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workplace dysfunction

I had a situation recently in my business where employees were sending around group emails discussing the outcome of the election. Unbeknownst to them, there were a couple of employees in the mix that held opposing views and they took offense to the emails. One of the folks with an opposing view spoke with me about it and I found myself in unchartered waters.

Apparently I’m not the only one. Lately, employees and CEOs alike are making their voices heard and the consequences are dramatic:

  • Uber’s CEO was initially on Trump’s advisory council but removed himself after facing pressure from within – and from outside – the organization. Uber’s membership dropped by 200,000 accounts as a result.
  • In Philadelphia, Comcast allowed employees to take off work to participate in marches.
  • Mark Zuckerberg began to address the issue of fake news that populated Facebook during the presidential run.
  • A senior executive at Oracle publicly resigned after the CEO joined the Trump transition team.
  • Nordstrom’s dropped Ivanka’s clothing line; #boycott is trending on twitter.

It’s fair to say at this point that the rule of “no politics in the workplace” no longer applies. This can create conflict for teams and coworkers working under the same roof who need to get along and work toward the same goal.

As I wasn’t entirely sure how to handle the matter in my own business, I felt it deserved some exploration. What’s a leader’s role when a divisive political climate enters the workplace?

Given that I’m a shrink, I looked at why first. I figure if you can get a grasp on the why, it’s easier to understand the best intervention.

There are many factors at play but there seems to be two obvious psychological phenomena that are triggering the intensity.

Us vs. Them – Let’s Get Back on the Same Team

When I first moved to Philadelphia from New York, I went to a Phillies / Mets game. New to the city, I was unaware of the fanaticism of Philadelphia sports fans. As I cheered for my Mets, I found myself on the receiving end of jeers and threats from Philly fans. It was the first time in my life I feared getting attacked by a group of lunatics. It was also the first time in my life that I really understood the “us vs them” phenomenon.

The groups we belong to are an important source of pride and self-esteem. Groups give us a sense of social identity, a sense of belonging: feeling pride for your sports team because it’s where you live or were born; being born a blonde or brunette; being born a man or a woman.

With “us vs them” the “versus” becomes prominent. In order to increase our self-image we enhance the status of the group to which we belong. There is nothing inherently wrong with this except when one group starts to perceive the other group as “bad,” “wrong,” or “defective.”

In a non-heightened political climate “us vs. them” can potentially stimulate healthy workplace competition, but the same aspects that promote healthy competition in an us vs. them team-based work environment can backfire dramatically when politics enter the fray.

Once congenial co-workers can become teams of you versus me, us versus them, and ultimately bad versus good. The current political climate has heightened the potential for these workplace chasms; pushing against each other serves to give more power to the struggle.

But this is not the only psychological phenomenon at play.

Confirmation Bias: The Glue that Keeps Us Comfortably Stuck

Confirmation bias has started and sustained wars, prompted consumers to buy things they neither want nor need, and led to some of the worst (and best) business decisions ever made.

You’ll find no better example of confirmation bias than in the emotionally charged world of political opinion. In 2009, three Ohio State University researchers—Heather LaMarre, Kristen Landreville, and Michael Beam—used the satirical Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report, to investigate the subject.

Stephen Colbert parodied conservative politics and pundits, pretending, for example, to have launched a run for the presidency. The researchers asked 332 participants in the study to describe Colbert’s point of view. Those who held liberal opinions viewed him as a liberal and his show as pure satire. Conservatives, on the other hand, saw him as a conservative pundit expressing honest conservative opinions through his satire. In short, the participants’ own views strongly colored their perceptions of the comedian.

We see things the way we want to see things. We hear what we want to hear. We look for information that supports our views and quickly ignore or diminish information that goes against our views. When something as dividing as politics comes into the picture, it highlights this normal human characteristic more than ever and thus, enhances emotions and fuels conflict.

So at the most basic level, these are some of the things making an already tense situation heightened.

So now that we understand the why, lets move on to what to do as a leader.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers; this is as new for me as well. However, based on what I know about bias and counteracting bias, here are some things to try and think about.

