Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Toxic Emails

Reading this HBR article on erosion of company culture was a bit too close to home. Having been both at sending and receiving end of such emails over the years, I know they help no one. The sender may feel self-righteous for having an unshakable work ethic but for the receiver it can be a mixed bag depending upon their relationship to the sender. As a manager, I have felt peeved that my guys don't know when to stop being tethered to work. I would rather they unplugged and returned ready to thrive. When a manager was checking in on emails from the beach while we the team were hard at work, it made us all feel incompetent as the writer notes.  

There is the tricky business of response etiquette - are we now supposed to keep this overzealous individual "in the loop" on all communications following their first check in ? Or keeping in mind the vacation, send them periodic summaries of our collective accomplishments ? Depending on the personality of the individual we are dealing with even thinking about this question can be fraught with stress. What if we communicated too little or too much ? If the sky was indeed falling did we need to alert them to it or should we proceed on our own ? What would that say of our management and delegation abilities and reflect in our annual review ? Did we need to get together as a team and agree on a communication protocol here ? Or should it be a free for all ? The answer varies by organization and team but there is no winning solution anyway.

So not only has the company culture fallen victim here but the act of shooting off quick notes on the Blackberry (when that was still a thing) from the sunny sands of Praia Marinha has elevated the composite stress index of the suckers back in the office. Despite knowing the foolishness and futility of sending such emails, I have been guilty of it myself more times than I can count. 

It often starts with having some loose end that was not tied before hopping on the plane. There could be this last straggling call or follow-up that needs to happen so things can be cleanly transitioned to my back-up in the office. It is courtesy owed to them before I can enjoy my vacation in clear conscience.  So you try to tie things up in the departure lounge and for a variety of reasons that does not work out. Several hours later when back on land you try again. In the meanwhile, a queue of stuff has built up on account of this pesky loose end that you failed to tie up on time. The person on vacation can feel twinges of guilt for not having taken care of this before they left, inconveniencing others in the process.

So in order to have successful vacation with the family it becomes imperative now to take stock of that queue and deal with anything that could bloom into a problem over the week. And so you do what is needed.You are already a third of way into your vacation and have neither unplugged nor allowed your team to remain sane in your absence. It is a lose-lose situation irrespective of how well the rest of your vacation goes. The only way I know to cope is to leave the phone behind when those who I love most in the world are present with me here and now. 

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