You have been there before, but when you have that person sitting next to you in the passenger seat you find yourself constantly asking, “Do I turn here?” You default to their knowledge instead of depending on your own. If your passenger were not in the car, somehow, some way, you would still make it to your destination. Maybe you would get out the GPS app on your mobile phone, or maybe you would try harder to remember. When we have the option to not think — to ask for help — we usually take it. We become dependent because it is the easier option.
Our clients do the same thing.
In today's day and age, we no longer need to be physically at the office to get work done. We can work from just about anywhere, yet there is a dark side to our “extended office.” There is no end of the day, no weekend, and nowhere we are truly out of touch. It wasn’t that long ago that your cell service did not work in the next county, and access to email was rather limited. Today texting is a way of life — a new way to leave a message for someone.
Over the past weekend, I was called twice at the office while not scheduled to be there. This client is a caller versus someone who emails; you know the type – ask a question over email and the phone rings. For this reason, I have yet to give him my cell phone number. He called twice Saturday morning, and my front-of-house employee became a bit frazzled by the repeated calls, and in turn, called me repeatedly (I was busy in downward dog at a yoga class feeling all wonderfully Zen). After class, I saw my missed calls and called in to see what the emergency was. The client would not give her the info, just the request to call him back. I checked my email to see if more information was left, and as suspected, it was not. So using the powers of the cell company I called back while blocking my number. Turns out the Verizon Fios installer was at the house and was very upset due to coax wires not being home run. We did not run the coax wires in this new build, the alarm company did, and the client knew this.
By the time I did get back to him, he had contacted the alarm company and had worked out the issue. (He didn’t have the “passenger” in the car to tell him exactly which direction to go, so he eventually found his way.) Had I answered his first “emergency” call, there would have been drama, and he would have ended up in the exact same place.
The same thing often happens with a cable box issues. I might receive an email after hours that “the TV isn’t working” (because it is always the TV to get the blame first, right?). If I don’t respond, more times than not they will figure out to reboot the cable box and get the system going. If I do respond, there will be a back and forth, a distracted mom at the dinner table, and the client ends up in the exact same place.
So why do we make ourselves so available?
Do you give out your cell number to your clients? Will you answer their calls and texts at dinner? On weekends? On holidays?
This epidemic has become so bad, that new business apps have sprung up to try to stop all-night working in larger companies. Companies like Enforcedvacations stops emails and texts from coming through during off-hours, claiming that by not working all the time, productivity increases and turnover and stress is reduced.
Entire countries are now asking citizens to stop working all of the time. German labor minister Andrea Nahles commissioned a study to “assess the psychological and economic effects of work-related stress.” The findings, slated to be released in 2016, are expected to generate “legislation that would ban employers from contacting workers after office hours.” She is quoted as saying, "There is an undeniable relationship between constant availability and the increase of mental illness. We have commissioned the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to work out whether it is possible to set load thresholds. We need universal and legally binding criteria."
Dominik Ehrentraut, a spokesman for the Labor Ministry, told Huffington Post that a law won't be formally proposed until the findings are released in 2016.
Is it our self-importance that makes us feel as if we need to respond to an email, voice mail, or text immediately? Remember, no one has yet to die from not being able to watch TV. I am certainly not telling you to ignore your clients, but I do think that in today's society we need to set parameters. My personal rule of thumb (that I also use with my team) is, respond to an email within 24 hours, a text when you get a chance, and a phone call is more immediate (just be sure not to give you cell number out if you don’t want these emergencies to crop up).
How about you? What are your rules and how do you handle “always” being available in this tech-savvy era?
Heather L. Sidorowicz is the president of Southtown Audio Video in Hamburg, NY.