One of the challenges we must all decide for ourselves in our work, with various pressures from unique sources is, “How responsive do I need to be?”
We live in an always on, always connected, global work environment.
Yet this is layered over the reality that we are also human. And in my opinion, if you are doing it right, you have a life outside of work that also matters.
The big idea I want to share here, is that from what I have observed in working with many people and organizations in many industries, is that the pressure of needing to be always available is more often than not generated by the individuals, not the expectations of the manager or the company.
Here are a couple of stories.
Afraid to go to the bathroom
I was working with a marketing organization on time management strategies. About half of the people worked in the office and the other half worked from home. They used instant messaging to communicate throughout the workday.
It turned out that everyone who worked at home had a high degree of anxiety associated with always being available on instant messaging — to the point that many of them were afraid to even go to the bathroom!
When I asked them to share why they were so concerned, they all had a version of, “If someone sends me an instant message and I don’t respond immediately, my peers will think I’m not working.”
I then asked the headquarters team, “What would you think if you sent someone working at home an instant message and you didn’t hear from them for a couple of hours?”
In unison, they pretty much all said something like, “I’d think they were working on something really important.”
Please don’t respond to my weekend emails
This is a story I have heard from 3 different executives.
They each had a pattern to take a couple of hours on the weekend to clear out their email inboxes.
The problem was, that their team would respond! And the responses really annoyed them.
The people responding all thought there was an expectation to get back to the boss immediately, but in reality, the boss simply wanted to clean out their inbox. Every time someone responded, it would annoy them because it would fill up their inbox again!
Talk about it!
It is very worthwhile to have a team or organization-wide discussion to set a defined level of responsiveness that everyone understands.
I had a boss once that made it really clear that if someone contacted him on a weekend, the issue had to clear number of hurdles for him to consider it important enough for a weekend.
The marketing organization I mentioned above created an instant message status called “Doing Important Work”.
The 3 managers I mentioned above met with their teams and made it clear that not only was it not required to respond on the weekend, it was greatly preferred!
It can be scary for people to claim “unconnected time” in their work and life.
Give your organization the gift of clarity on this topic. Your productivity will go up because anytime you improve expectations around communications you improve efficiency and effectiveness.
What do you think?
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)