Management Bullshit

personal management 34 comments suggest edit

A lot of the advice you see about management is bullshit. For example, I recently read some post, probably on some pretentious site like, about how you shouldn’t send emails late at night if you’re a manager because it sends the wrong message to your people. It creates the impression that your people should be working all the time and destroys the idea of work-life balance.

whaaaaat's happening?

Don’t get me wrong, I get where they’re coming from. The 1990s.

For some reason, this piece of management advice made me angry. Let me describe my team. I have one person in San Francisco, two in Canada, one in Sweden, one in Copenhagen, a couple in Ohio, one in Australia, and I live in Washington. So pray tell me, when exactly can I send an email that won’t be received by someone out of “normal” working hours?

I believe the advice is well meaning, but it’s severely out of date with how distributed modern teams work today. I also think it mythologizes managers. It creates this mindset that managers wield some magical power in the actions they take.

True, there’s an implicit power structure at work between managers and those they manage. But healthy organizations understand that managers are servant leaders. They serve the needs of the team. Managers are not a special class of people. They are beautifully flawed like the rest of us. I sometimes have too much to drink and write tirades like this. Sometimes I get caught up in work and am short with my spouse or children. I say things I don’t mean at work because I’m angry or tired. We have to recognize management as a role, not a status.

The point is, rather than rely on these “rules” of business conduct, we’d be better served by building real trust amongst members of a team. My team understands that I might send an email at night not because I expect a response at night. It’s not because I expect people to work night and day. No, it’s because I understand we all work in different time zones. They know that I sometimes work at night because I took two hours out during the middle of the day to play soccer. And I understand they’ll respond to my emails when they’re damn good and ready to.

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34 responses

  1. Avatar for secretgeek
    secretgeek March 25th, 2015

    But when you send an email you immediately follow up with a phone call right? And if they don't answer right away you send a fax that says "You're Fired" to the fax machine in every room, right?

    Or maybe you just understand, and you understand that your team understands, and they understand that you understand that they understand, that emails are asynchronous.

  2. Avatar for George
    George March 25th, 2015

    Unfortunately not all teams are the same, and not all companies are the same..
    The advice applies especially where 20 developers and one 'big' manager (read boss/company owner) work in the same physical office, often 10-12 hours/day, but the manager sends an "urgent" email at 23:00 o'clock just because.. :)

  3. Avatar for Michal Franc
    Michal Franc March 25th, 2015

    George there are 'urgent' and 'urgent' emails :) If there is a fire then sure I will pick it up and try to help, but if something is not really critical then 23:00 o'clock email is just ignored, also 10-12 hrs / day, ouch ,it feels like some crunch mode, death march project to me :)

  4. Avatar for Vitor Canova
    Vitor Canova March 25th, 2015

    " the fax machine in every room..."
    I've got that reference. ;)

  5. Avatar for some dude
    some dude March 25th, 2015

    It's kind of annoying if people send email and expect immediate reply, or when you send email and they reply immediately with half-ass respond, but if I point it out I probably came out like a douche so I always keeping quite about these thing, hope some people changes when reading this post.

  6. Avatar for jdogg13
    jdogg13 March 25th, 2015

    This is precisely why I don't have work email on MY phone.

  7. Avatar for Nathan
    Nathan March 25th, 2015

    I like the idea that my manager will be active on email all day long. I don't feel like that obligates me to be online all the time. But I do know that if I am working at weird hours (and since my manager and I are three time zones apart, that's reasonably likely), he'll be able to help me if I need him for something.

    Not that I expect him to, but when he does I see it as a good thing.

    The problem isn't when managers send emails. The problem is the culture and expectations set by the manager. If the manager is setting explicit positive expectations, things like the 10pm email fit into that framework. But if the manager is not setting expectations or setting negative ones (like it's more about attendance than consistent baseline productivity), then the 10pm email feeds into that negativity or ambiguity.

  8. Avatar for GonzoI
    GonzoI March 25th, 2015

    The advice doesn't fit your specific case, but the majority of English speaking managers who might read such advice are managing people who they are within the same time zone, and mostly in the same building. Even in the modern era, non-local teams are the exception, not the rule.

    And the advice is accurate. When I get an email from my supervisor or the director, my expectation is that they are wanting me to drop what I'm doing and do something about the email immediately. It becomes a clear breech of work life balance when that is reinforced by comments or complaints when I don't get the email for a while.

    There is also a problem with the date you give. Email at home was a non issue until the mid 2000s when cell phones with email capability became common. The issue of email after hours arises from the expectations of immediacy.

    Finally, advice isn't an expectation that you be perfect, it's an optional thing you can try to improve how you do your job. There are managers who pay attention to the time zone of their employees with no issues, but that doesn't mean you have to, just because it works for other people.

  9. Avatar for GonzoI
    GonzoI March 25th, 2015

    The real problem arises when there is nothing distinguishing urgent from trivial. Most are trivial, which should be easy enough to flag or use delayed delivery emails for, but I find most managers do not.

    It grows worse if the manager doesn't know what is trivial and what isn't, but there's no salvaging that sort of management.

