It’s 8 p.m. on a Tuesday. Are You OK With Your Boss Calling?

May 8, 2024 By Andrew Ramspacher, Andrew Ramspacher,

Steve Soltis spoke from the driver’s seat of his parked car. 

It was an unconventional workplace, but Soltis, a lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business who splits his time between Charlottesville and Atlanta, was happy to fulfill UVA Today’s interview request. 

The scene, with Soltis at a pit stop along his journey back to Georgia, was somewhat fitting for the topic at hand: post-pandemic work habits. 

Conducting interviews over Zoom and operating remotely are a couple of the learned behaviors of the workforce since the pandemic’s spread in the United States closed workplaces beginning in March 2020. It’s common now to hold company meetings through a computer screen with several employees on the line contributing from their own homes, coffee shops – or even a vehicle. 

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The latest development in this era comes from California, where Assemblyman Matt Haney has proposed a bill that would allow employees in his state the legal right to ignore non-crisis work calls and emails after traditional work hours. 

If the bill becomes law, any employer who violates it could face a fine of at least $100. 

There’s a correlation between this “right to disconnect” bill – which hasn’t been passed, but has been referred to the Assembly Labor Committee to be heard – and the changes to the workplace since the dawn of the pandemic, Soltis said. 

“We’ve seen the rise of all-virtual and then these hybrid formats,” said Soltis, who came to UVA in 2018 as a co-founder of the Darden Leadership Communication Council. “And I think there’s a lot of positives that come from that.

“But the other side of that is managers have maybe felt like, ‘Well, we’re giving a lot of concessions, giving people the ability to work virtually, but darn it, I'm going to make sure they're working (no matter the hour of the day)!’ 

“And I think that’s wrong. They’ve over-indexed on intrusion into private life and downtime.”



Prior to his arrival at Darden, Soltis led CEO, executive and employee communication at The Coca-Cola Company. He also led CEO and executive communication efforts for 10 years at UPS.

UVA Today tapped into his expertise to get a better sense of the “right to disconnect” bill and its potential impact on the workforce. 

Q. What would you see as a benefit of this law? 

A. It would protect some people who feel like their private lives and their restorative time have been intruded upon by their companies. That's the obvious benefit. 

The other benefit is it would enforce better decision-making and more common sense and better communication between managers and employees in setting up working protocols. It would set up a two-way dialogue. It shouldn't just be the manager’s expectation. There should be a two-way talk, discussion about what the employee’s expectations are as well. I think it can help foster more of that. 

Q. What do you see as this potential law’s flaws? 

A. It's riddled with a lot of problems. First of all, with the $100 fine for managers, are employees really going to report on their bosses? Maybe some will, but that could be career-limiting, that could cause retribution, that could cause a whole other set of issues. So it feels a little extreme. 

The other area is, how do you define “non-crisis” versus “crisis”? An employee’s interpretation of, “Well, this is not a crisis,” may be very different from their manager, the CEO. 

Q. What’s an example of that situation? 

Portrait of Steve Soltis

Darden School of Business lecturer Steve Soltis is a corporate communications expert who has worked at The Coca-Cola Company and UPS. (Contributed photo)

A. I worked for Coca-Cola in a role where I was supporting the chairman and CEO. And if Muhtar Kent, who was my CEO at the time, called me in Istanbul on a Sunday afternoon saying he needed five talking points for an unexpected government meeting in Ankara the following morning, I didn’t have the luxury of saying, “I’m sorry, it’s Sunday, man. You’re violating my rights here.”

That kind of thing, I just don't think is realistic. Maybe on some lower-level jobs, certainly some of that could work, but I think as you rise in an organization, and the more responsibility you have and how you interpret “crisis” versus “non-crisis,” it would get foggy.

Q. Even if this bill were to fail, what are some positives of the issue being brought to light? 

A. I’m not in favor of legislating what I consider common sense and good business practices, I’m not on the pro-legislation side on this at all, but I do think it shines a much-needed light on an issue of great importance.

We can be better at communicating to people and respecting who they are, both personally and professionally, and setting clear guidelines and communicating clear guidelines. I don’t think a lot of managers have done a good job of that recently.

I do a lot of consulting for companies and strategic planning, communication planning, for companies – and I see this kind of stuff there. The last three or four years have “given,” quote-unquote, managers proxy to be bad managers. It’s got to get better.

Q. What’s been your experience with work-life balance in your career? 

A. One of my bosses at Coca-Cola, when he first came into the role, he sat his direct reports down, including myself, and laid out his operating procedures. “Here are the routines that I like and what I expect from you.” He told us his expectations for timely responses to his emails and things like, “I need you guys to be on time for my weekly direct report meetings. If you can’t be there, let me know ahead of time. I don’t like surprises.”

But then he had an open dialogue around what people expect of him and what they should expect of each other on the team. And I’ve tried to emulate that because I thought it was a really good working model. 

Again, it’s that clarity of communication up front in what you expect from your people, and also understanding what they expect from you. Because it's a two-way engagement thing. We’re dealing with new generations that expect that.

Media Contact

Andrew Ramspacher

University News Associate University Communications