10 days ago I posted this picture of a memo from Joe Biden to his staff, saying that he never wants them “to miss or sacrifice important family obligations for work.”
The image has since gone viral. It was retweeted by tons of people (including the amazing Sarah Silverman) and it has gained a lot of attention on LinkedIn too.
The 1000s of likes/favorites show that people love this idea and so do the many, many positive comments. Here are some examples:
Having worked in the past for a company who insisted you “made up the hours you’ve taken off” for hospital appointments, dentist treatment and even funerals and bereavements, this makes me smile! A breath of fresh air.
- Lee Cashman
Having just started up a new business, one of the absolute joys is finally being able to treat everyone in the business as if they genuinely matter, not just paying lip service to this. I still find it amazing that companies fail to realise that treating the team with respect and trusting them will be reciprocated massively. We have written into our contracts that everyone gets time off for school plays, sports days etc.
- Glenn Martin
There is a real longing out there for leaders who understand that while work is important we must also recognize that sometimes important family events come first.
This is not only humane, it is also good leadership because it makes employees happier and therefore more productive.
In fact, it seems strange to me that anyone could be against it, but this being the internet, of course I got some negative comments too.
For instance, given the current political climate in the US, some comments were negative simply because Biden is a Democrat. This one was my favorite:
“The man is a complete baffoon!!!”
You know, if you can’t even spell buffoon… you might just be one :)
But there were three common objections that I’d like to offer my rebuttals to.
3: “This is too god to be true – it must be fake!”
Some people just can’t believe that this could possibly be true. Some sample comments:
“But those that go the extra mile get the promotion. It’s lip service of the politically correct. If anyone believes that memo they must not understand American work ethic.”
“If I ever got a letter like this from an employer I would think there is a hidden agenda.”
“This is Reverse Psychology at it’s best.”
I’ll be the first to admit that this sounds unrealistic. In many workplaces, particularly in the US, there is a strong belief in the cult of overwork.
And I have to say that I’ve never actually worked for Joe Biden’s office or met anyone who has so I have no way of knowing if this is true or just nice words.
But what I have been able to learn from some internet research, is that Biden is, by all accounts, a tremendously nice person.
Here’s republican senator Lindsay Graham talking warmly about Biden.
“I called him after Beau died, and he basically said, ‘Well Beau was my soul’,” Graham said, his voice trembling, adding that Biden gave a speech at Graham’s retirement party from the Air Force Reserve “and said some of the most incredibly heartfelt things that anybody could ever say to me.”
“He’s THE nicest person I’ve ever met in politics,” Graham said. “He’s as good a man as God has ever created.”
Graham added, “We don’t agree on much,” but noted Biden has “been dealt a real gut blow” yet “focuses on what he’s got to do, not what he’s lost.”
“His heart has been ripped out but he’s gonna make sure the other members of his family are well taken care of,” Graham said. “He’s more worried about his grandkids than anything…. He started talking about the future, the future of his family.”
This GQ article on Biden also notes his friendly spirit and happy personality. Here’s what happened when Biden went to the Italian President’s palace:
I saw him freelance a grand Joe Biden entrance into President Giorgio Napolitano’s palace, teeth gleaming, arms fully outstretched, ready to hug this guy, that guy, Hey, guys! I’m here! You’re here! We’re beautiful!
Decked out in his smooth blue suit, white pocket square—his broad smile the kind a man reserves for his bowling team. This demeanor contrasted sharply with everyone else’s. Guards in shiny helmets sprouting horsehair ponytails, bedraggled White House advance team in smart skirts and solid-color pumps. A Biden entrance can make the stuffiest event intimate, for an instant human and vaguely…funny.
2: “This is easy in the government sector”
By far the most common objection was that this lax attitude of letting staff take time for family is easy in government. In a “real” workplace, it would never work. Some sample comments:
“Very easy to do on gov’t time.”
“Easier to write if one is not running a profit-making business, fulfilling commitments to clients.”
“Sure what does he care. Its the people money and he never signed a paycheck in his life so its not his money.”
Nonsense. This is good leadership in any workplace, public or private sector.
I firmly believe that if you want to give the taxpayers’ the best possible government, one that works as efficiently as humanly possible, then this is the exact right policy.
1: “This is soft - bosses must focus on results!”
Some commenters lamented that this soft attitude would surely tank any workplace sentimental enough to actually let its employees take time off for important family events:
“Nice sentiment, but totally disconnected from current reality & results. Consider it this way — If you were a C-level exec running a lackluster company with many problems and then taking long lunches and letting your staff take free days whenever they had an important moment… you’d be out of business.”
“What is right is the mission and getting the job done in either public or private. Showing you care is not the decisive management technique or sole point…winning is much more of a motivation.”
“I hope my competition reads this and adopts the policy, I’ll be happy to close deals while they attend graduations.”
This is exactly the kind of dinosaur thinking that is so prevalent in business today – and it’s exactly the kind of thinking that is creating a lot of stress, frustration and ultimately poor performance.
I call it the cult of overwork – the irrational belief that the more hours bosses can make people work, the better.
Look, it’s not rocket science: Studies show that happy employees are more productive, committed, conscientious and creative and also have lower absenteeism and turnover rates.
Simply put, happy workplaces get better results. And many bosses get that.
I found an excellent blog post about Wisetech Global, an Australian IT company with a completely different attitude to overwork:
If employees work more than 40 hours a week regularly, they have to talk to their manager to redress the situation.
WiseTech Global chief executive Richard White said the company’s approach was consistent with its core values, which state that although staff should strive for the best outcomes, “we do not ask people to impale themselves on their work commitments”.
“Its not the amount of work, it’s the quality of the work,” he said.
On the other hand, if you’re the kind of boss who demands that employees come to work even though they have important family obligations, you demonstrate clearly that you care nothing for the well-being of your people. What happens is they become stressed and frustrated. The best employees quickly leave and find work elsewhere, where they’re treated with respect and you are left with only those employees who lack the skills or the energy to get away from you.
Add to that the trail of devastation, the ruined health and the broken families that this antiquated management style also causes and I simply don’t understand how these managers can live with themselves. It is bad leadership, it’s bad for people, it’s bad for business and it’s just plain stupid.
- It’s time to end the cult of overwork.
- 10 things the CEO can do to create a happy workplace.
- Should leaders focus on results or people? The answer is yes.
- Why every company needs to give employees free time at work.
- The top 5 new rules of productivity.
- New research: Overwork kills both productivity and employees.