I have really seen that more in the past two years than any other time in my work. And I think it’s a combination of technology and the economic realities, where so many people are doing more than one job. It’s the whole adage of doing more with less. To be really honest with you, I don’t think it’s doable. The expectations of what we can get done, and how well we can do it, are beyond human scale.
And because there’s always this readily available technology and you can get your emails all night long, there’s no stopping and celebrating or acknowledging the accomplishment of anything. Instead of feeling pride or recognition, what everyone is instead made to feel is, “Thank God, I can get to the next thing on my list.”
So as an individual working in such an environment, what can you do? And what if you’re a leader shaping that culture?
One thing that I think really makes a difference is simply to stop, recognize and offer feedback. Imagine someone who says, “Hey, I got the proposal done, I left it on Tom’s desk.” And the response is: “Great, the next thing we need to do is…” That conversation needs to stop, and the boss needs to say, “Sit down, let’s talk about it. I’d love to see a copy and go over it together. Tell me what you think works about it.” It’s about giving five minutes of feedback, of acknowledging that someone completed something important.
Feedback is a function of respect. But you know, the only feedback we get these days from leaders is corrective feedback. And the only way we can protect ourselves from that is by disengaging.
The other piece is, we have to encourage people to set boundaries around their work and respect them when they hold them. And I think as leaders we have to model that. One thing that I tell people all the time is, I’m not going to answer a call from you after nine o’clock at night or before nine o’clock in the morning unless it’s an emergency.
To me, a leader is someone who holds her- or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes. And so what I think is really important is sustainability. If it’s crunch time and from Tuesday morning through Wednesday night all bets are off, then there should be some real boundary holding Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. When people just don’t make themselves available, I think it’s healthy, and I think it’s smart.
I imagine a lot of people would love to do that but would probably say they’re scared to be the one person on a team who sets those boundaries.