When I read this article, one of many on “The Great Resignation,” I was reminded of what my accountant told me many years ago. She said, “Over time, employees start to reflect the values of the leader.” While this article refers to creating a culture where employees have personal well-being, the message of leaders modeling the culture they desire applies to all areas of leadership. In the article, the author, Jen Fisher wrote,
”When I wasn’t taking vacation, my team noticed and followed suit. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to model positive well-being behaviors and show their teams that rest and recovery is both permissible and necessary.”
What leaders say is very important, but what they model is just as important, possibly even more so. Leaders, managers, supervisors, if there is anything that you are encouraging, demanding, or expecting your employees to do, and yet you are not consistently modeling, you are likely wasting your words.
An employee in a meeting I was facilitating felt comfortable telling her colleagues “I am nice at home, but I don’t have time to be nice at work.”
“What?!” I thought.
As much as we sometimes think we have split personalities – that we are funny with friends, but serious with colleagues, or that we are sensitive at home, but tough as nails at work – we really don’t change that much from place to place. Years ago, my first consulting work was with a small company named Landa Associates. Landa was named after the founders and owners, Lane and Dave. They were, and still are, some of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet and work with.
To make my work easier, Lane wrote, edited, and published all of my slides and workbooks. I just told her the basic content and voilà, all the materials, laid out beautifully and professionally, would appear a few days later. Lane worked tirelessly to support me so that the programs would go without a hitch.
But it wasn’t just Lane. Dave knew that I was directionally impaired (this was before the days of GPS), and so he typed out directions to each client site for me. And, prior to meeting with a new client, Dave would ride with me to show me the location and where to park. This “little favor” took a couple of hours each time since our clients were spread across the DC metropolitan area. This was nice! And it made me more successful in the early years and our work together.
I appreciated Lane and Dave immensely at the time, and that appreciation has not diminished after all these years.
As I talk with employees who love their jobs, they often mention the “nice” people they interact with at work. Conversely, when employees leave their jobs, it is often because they didn’t have anyone they considered an ally, mentor, or friend at their organization. If you want a corporate culture of kindness and respect, it has to be modeled and practiced. It takes time. That’s what makes it nice.
Yesterday I conducted a class. There was a lively discussion about boundaries and respecting the “off” time of colleagues and employees. I said that receiving an email during the weekend was like getting a mental ping when you are trying to watch a movie, mow the grass, or play catch with the dog.
One senior leader disagreed and said that he didn’t expect to get answers to his emails immediately, he just wanted to get items off his to-do list. Another employee responded, “Yes, off of your list, and onto mine, while I am trying to go to the grocery store in relative peace.” Another countered, “If I don’t answer it, and everyone else does, then my perspective on important issues gets passed over.”
There was mutiny in the room. The senior leader said, “I should be able to work whenever I want. Why are you trying to limit my work hours?” While there was disagreement in the room on that topic, there is no disagreement about the negative health effects of always being “on.”
I have written a Dr. Seuss-style poem to help you remember boundaries for yourself and your employees.
I do not want to hear from you on my commute.
I do not want your voice as background when I play my flute.
I like my work, and to be a star.
But I turn work off when I get in my car.
And my weekends are sacrosanct.
When you text me then, you cause me angst.
I plead with you, no texts, no emails, and no calls on vacation.
No thoughts of you or work when I am chasing relaxation.
And you say you want to get ahead for the week.
Might be good for you, but that’s not the life I seek.
This total connection and being “on,”
Makes me feel like a cog in a wheel, sometimes a pawn.
Make your list and check it twice.
Then bury it till Monday,
And we’ll enjoy the other parts of life.
How do you set boundaries between work and your “off” time?