To show your hand or not

Some CEOs have come out in support of the current administration and some have come out to denounce it. Your company’s image will be affected on either side of the coin.

Whether you choose to show your hand or not, you need to weigh the risks and ensure that it’s in the best interest of your people and your company versus your own interests. Taking sides can have an alienating impact on some and an ameliorative impact on others. If a demand for your voice isn’t requested, then your voice might be best served in a bipartisan fashion.

Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton, but also sent a thoughtful letter to the entire company after Trump was elected, urging everyone to choose compassion and understanding as we moved forward as a country.

Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, published a pro-Trump letter prior to the election, confident that Trump would be positive for business growth.

Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, was an outspoken critic of Trump during the election process, but continued to sell Trump-related products on Amazon. Post-election, Bezos offered a conciliatory tweet wishing Trump success.

If you do speak out, personalize your story to clarify your motivation. It’s easier to empathize and relate when the narrative is more personal rather than political. I recommend a recent article in The Harvard Business Review, which offered some sound insight into the matter.

See it as a strange opportunity

The current political climate – if it is leaking into your workplace – is a perfect excuse to confront conscious and unconscious biases: biases of which we are unaware but are responsible for interfering with good decision-making, clear thinking, effective problem solving, healthy relationships and even creativity.

It’s imperative for biases to be identified so everyone can spot them when they rear their ugly heads. If we can better understand our biases, we can better counteract them. Use this as an opportunity to teach and train.

You can implement training and workshops that focus on developing self-awareness around biases, and tools to counteract them. This will only make your workforce stronger.

Use it as a chance to flex your empathy muscle

The bottom line is this is rough for both sides. Perhaps too much time has passed at this point but other divisive issues will surely arise in the future, whether political or other.

Use these times to acknowledge and validate. When you acknowledge and validate, it makes people feel heard and understood. It creates a foundation of safety knowing that it’s okay to have differing opinions, as long as respect permeates the culture. As a leader you have an opportunity to set the climate and to model empathetic behavior.

Use Us Vs. Them as a Chance to Unite and RE-Instill an Ideology

Everyone who works together needs to realize that one’s political affiliation does not make them a bad person nor professionally incompetent. Ultimately, the diversity can only help, both the company and the employees of the company.

A diversity of beliefs in a cooperative culture is what you want; it’s what we all want for our society. You can create a microcosm of the perfect society within your organization where diversity is cultivated and respected.

Why would we want everyone to think the same in our organization anyway? That just leads to groupthink, status quo, and the acceptance of the group’s version of “common knowledge.”

A leader’s challenges during this politically divisive time is to bring everyone together, to validate the realities felt by all, and see it as an opportunity for the company to become something more expansive than it was prior.

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You hear a Star Wars ringtone repeat until the call finally goes to voicemail.

Nearby, some coworkers are discussing the logistics of The Walking Dead while the latest Drake album plays through communal speakers.

You stare at your computer screen, trying to remember what you were about to do when you’re asked to join a meeting that will go nowhere and solve nothing.

After the meeting a coworker asks you to help him with something. You can’t believe he couldn’t figure this out on his own.

Your boss has been absent the last few days and suddenly bursts in to alert everyone to stop what they’re doing because the ship is about to go under. This happens every month.

As our offices get hipper and the sharing of information encouraged more and more you might find yourself in an unproductive working environment. Fear not! There is hope.

All it takes is changing all of your ingrained habits and routines. I know, easier said than done. But it’s not impossible. Here are some tips:

  1. Buy noise reductive earphones. I used a pair while I wrote my book, What Keeps Leaders Up at Night. My neighbor’s house was under construction for six months. I would not have been able to write a word without my trusty Bose noise-cancelling headphones. These earphones – coupled with a little white noise or brain.fm – makes a world of difference.

Note: These things really work. If you do this, put a sign on your back to gently approach you because it can be terrifying when you’re not expecting someone.

