The Deep Dark Email Abyss

I recently read a new article called “Killing Me Softly: Electronic communications monitoring and employee and spouse well-being” and I immediately thought of the number of people this issue impacts in the Bay Area, let alone the US at-large. In essence, the study found that the culture of an organization was more important than the actions. A culture that expects employees to check email 24/7 means more than the hours an individual actually spends checking email outside of work. This is a classic example of “spillover“, or stress that bleeds from one area of our life to another.

While this is a mild stressor, I think it is one more example of chronic stress and an inability to “turn off” our brains and simply live in the present moment without worry about the newest email alert or slack notification.

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I vividly remember sitting in the car as I was about to go drive off to see Christmas lights with a friend. I was so relaxed, happy, and suddenly inbound slack messages began popping up on my phone. This was 8pm on a Sunday evening; I felt an immediate wave of frustration, but also sadness that my coworker was working on her Sunday night. I felt like I had no choice but to respond right then since she was working on a task for one of my clients and had a question. I saw there and my friend asked, “Why do you have that on your phone?”

I was dumbstruck. My response, “Everyone has it.” Yup, and would you jump off the bridge too? He just kind of looked at me, shaking his head. He did not even have his work email available on his phone. When he left work, he left work.

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It’s not quite that simple at every organization. A culture like this creates such a sense of urgency and an inability to turn off. I even brought my laptop on my one real vacation of the year and responded to emails that easily could’ve waited. One of my clients even told me that I should get offline and go enjoy my trip…

Research shows that its not just the employee that suffers, but also their significant others suffer as well. Just think about the ripple effects that come from one bad workplace. Pretty crazy, right?

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Luckily, I don’t have that experience at my current organization, which is a blessing. I do not take it for granted and fully enjoy my evenings and weekends free from pings of any type. And even if there is a ping, there is not an expectation that it will be answered before 9am the next business day.

I know not all of us are that lucky. So, what are some strategies to deal with a workplace with the expectation of constant communication?

  1. Have a very blunt conversation with your manager–the research is backing you up! It’s not just about you; it’s about your significant others and your on-the-job productivity.
  2. Turn off notifications.
  3. Set the example; when one person sets boundaries, it can set off a positive chain reaction.
  4. Practical tips: leave your phone out of sight or turn the phone off at a certain time each night.

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Do you feel tied to your email? What is your company culture like?

Ted Talk Friday: What Makes Life Meaningful

I saw this talk and found it incredibly accessible, interesting, and thought-provoking. A favorite line: “Purpose is an anchor we throw out into the future.” Meaning-making is a key component to what it means to live a good life; Dr. Steger does a great job exploring this topic and tying in both his research and his own (often hilarious) personal experiences. Steger also provides helpful action steps on how to learn to make more meaning in your life.

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What makes life feel meaningful for you?

What makes a leader?

I heard about a new study on NPR this morning about what differentiates leaders from “followers.” I think these terms are also far too black and white; leaders and followers exist on a continuum. I have always been interested in what makes a leader lead and a follower follow. In high school, I was definitely a follower. I lacked confidence in my abilities across a number of areas. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps because I was simply a teenager. It might also be due to the school I attended; I was surrounded by very intelligent people (and generally people on the aggressive, competitive side). I am not aggressive and I would typically rather follow than fight to be a leader over small issues.

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The summer after my freshman year of college, I was lucky enough to be accepted into a summer program focused on Ethics and Servant Leadership. During the program we had the chance to learn more about want it means to be a servant-leader; this completely changed my perspective on what and who a leader is. A leader can be strong, opinionated, and empathetic without being aggressive. This reframe shifted my mindset, now I want to lead because I value my opinions and know I can express them with confidence while having a conversation around what is best for a group or organization.

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So what about this NPR story? Well the study covered in the story found that leaders are those who are willing to make decisions for a group in the same way that they make their own personal decisions. These people trust their logic, instinct, and are willing to accept responsibility for a group outcome. “Followers” typically struggle with responsibility aversion. Being a leader doesn’t mean you are necessarily authoritarian, leaders often reach consensus with a group and then take responsibility for that choice.

At a time when we have such scary models of what it means to be a leader, it’s important that we think about what makes a leader and how we can train people to learn to lead well. Being a leader does not make you pushy, arrogant, or bossy–it means you are willing to take a risk, often for others, and take responsibility for your (or your group’s) actions.

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What does leadership mean to you? Do you consider yourself to be a leader?

References:

Micah G. Edelson, Rafael Polania, Christian C. Ruff, Ernst Fehr and Todd A. Hare. Computational and neurobiological foundations of leadership decisions. Science: August 2, 2018. DOI: 10.1126/science.aat0036

Ted Talk Friday: How to gain control of your free time

I talk about this ALL the time–to the point where it might be obnoxious if I’m being honest here. We all have the same number of hours each day. While it might not feel that way, we make the decisions of how we spend our time. If you want to do something, something else might have to be cancelled or pushed off. It’s all about priorities and boundaries.

 

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What do you prioritize in your life?