someone’s personal space. Emails you can fire off at any time, knowing that most people will only pick them up (or choose to engage) during work hours. But we forget that when we Whatsapp someone, they’re likely to receive and read it that very moment. Great for work emergencies; pretty rubbish for almost everything else.

Your HR are there to support you, and co-worker relations. Asking them to address a specific colleague, or even to implement or revise internal policies, is helpful. It’s also a great way to arbitrate a discussion if you feel you’ve already tried to broach the subject with the person in question, but you haven’t seen a change in behaviour.

Read What it Takes to Rock in a Male-Dominated Workplace

ReadHow I Turned My University Business-Plan Project Into My Dream Career

Tell us your work Whatsapp rules! Tweet us at @CosmpolitanSA.

Follow Sarah on Twitter and Instagram.

More From


Hustle 16 Oct 2019 SHARE
The best side hustles to help you secure the bag in 2020
Hustle 10 Oct 2019 SHARE
Noni Gasa is offering one fashion designer a R470 000 bursary to help them fulfil their dreams
Hustle 07 Oct 2019 SHARE
How To Stay Calm Before An Exam, According To A Counsellor