2. Set boundaries with your time. Every office has a few interrupters who routinely need help, who like to chitchat, who seek advice. They’ll hunt you down. See if you can have some fun with this one: maybe an “ON AIR” light to indicate you’re not available, maybe a velvet rope, or maybe an auto-response you create in the AM that announces you’ll be unavailable for a period of time that day (every day?).

3. Chunk your time: This can be done the night before or first thing in the morning. Assign time periods for your projects so you have a plan in place. It can be very relaxing to look at your daily calendar and see, “OK, I’m doing this until 12, then I’m doing that until two.” Assign a time slot for tedium like answering emails and such and then turn off those notifications for the rest of the time. Tell the people in your personal and professional life to call if there is an emergency, rather than text or email. That way you’ll know it’s necessary to pick up.

4. Divide your day into Creative & Reactive work. To time-chunk more effectively, try this. Creative work is projects that require your undivided attention and the full scope of your mental capacity. You’ll want to schedule those early in the day when you are the least depleted. Reactive work – answering phone calls, emails, unimportant but unavoidable meetings and so on – can be slated for the latter half of the day.

Note: During the creative part of your workday block out everything that is not part of your creative work. No emails, phone calls, texts, social media.

5. Don’t go to every meeting if you don’t have to. If you work for a meeting-heavy company, figure out when your presence is truly required. Maybe you can get exemption if not truly needed. If you are truly needed, see if the meetings can be scheduled for a time that works for you (see: #3: chunk your time). Basically, this falls under the “don’t be afraid to speak up” umbrella. If you never say anything then you’ll never know.

6. If you’re not a fireman, don’t get involved with putting out every fire. There are those reactive-putting-out-fires constantly environments that can tire a soul out, i.e. the whole company might fold any second if we don’t do THIS! Maybe you can implement a grass roots campaign to analyze what’s urgent and what’s not. A nice consequence is you will begin to behave proactively (versus reactively) to abate these “urgent” scenarios from reoccurring.

7. If you’re drowning in work, prioritize. Sit down with your manager/boss to help prioritize your workload. Then you can chunk your time (#3), maybe work from home, and skip some meetings perhaps (#4). To be clear, I’m referring to the overwhelming workload that results because you might work at a company where everyone wears a lot of hats, or perhaps someone was recently let go and their job was folded into yours. This isn’t because you don’t know how to manage your time and/or distractions. Bottom line: don’t assume other people know you are overloaded. It’s your job to speak up.

8. If your boss is inconsistent, ask for confirmation. This can be frustrating. You start to work on something only to be told to change directions midway; something was given top priority and then there’s a new something that’s suddenly an even higher priority; but wait, now there’s something even more important; actually, now that they think of it, the first thing is still the most important and by the way, where are you on that? If you have a boss like this, get confirmation on the prioritization of work.

9. When your colleagues aren’t carrying their weight, do this. Communicate, but don’t tattletale. For instance, you can send a group email to all parties involved, with the boss cc’d, asking for confirmation on who’s responsible for what. That way it’s in writing and there are no assumptions. If the scenario doesn’t allow for that type of communication the next best thing is to speak with the colleague(s) themselves. Again, speaking up is vital!

The only reliable way to get different results in this world is to change your own behavior. Don’t expect anyone to change. Much of being productive in an unproductive work environment involves being communicative about your needs and speaking up for yourself. It’s the only way you’ll know what resources and freedom are available to you.

A great byproduct of all this speaking up for yourself is your self-confidence will improve; your self-efficacy will be bolstered; you’ll feel empowered to ask for what you need; the world will start to work for you instead of against you. Perspective is everything. Don’t presume anyone knows what’s happening in your world and don’t expect anything to change without your effecting the change first.

It all starts with you.

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Dear Boss,

I know you asked me to call our client but I chose to email them so they’d have the time to respond to me at their leisure and thereby leave a better impression.

Translation: I don’t like calling people and avoid it all costs. It makes me uncomfortable to talk to people on the phone and I prefer the security/anonymity of email.

