Saturday, December 10, 2020

Mad Dogs and Englishmen...

"Mad dogs and Englishmen
Go out in the mid-day sun."

                 Noel Coward

Why do people do what they do? The most common reason is the simplest. They're trying to do their best to deal with the circumstances they find themselves in. Since many of our corporations and institutions are crazy, people are forced to cope with an environment of insanity—so they start to do mad things themselves.

Take asking someone for a piece of information. In the past, you probably had to walk along to their office. Perhaps the door was shut, or they were in a meeting—that meant waiting or coming back later, sometimes more than once. Or you might scribble a message and leave it with their secretary. If it was a formal request, you'd write a memo (by hand), get it typed, send it via the internal mail and wait for a reply. If they worked in another location, that could take several days. Meanwhile, you got on with the rest of your work.

Not so today. Because an e-mail can reach across the world in a few seconds, you expect a reply just as fast. Never mind that the other person is in a different time zone. People call you on your cellphone and expect, even demand, you drop whatever you're doing to attend to them right away. How often does anyone ask if it's a convenient time to talk? Mostly they jump straight in with their own needs.

Organizations demand this kind of craziness. There was a time when being on a plane or train—just being out out the office—meant having time to ourself. Now people drive with one hand while the other supports the cellphone surgically attached to their ear. Thy walk onto planes while frantically tapping out e-mail messages on their Blackberries. What's the very first move you see people make when the plane lands? You've got it. Grab the cellphone and get busy with those messages.

Here's part of a comment posted on David Batstone's blog Right Reality on November 30th 2005:
I've concluded that responding quickly just increases people's expectations, and since they know that they can get a quick response, including detailed letters, agreements or what-have-you delivered by email in a matter of seconds after the work is done, that's what they come to expect.

On the Wed. before Thanksgiving, I spent an hour dealing immediately with an email I received from a demanding client. I got it done by noon, and we closed at noon. However, to address that email, I had put off getting a letter done to another lawyer, and I had to get that response done and out Wednesday, so I went home, and I worked on that until almost 9 PM. During the afternoon, I got an email reply back from the demanding client that I needed to contact a 3rd party about my earlier response. If I didn't have access to office email at home, I never would have seen that email until Monday morning. If we were dealing with snail mail, he wouldn't have gotten my Wednesday response until at least Friday or Saturday. As it was, I felt I jumped through hoops on Wednesday, and I did other things for other clients that I'd been ignoring on Monday. Then early Tuesday morning, I got a "snotty-gram" from the demanding client, because I hadn't contacted the 3rd party yet.

The lawyer who wrote this also said he felt overworked, stressed and on the edge of burn-out, rarely getting more than five hours of sleep. Still, he was about to take on an even greater workload to cover for a colleague recovering from major surgery. Will his clients offer patience? I doubt it.

The number of people with a home office is rising fast. Do they have an "office bedroom" to compensate? What do you think? The working environment, with all its demands and pressures, is invading the home, not the other way around. Letting your personal, family affairs and worries impinge on work is still frowned on.

"You need to keep home and work life separate," the boss says. "By the way, I tried to call you at 10.30 last evening and couldn't reach you. It's important to be easily available, you know."

Because something can be done, it doesn't mean it should be. Still less should it become an expectation, then a duty. Try calling the Chairman of the Board at 10.30 p.m. on Sunday night for a quick chat about an idea you've just had to improve project handling—and see how far you get.
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