Thursday, February 10, 2011

Let Them Know You're Working Long and Hard

I blog in my spare time. Like a lot of other people, my professional responsibilities keep me fairly busy, so in the course of my day, if I stumble across something that piques my interest, I often just flag it (or email it to myself) for later reading. This means my blog posts are sometimes inspired by items that hit the blogosphere months ago, and dozens of people have already had a chance to weigh in on it. But I don't view that as a bad thing. Sometimes reading what other people have to say before weighing in yourself helps keep you sane.

Here's a case in point. Michael Fertik posted Managing Older Managers: A Guide for Younger Bosses on the HBR blog back in August 2010. In it, he offers such sage advice as:

Let them know that you are working long and hard. Even accomplished, self-motivated senior colleagues won't work harder than you will for very long. Send emails early and late. Invite meetings on weekends and at odd hours. Be in the office or online all the time. Dial into meetings at insane hours during overseas travel. Understand that managers older than yourself may have families that require them to live by different rhythms from yours — they may need to be offline from 6 to 8, for example. But expect them to be working long and hard, whenever it is, and make sure you are always doing more than they are. Because you have less natural authority when working with older people, reinforce your "moral right" to demand hard work by showing that you demand even more of yourself.

Honestly, my initial reaction upon reading this was that I thought it was insane. Or maybe some kind of joke. I like reading certain authors on the HBR blog in part because I'm interested in exploring the application of for-profit management models in the association environment--but this one struck me as something right out of a Terry Gilliam movie. Remember that scene in Brazil when Sam Lowry and Harvey Lime have a tug-of-war over the single desk that extends into both of their offices? Just the kind of organization you want to work for, right?

And it turns out I wasn't alone. By filing the post away and getting back to it later, I have the pleasure of reading all 54 comments the post generated, many of them taking Fertik to task for the same reasons I would. "Mike" said it first and perhaps most succinctly:

Being inconsiderate of people’s work/life balance is a surefire way of losing any employee, old or young.

Here, here. Isn't that something all the generations can agree on?


Lisa Junker said...

Wow, I can't imagine working for someone who followed that advice!

Now, in general, I do agree that a manager should be working as hard if not harder than his/her employees most of the time. At least in my mind, if you're kicking back and taking it easy while your employees are working long hours, you're doing something wrong. But employees can tell you're working hard without being dragged into meetings on a weekend or stressing out because their boss expects them to respond to email at 3 am.

I really like Bob Sutton's advice for managers, especially his post on "12 Things Good Bosses Believe". Number 5 says "My job is to serve as a human shield"--that resonates strongly with me.

Jen Alluisi said...

Whew! I was afraid for a minute that you were advocating that theory, and I wondered if I'd somehow accidentally stumbled onto the wrong blog! :) Glad to know we all think it's insane.

Eric Lanke said...

Thanks for the comments, Lisa and Jen.

Bob Sutton's number 5 is worth quoting in full: "My job is to serve as a human shield, to protect my people from external intrusions, distractions, and idiocy of every stripe — and to avoid imposing my own idiocy on them as well." What Fertik proposes is, I think, just the kind of idiocy Sutton is talking about.

Jamie Notter said...

I too hate the advice. Partly because it's so blatantly manipulative, let alone advocating simply working too hard, which I think is unhealthy.

But do remember that generations frequently differ on their view of "reality" when it comes to place and time of work. Where you work and when you work matters, and different generations seem to place radically different values on it. Boomers do tend to value long hours. Leaving early (even if you do TONS of work at home) is often viewed by boomers as a let down. I know it doesn't make sense all the time, but understanding those generational peculiarities is useful. So no, don't dial into the conference call during your vacation in Japan just to impress your older colleague. But do pay attention to the fact that what you view as "acceptable" may not mesh with the people you're working with, and if you stretch your comfort zone to meet their needs sometimes, you can build trust and better working relationships.

Eric Lanke said...

Thanks for the reminder, Jamie. It's the emphasis on working long and hard that troubles me. Working odd hours is the reality for just about everyone these days. My thoughts are that we should all be unapologetic about working as much and as long as is necessary to "get the job done," but working longer and harder than is necessary just to earn stripes is unhealthy and counterproductive.

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