___

Dear Employee,

How considerate of you! What you didn’t know is that they weren’t available via email and asked that we call them. Given that the issue was time-sensitive we’ve now lost our chance to work with them. Moving forward, if you have the urge to email instead of call, still call and then if you still think of emailing, don’t, and instead call. You’ll know when I’ll want you to call because I’ll say – as I did this time – “Please call them.”

___

Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

You let your telephonophobia win. This is a fear that is growing in numbers as emailing/texting grows as well. It’s letting people off the hook and in some cases it’s a sign that our interpersonal skills are diminishing. Telephonic communication is still extremely important when you want to a) avoid “plugging in / turning on” and b) make a human connection. Email is a dream – one of the best inventions to date (as far as I’m concerned) – but it lacks basic human connection. Sometimes you gotta get on the phone.

___

Maybe Try this Instead?

Call when asked. Yes, it requires more effort but that’s the point. Sometimes that little ounce of effort makes all the difference. If you find you have an aversion to the phone then you need to confront that fear.

To be clear, I’m not referring to cold sales calls. Few – if any – of us want those. I’m talking about when you’re already working with someone and time is of the essence. Don’t risk them not seeing your email if you need to relay an important piece of information.

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Dear Employee,

Every night at 6PM I like to kick my heels up and take a breather from the day’s work. You might have seen me with my legs on my desk, hands behind my head, gazing out the window. As a boss it’s important for me to enjoy a moment of zen. It recharges me. At about 6:30 I resume work and then go home at about 7.

___

Dear Boss,

I’ve noticed. Right about the time as you kick up your heels I am usually about to leave for the day, that is until I see your reclining silhouette basking in a state of nirvana. I then re-open my computer to make it look like I’m still working and text my spouse that I’m not sure when I’ll be coming home. The next hour or so is one of excruciating boredom as we all wait for you to head out the door and give us the thumbs up for working so hard.

___

Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

It’s a mental lock down. As the employee’s response above indicates, you’re not breeding harder workers per se but rather an environment that keeps bodies in chairs for an extra hour each day. The fact that this pattern occurs at the end of the workday means your employees leave the office with “Get me out of here!” reverberating through their brain, tires screeching out of the parking lot.

___

Maybe Try this Instead?

It’s easily fixable and not one of life’s major work struggles. Simply let your employees know that if their work is done and/or they need to cut out for some personal reason they’re free to go. This policy instills trust and engagement. Like most things in life communication is key. If on the other hand you’re relishing the mental lock down, completely aware that no one is leaving because you’re still in the office, you might find a career as a pig farmer more enriching.

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My colleague and I had no choice but to rent a car one night when a canceled flight left us stranded, five hours away from our destination.

Two hours into the drive, we encountered what felt like a monsoon. It was then we discovered that one of the windshield wiper blades was bare metal, sans rubber. Though I am a fan of some alternative music genres, metal scraping on glass is not one of them.

It was pitch black, the only light source coming from large trucks. At times we had to stick our heads out the window to see where we were going. We called the car rental company (a large national chain we all know) for roadside assistance, which amounted to them suggesting we find a 24/7 Walmart. No luck.

Prognosis: we were down one blade for the entirety of the trip, forced to listen to metal on glass wipe back and forth for hours. It was dangerous and excruciating.

When we returned the car, we were given a $100 gift certificate (good for one year) and went on my way. I wanted to ask for a free future rental along with a full repayment of my graduate school loans, but the customer service rep was so nice and empathetic I took the gift certificate.

One year and three days later I needed to rent a car again, but I was told that the gift certificate’s expiration was final and “absolutely nothing could be done.” We can successfully perform a heart transplant on someone but issuing a new gift certificate for a rental car, that’s beyond our human capability. For several weeks after I dealt with reps that told me there was nothing they or anyone could do for me. They saw “one year” and their brain thought, “game over.”

Here was a customer service department deeply rooted in what Carol Dweck calls a “fixed mindset.”

