Warning: The following blog may be seen as politically incorrect. Continue reading at your own risk.
I have noticed recently that a new feature has been added to Microsoft Outlook. When I am ready to send an email, I have the choice of hitting “send” or a new option, “Schedule Send.” This new option sends the email during times the receiver has designated for receiving emails. As the Doors (or Dan Barreiro) famously put it, “This is the end my only friend, the end.”
Don’t get me wrong. I am not (I hope) a curmudgeon. And I fully support the idea that employees should be able to shut off work when they get home.
That said, and at the risk of being politically incorrect, I have several issues with Schedule Send. First, I am in favor of people being adults and being direct. I’m writing this on a Sunday. Earlier today, one of my colleagues and I exchanged several emails (she emailed me first). At the end of one of her emails, she wrote something to the effect of “I am signing off now until tomorrow morning. Have a good rest of the weekend.”
Good for her! She took responsibility for her well-being, expressed her need directly, and communicated her intent. Using Schedule Send does none of this. It leaves it up to Outlook to be the adult and set the boundary. It seems to me that neither you nor I are obligated to open an email the moment it is received. We can choose to make a judgment about its importance and make a choice about when to respond. We don’t need Schedule Send to make the choice.
I think we all need to practice being direct and believing that our needs and those of others are equal. Not more, not less, but equal. This belief is empowering and challenging. It means that each of us is responsible for advocating for ourselves. This is never easy, but it is an important skill to learn.
Second, I get concerned that our focus on employee health and well-being risks causing us to forget that organizations exist to advance an important mission, whether that be to make a profit, serve a societal need, or whatever your organization’s purpose is. And we are paid by organizations to contribute to that mission.
Again, this does not mean that leaders and organizations should not be empathetic and concerned about employee’s mental health. However, I have consulted with organizations that got so focused on employee well-being that they forgot why they exist in the first place. They became internally focused and highly dysfunctional. Trust me, you don’t want this to happen in your organization.
Here is another interesting fact. Many years ago, in a book called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi shared research that found that human beings are actually happier and more healthy when they are engaged in challenging and meaningful work than they are when they are at leisure. This suggests that a happy and satisfying life is at least partly a result of working hard at a challenge that is meaningful, even at the risk of working at it on an occasional night or weekend.
Finally, I think Schedule Send is an indictment of how poor a job we as leaders do at creating psychological safety and relationships built on trust. Part of the reason my colleague felt safe saying she was signing off is because she knows I respect her boundaries. It is safe for her to express her need and she can do that knowing that I will respond directly. If there was absolutely something I needed before she signed off, I would feel safe asking her and know that she would give me an honest response.
Now, lest I become too self-congratulatory, I can also name situations where I have been less than direct with someone and caused them (and me) pain as a result. No one is perfect at this, and that is not the goal. The goal is continual improvement (and a willingness to apologize when you don’t get it right).
Back in 1975, Carl Rogers reported on his research into how to create relationships that foster growth and safety. He found three critical characteristics made the difference:
- Making sure people know they are valued (he called this “positive regard”)
- Being empathetic (looking for the meaning and emotion contained in what people say)
- Speaking honestly and directly about what you think and feel (he called this congruence)
If we need a Schedule Send button, I would argue that leaders are doing a lousy job of creating relationships with these characteristics.
Here are the things I hope you take away from this blog:
- We can (and need to) practice communicating our needs directly vs. having them communicated by Outlook
- Organizations exist to fulfill a purpose that includes but is not only employee well-being. As politicians might say (sorry to talk politics, speaking of politically incorrect!) we need to walk and chew gum at the same time. It can’t be either/or. It must be both/and.
- Leaders need to do a better job of creating psychological safety. Fear, and a belief that your leader cares only about the work creates an atmosphere that makes schedule send necessary.
In the spirit of the season: Schedule Send. Bah! Humbug! Phew. I feel better now. Hmmm…maybe I am a curmudgeon.
Regardless, if you need help leading so that you create an environment that fosters direct communication and that focuses both on fulfilling a challenging and meaningful purpose and employee wellbeing, The Bailey Group can help.