Night of the Living Dread

By Robert Goldman

April 14, 2016 5 min read

Don't strain yourself, but I'd like you to think.

Specifically, think about the last time you proposed a new idea to your manager.

I'm talking new, new idea. Your idea for replacing oil lamps with those newfangled light bulb thingamabobs was brilliant, true, but I'm talking about something recent.

There is nothing recent?

Well, let's just pretend you went to the boss with a real game changer of a new idea, like replacing the Coke machine in the break room with a vegan swami who guarantees a cosmic cleanse to anybody who lives for a solid week on his special kale smoothies?

Great idea, huh? But how do you think the boss would respond? He'd probably look at you like you were crazy. He'd say, "No. No way — never, ever. Not on my watch, you moron."

Why did you get this response? Because you made your superb suggestion during normal business hours. But what if, instead of making this suggestion at 3 p.m., you made it at 3 a.m.? What if you called your boss at this bewitching hour, or pounded on his front door, or stood in the center of his lavender garden with a bullhorn and shouted your idea up to his bedroom window?

"Yes. Fine, do it," your sleep-deprived manager would likely say. "Just get out of here and let me get some sleep."

Clearly, presenting your idea in the wee hours of the morning caught your boss in exactly the right state of mind — catatonic — and also showed your commitment to the cosmic cleanse concept. If you stayed up all night working on this idea, you deserve to be listened to.

And what does this tiny tale teach us? That in business, as in life, as in Sue Shellenbarger's Work & Family column in The Wall Street Journal, timing is everything.

"Late-Night Work Email: Blessing or Curse?" is the title of a recent Shellenbarger excursus on "boundary management," in which we discover the difference between the "integrator," who includes night work into the working day, and the "separator," who builds a wall between work time and personal time.

Separators "want to focus on work when they're at the office and on personal life when they are at home," Shellenbarger writes. Integrators "allow work and home life to blend together."

As you might imagine, integrators and separators do not get along together — not in the office and not at home.

In the words of Purdue professor Ellen Ernst Kossek, separators "see integrators as unprofessional, because they might be talking to the vet from their office phone. And integrators get angry at separators who seem selfish: 'I'm working on Saturday, why aren't you?'"

Just to make things even more confusing, Kossek discovered there are also people she calls "cyclers." These mixed-up, shook-up girls and boys "volley back and forth between integrating and separating work and home for a few days, weeks, or months at a time."

(Fortunately, Kossek didn't discover your particular boundary management condition. Neither separator nor integrator, you are a disintegrator. Day or night, whenever you have to do any work, you fall apart.)

According to Cali Yost, the author of "Tweak It," a book about "managing work and life," your boundary-management preference can change with a new life stage. In your 20s, integrating work and life is no problem, mainly because to keep a job in this economy, you can have no life. But after finding a partner or having children, you then want greater separation.

Makes sense, but Yost doesn't go far enough. The author completely ignores the third stage of boundary management, when your spouse decides the two of you should learn line dancing, or the children become teenagers. At these points you're more than happy to go back to integrating again — like 99 percent work, 1 percent home.

Yost also points out that separators can have a hard time in a high-tech workplace, "where colleagues are connected 24/7 on email or on the phones." Of course, you don't have to read your email when you're out of the office, but you could incur a real risk of missing an important email, like the one from HR telling you that you're fired for never answering your email.

You also don't have to return phone calls, of course, but that can be considered rude, unless you work in the customer-service department of a phone company, where failing to return phone calls, night or day, is not only expected; it's required.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at [email protected] To find out more about Bob Goldman, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.

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