If you haven’t read Mindset yet by Carol Dweck I highly recommend it. I have been rather obsessed with the concept of fixed vs growth mentalities she outlines. A fixed mindset being one that, in plain terms, believes change is not possible, whatever the scenario. A growth mindset would be one that believes the possibility of change does exist, whatever the scenario.

If you struggle with your piano lessons at first and have a fixed mindset you’ll think you’re never going to get better, it’s not going to get any easier, and it’s a waste of time. Someone with a growth mindset will approach the task thinking that while it’s difficult now the fruits of their labor will ripen later.

Many of us can feel the hot breath of a fixed mindset when we are on the phone with a customer service representative for a large corporation. If you want something from Comcast or Verizon that involves anything resembling a discount before your plan is up chances are you’re not going to get it, but then tell them you want to cancel your plan and suddenly you are transferred to the customer retention department who are leading the way in growth mindset, albeit much to our annoyance.

It’s understandable why large corporate customer service departments would have rules to follow. Without them, there is no consistency. However, perhaps one of the rules should be:

“Remember that customers are calling because they need help.”

The mantra “the customer needs help” should pulse throughout customer service departments. When people need help they are in a position of vulnerability. Vulnerable people have their guard up, primed to fight, expecting their needs will not be met. It takes very little to turn a situation from bad to ugly or conversely surprise someone with just a modicum of empathy.

A fixed mindset in customer service creates a vacuum. It suffocates the interaction between customer and company. A growth mindset breathes oxygen into the conversation, allowing for empathy.

There is a story I love in Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness where he and some Sketchers reps are hanging out in a hotel room and they want to order a pizza but don’t know who to call. Hsieh has them anonymously call Zappos to prove how amazing his customer service department is. The Zappos rep they speak with does in fact find them a pizza place in their area that will deliver to them. That type of culture starts with the premise that someone is calling you because they need help. Zappos is not in the business of finding pizza delivery, but they are in the business of customer service.

After reading Mindset I am convinced the fixed vs growth mindset debate is at the core of all failures and successes, whether in business or our personal lives. With a tight fixed mindset every time you get into a fight with your romantic partner you will call it quits. You will then get into that same fight in every subsequent relationship. The fixed mindset will prevent you from ever evolving from that fight. The fixed mindset puts a stranglehold on your personal evolution.

A growth mindset will lay the grounds for emotional maturity. Even if you don’t agree with the other person’s point of view you can rise above it and think, “I don’t agree with their argument but what is it they want? Maybe we can get to where we both want to be without insisting the other agrees with us.”

When it comes to customer service, a rep can think, “I have to adhere to my company’s policy but maybe there’s something I can do to help.” It comes down to the individual. How do you want to lead your life? How stuck or unstuck do you want to feel?

If you are a customer service rep and someone calls with a request outside of the company policy it is very easy to simply say “No.” You don’t have to make up your own rules to have a growth mindset though. The reps I spoke with could have thought, “I don’t have the power to issue a gift certificate but I empathize with her experience of listening to metal on glass, and being afraid for her life. Maybe I can help her in some way, maybe I can plead her case to my manager.”

This requires more energy and verve. It requires effort. Work. That’s where the wall goes up. The aversion to effort blocks our human potential. It’s not just about being a good customer service representative, it’s about being a fellow human being, listening to what’s being expressed to you, and having empathy. And energy!

There are of course factors other than company policy at play here: how much reps are paid, the success of their personal lives, everything that has happened to them in their respective lives before getting on the phone. All of those experiences combined with their emotional make-up have contributed to them having either a fixed or growth mindset.

The good news is our stories can be rewritten – and our brains rewired – simply by encouraging, training and helping reps have some freedom of thought.

Which is why it is important to empower your customer service reps to have some freedom of thought. Establish a policy that puts service first and reminds them that people are calling – not because they love to argue and complain – but because they need HELP.

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Dear Employee,

I just got off the phone with Kate at bigcompany.com and she asked for our specs for the upcoming event – can you email them to me ASAP so I can get them to her? I just tried calling you but couldn’t reach you. We’re competing against other vendors so time is of the essence.

