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Do You Respect Your Employees' Time? Are You Sure?

On Sunday evenings, Clara likes to get herself organized for the week ahead. She reviews her to-do list, consults her calendar and preps for upcoming meetings and strategic decisions. Often, this work will result in questions or tasks for her team. In the interest of clearing her mind so she can enjoy the last hours of her weekend, Clara pounds out about a dozen or so emails before settling down with a glass of wine and whatever’s hot on Netflix this week. What Clara’s never considered is what it’s like to be on the receiving end of those 8pm emails.

Jeremy thinks nothing of calling, texting, Slacking or emailing his team members when they’re on vacation. Sometimes, if he thinks it’s important enough, he’ll even schedule a Zoom meeting (or two). What’s an hour or two out of their holiday? It’s not as if they have to come into the office.

When planning meetings, Leanne likes to invite everyone who could possibly have even the smallest hint of input or insight into the topic being discussed. She prides herself on being super inclusive.

When he has a gap in his schedule, Kyle likes to shoot the shit all afternoon. He calls it “management-by-walking-around”, which is a respected technique he read about in a Tom Peters book. What he doesn’t see is how often his chit-chat forces his team to stay late to get their work done.

Sharon needs three-hour long blocks of clear time to get her work done and blocks her calendar accordingly. Her boss Michele ignores the blocked-off time and schedules meetings anyway. She figures Sharon can work before and after the meeting.

None of these bosses are respecting their employees’ time boundaries.

In fact, all of them are acting incredibly selfishly. And they’re doing so to their own detriment. Stressed out, overwhelmed employees make mistakes, act defensively and experience lower levels of energy and creativity.

Be honest now – have you ever been guilty of any of the above crimes? I know I have.

And that’s not okay.

Each time we fail to respect our employees’ boundaries, we’re creating unnecessary stress in their lives. We’re disrupting their family time. We're cutting into their work-recovery cycle. And worse, we’re telling them that we think our needs are more important than theirs.

The net result is an erosion of trust. And in any relationship, trust is everything.

What should you do?

For starters, stop with the Sunday night onslaught. That alone will repair fifty percent of the damage done.

If someone’s on vacation, even if it’s a COVID-era staycation and as far as you know, they’re just sitting around, leave them the hell alone. You can survive without them. And if the situation is such that you can’t survive without them, make up for the lost time with additional paid days off.

Only, only, only invite necessary people to meetings. If your intent is “just keeping them informed”, don’t invite them. You can tell them about the meeting in a summary email later. That means more work for you, but more time for them.

Management by walking around is an excellent leadership practice – if done correctly and respectfully. Rather than vague chit-chat, ask your employees about what they’re working on, where they’re stuck and what’s on fire. Then offer to help. That should fill your afternoon.

Seek to understand your employee’s working habits. Creatives, developers, engineers and other problem solvers tend to need solid blocks of working time. Leave them alone during those times.

Your Turn

How much do you know about how your employees spend their time?

If you don’t know much, how will you learn?

What can you do to respect their time boundaries?


The Unstuck Leader book is now available.
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