In today’s high-tech, 24/7, global communication , we are seeing a pace of communication that is super charged. This is something we would have thought should lead to rapid, informed and correct decision-making.
Everyone happy… right?
My observation is that the reverse could indeed be true.
I would even go as far as to say that in many cases we are creating a pattern and expectation of communication that is totally overwhelming which is damaging performance. I have noticed this particularly in junior and mid-level employees, who unlike other generations cut their teeth on this notion of being constantly in touch. As a consequence their boundaries are not as distinct. It’s great fun receiving updates from friends around the clock, but becomes very different and stressful in a professional context.
A friend’s daughter recently wondered somewhat perplexed, why privacy is really important to our generation! I believe the lack of it, is contributing to what is becoming known as Quarter Life Crisis in hers.
Permanently “on call”
Working across multiple time zones and constantly on stand-by, leaves many junior and mid level employees overwhelmed, over supervised and exhausted. Matthias a young and highly successful marketing executive in a Fortune 500 company, a Director despite being in his early 30s, says he starts checking his emails at 0600 and as late as midnight. He told me he hears alerts on his iPad throughout the night.
Shouldn’t he just turn it off I suggested naively and respond in the morning ? At the beck and call of senior management located on all continents, failure to respond instantly he told me is perceived to be “a lack of energy or engagement.” He is now questioning his commitment to a corporate career as he examines his work/ life balance.
Another unforeseen outcome of the wide-reaching and easy communication technology is increased control and policing. This can be so tight that it leaves many employees so fearful of making a mistake they become paralyzed. Factor in the viral consequences of the reporting of any misdemeanour, then the culprit is faced with company wide shame and humiliation via the ubiquitous all company e-mail.
Take Marianne. She has a postgraduate qualification in HR management and is a junior recruitment coordinator for a major international company. Despite having three years experience in the function, plus a professional qualification, every aspect of her job is supervised by a barrage of emails and reporting instructions so time-consuming she is almost unable to learn the skills of her function. Six months ago she made a minor scheduling error. This was picked up and circulated on a global all department email where she felt international humiliation. As she said “if God could have been cc’d he would have been, it was escalated so far up the chain.” She also wonders about her corporate future.
Take Lucien. A marketing graduate, slightly dyslexic, made a typo on an email to a client. His boss instead of addressing the situation professionally, copied the whole company (yes everyone) in what he thought was a riotous joke. Suitably shamed Lucien could barely face going into work where instead of creating some Outlook templates to support him, every email was scrutinised individually. Massive delays were created and customer satisfaction fell off. Lucien finally left and has no intention of returning to corporate life.
Others report receiving non-urgent mails and texts from bosses during vacations and on public holidays many carrying a high priority red-flag. Amanda told me “ my boss made it very clear that he was unhappy that I couldn’t respond to a query on my expenses when I was in a wedding! ”
Back in the day when I started work, communication was significantly slower. Would I want to turn the clock back to those days? I am no Luddite, so not at all. I love fast communication. But there were certainly advantages from days gone by. If someone made a mistake it would probably take a few days for it to come to their bosses attention via laborious manual processes which were imputed into the system and eventually printed out on continuous computer listing pages the size of breeze blocks.
Things clearly went wrong, but nothing too horrendous. Only a small number of people were usually aware of the issues and certainly not the whole company. Mobile phones did not exist. Neither did the internet.
So although we see many significant benefits, not all technology is without a downside. Needs will vary from one organisation to another, but what is needed is clear protocols about appropriate frequency of contact and what constitutes an emergency!