[Thirty minutes later…]

———

Dear Boss,

I can get them to you in an hour?

[Translation: I’m not at home because I met an old friend for lunch; after we reminisced about the old days I ran some errands and then bought a shirt I saw in a window that I think may be the beginning of my “new look.”]

———

Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

It’s a privilege to work remotely. Thus, any perceived abuse of the situation hits home hard. The remote working arrangement is predicated on trust that you’ll be available and ready when something is needed, that you have whatever you need for work on your person during work hours – whether it is a computer or a phone. Also, it is so easy to respond and be in touch these days that any delayed response – without a reason like you were giving birth, in a high speed car chase, or inadvertently saving the world Jack Bauer style – is hard to explain and/or tolerate.

———

Maybe Try this Instead?

If you haven’t taken an official vacation day and you are unreachable you have essentially taken a vacation day. So if you know you are going to be unavailable on a given day be honest and mention it to see if there are any potential conflicts. If you have a solid track record for working remotely a good boss will grant the personal time. You should also have your computer and phone on you in case of an emergency. Wi-fi and hotspotting are so easy that both will undermine any excuse for disappearing.

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Dear Boss,

Here’s the update you asked for: I should have the spreadsheet done today if I can get Jane’s info. Once I hear from her I’ll post that in the group Google doc – speaking of which I need the Google login from Kelly. Do you know if Larry is sending me his stuff directly? I haven’t heard from him. I’ll be emailing John tomorrow to let him know I’ll be combining what he has thus far with my work. Sound good?

— -

Dear Employee,

My grandmother isn’t very computer savvy but one of her favorite aspects of email is the “reply all” feature. She uses it all the time. It does this cool thing where it sends one email to everyone copied – or “cc’d” as it’s called in tech circles – in the original email. Jane, Kelly, Larry, and John were all cc’d on my original email to you. I’m going to ask for one more favor and this one’s a little tricky – could you locate the “forward” button in your email and send Jane, Kelly, Larry, and John the same email you just sent me?

— -

Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

It’s the one extra step you leave for someone else that could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back on any given day. Sure, we all sometimes fail to reply all, but we all know those people that for some reason never do. If your boss doesn’t catch that you didn’t reply all then time will potentially pass with no progress. You’ll then receive a subsequent email later on asking for another update. You’ll respond that you did send an update and then the truth will surface. You will look incompetent in the end.

— -

Maybe Try this Instead?

Reply All.

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Dear Employee(s),

 

Letting everyone know that I’ve made Bob the point person for all issues coming to and from me so that I can focus my time more effectively. If you need something from me please first email Bob who will serve as the liaison from you to me. Likewise I’ll be sending Bob things to delegate to everyone. I think this will really help with workflow in the office. Just a heads up so that you know why Bob will be emailing you things like progress update requests. OK that’s all for now!

— -

Dear Boss,

Excellent choice! This will save Bob time as well, allowing him to collectively insult us in one email rather than doing it individually, which was his previous method and honestly a real time waster for everyone! Two birds, one terrible person, I mean stone. We’re excited for the new procedure. After all, we’ve always hated Bob, and we always will. OK that’s all for now for us too!

— -

Why your plan will surely backfire

Your employees will not blindly follow any leader. A recent Gallup survey found that only one person in ten can cut it in management. Oftentimes an employee is hired due to skills while attitude is ignored. Power is a sensitive topic and promoting the wrong person can create a domino effect of inefficiency in the office.

— -

Maybe Try this instead

Listen to your employees. Make it a point to read the dynamics in your office. When they drop comments casually about their coworkers. Is one coworker mentioned a lot? Are the comments about the person tinged with negativity or positivity? Hear the underlying message – what F.I.T. President Joyce F. Brown calls the “third ear.”

Place value on the people skills/soft skills and not just the technical skills of a potential manager prospect. If “Bob” isn’t someone people feel safe and comfortable around, thereby negatively affecting group cohesion, then he may not be the best candidate. Trust and respect need to be present in order to build cohesion. If your employees don’t respect your appointee you might find yourself the victim of a passive-aggressive coup d’etat.

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From: boss@ourcompany01.com
Date: Mon, Mar 26, 2016 at 2:19 PM
Subject: Argh – not getting a response!
To: jodi@ourcompany01.com

Hey Jodi,

Do you have your COG #s ready to send? See below…

 

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: bob.employee@ourcompany01.com>
Date: Mon, Mar 26, 2016 at 2:19 PM
Subject: Argh – not getting a response!
To: boss@ourcompany01.com

Hey,

I’m trying to finalize the COG for this week but I need Jodi to fill in her #s for her accounts

before I can send it to you and she hasn’t responded to any emails I’ve sent her, which

is a pattern lately. Can you see if you can get her to send me what I need so I can finish?

I have so much to do and I hate waiting around for this!

Thanks!

 

Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

“Good morning everyone, just a brief announcement to let you know who has a problem with who in the company. Dan doesn’t like the way Trish leaves things in the printer. Mike is upset that he isn’t invited to lunch with the others. Kathy thinks Carol gets special treatment and Rich thinks Tom is straight up dumb.”

You would never of course make such an announcement, but forwarding someone’s email is essentially doing this. If someone came up to you and said, “I’ve got a problem with so and so” chances are you wouldn’t go straight to so and so and say, “I know someone who has a problem with you and here’s why.” The reason you wouldn’t do this is because it’s cruel to all parties and feelings would be hurt on both sides. You would also alienate yourself and be considered untrustworthy.

Maybe Try this Instead?

At the very least you can simply copy/paste/reformat the email sent to you, reformatted to sound neutral. You could also ask the employee with the complaint to start a new email and cc you so the recipient feels the urgency. Or you could encourage the employee to try and work it out a different way with the offending party, giving them the opportunity to work on their conflict management skills. If all else fails and you can’t help yourself from engaging in this habit, let employees know that whatever they email you is liable to be forwarded, so they have the chance to consider how comfortable they’d feel if what they wrote were broadcast to the rest of the company. A good old-fashioned warning always takes the sting out of sucker punch.

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Dear Boss,

 

With regard to my filling in for so and so while they’re on vacation, this adds some unforeseen work to my plate that I didn’t initially plan on when taking the job. I’m happy to fill in for my coworkers while they’re away but I was thinking I should be compensated for the extra work since I’m doing more than just my normal job now. What do you think?

— 

Dear Employee,

I feel an avalanche of NO snowballing inside of me, and it’s growing bigger and bigger with each breath. It’s the kind of avalanche that destroys villages, takes no prisoners, bulldozes over anything in its way. It’s like a vacuum chamber of NO where nothing else can exist besides NO. I think this was a good talk though. If you’ll excuse me I have to go tear up the gift card I was going to give you as a thank you.

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Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

On the one hand, adding more work to your plate without compensation breaks the psychological contract between employer and employee. If you find your job description changing day-to- day and twice the expected work loaded on to you then you should definitely have a talk about more money. On the other hand, filling in temporarily for a coworker on leave or doing some added work here and there is expected in the workplace. It’s part of being a team player or just someone who walks the earth. It’s also good practice for an employer to acknowledge the effort in some way, but preemptively asking for money before you’ve even begun the extra work feels like a vague form of blackmail, leaving the boss to subconsciously wonder “…and if you don’t get the extra money…?”

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Maybe Try this Instead?

See the bigger picture. Be the team player. Help your coworkers. You need allies in the workplace. Filling in for people or occasionally going the extra mile is a sure-fire way to build your own team within the larger company team. If you are working for a company that acknowledges hard work and rewards performance then rest assured the compensation will come your way in due time. The preemptive ask is an impression you don’t want to make. A boss would rather see the task get done first and worry about the compensation second than to have to worry about negotiating salary parameters for every task that pops up. If you are working for a company that does not reward or acknowledge, and the external pats on the back are important to you (as it is to many of us) then it’s time to evaluate if it’s the right fit for the long run.

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