  10. Avatar for GonzoI
    GonzoI March 25th, 2015

    Yep, that's the best strategy for work life balance. Unfortunately, too many will pressure employees to break the work life balance, such as asking why someone doesn't set up work email on their personal phone. I had a supervisor pull that on a coworker and get told, very reasonably, that since she wasn't going to be reimbursed for the internet use or after hours responses, she didn't want to. He kept bringing it up until she eventually gave in. He was a particularly poor supervisor, but most managers in professional fields push for it in some way.

  11. Avatar for Grammar Nazi
    Grammar Nazi March 25th, 2015

    The number of spelling and grammatical errors in this article is surprising. How does someone end up being a writer/blogger when they don't know the difference between there, their, and they're?

  12. Avatar for Minnesota Steve
    Minnesota Steve March 25th, 2015

    So my advice as a corporate lackey is this...

    If someone sends you an email asking for something, just ignore it. If it's actually important they'll contact you a second time asking for status.

    This includes emails from your boss sent at 10pm at night.

  13. Avatar for Matt Robold
    Matt Robold March 25th, 2015

    I think it's a great point. If you're a good manager, then this isn't a problem and your staff will understand that an email sent at midnight (their time) can wait until some time more proximate to working hours.

    Sadly, the reason you see this advice has nothing to do with good managers being seen as demigods, but is given as a reaction to those managers who DO feel like the email they sent you at midnight, or 9 pm on a Saturday, merits an immediate response and then chews you butt out when you come in on Monday.

    Luckily, I've not had any of these, but my friends have, and I just shake my head.

  14. Avatar for jdogg13
    jdogg13 March 25th, 2015

    And don't get me started about emails sent on the weekends. Oh, boy!

  15. Avatar for jdogg13
    jdogg13 March 25th, 2015

    Yeah, then when you install the email app, it gives you a warning that the company can factory reset your phone at any time. This has happened to a couple of people at my work who were let go. F' that. This is MY phone.

  16. Avatar for Fede Azzato
    Fede Azzato March 25th, 2015

    Maybe you should send them an email asking if it's a good time for you to send them an other email #MayIAskYouAQuestion #YouJustDid

  17. Avatar for haacked
    haacked March 25th, 2015

    Perhaps it's because readers care more about the content than being nitpicky about syntax.

    And most readers are smart enough to recognize a typo doesn't necessarily mean the author doesn't know the difference between there, there, and there, but was likely in a drunken rager while slamming the keys with abandon. :)

  18. Avatar for haacked
    haacked March 25th, 2015

    Amen! That's the point I was trying to get at in my ranty rant.

  19. Avatar for Villain Sean
    Villain Sean March 25th, 2015

    I think most people understand that e-mail doesn't have to be responded to immediately.

  20. Avatar for Mark Kadlec
    Mark Kadlec March 25th, 2015

    Make everyone work at the same level (no management)!

  21. Avatar for bob
    bob March 25th, 2015

    I noticed an extremely similar article this week in Harvard
    Business Review. That forum is just the simplest of articles for struggling mid-level managers who are hungry for outside inspiration. If you work for a modern, distributed, multinational, multi-timezone, information management organization whose productivity is not measured by the time of the email response, than good for you. The HBR article does not address your organization.

    In my opinion, both you and the HBR author failed to see the
    bigger problem.

    I take issue with your idea that managers are just "one of the guys"; we are just like you; cut us some slack; we are trying our
    best; let’s all cooperate and graduate! Management has its own skills (mostly communication), just like programming, database management, heart surgery, brick laying. I don't care what you used to do, you took the job and the paycheck. I expect managers to be able to communicate integrated, organized concepts, with disciplined explanations of task, purpose, method, and endstate. Explain to me in clear language, diagrams and calendars, what the organization needs. If it is not worth your time to take the 12 seconds for a word processor's grammar check, I get the awkward feeling that your 11 pm, 15 word email from your cell phone redirecting next week's meeting was not deliberative; maybe you had multiple beers and a conversation with your brother-in-law. I work for an organization where managers are chosen based upon their knowledge of the task at hand, their familiarity with the organization, their ability to get along with other managers, their previous good conduct, and their "general character". I would so much rather work for the unapproachable grumps from a previous organization who organized their thoughts before communicating, and who held other managers to that standard.

  22. Avatar for Francisco Cittadini
    Francisco Cittadini March 25th, 2015

    I love you, man.

  23. Avatar for James
    James March 25th, 2015

    "I take issue with your idea that managers are just "one of the guys"; we are just like you"

    I don't understand how being "one of the guys" is different to "we are just like you". There wasn't any suggestion that management is a skill-less job but rather the well-meaning but stereotyped idea does not stack up well with distributed teams.

  24. Avatar for scottt732
    scottt732 March 26th, 2015

    I think most of this general management advice isn't really geared toward our industry... otherwise it would have the word 'agile', 'mobile', or 'cloud' somewhere in it ;-). I think software developers aren't upset when they get an e-mail from their boss late at night in the same way that a non-software person might be. In our world, it's sort of implied that we should prioritize what just came in with whatever else we're working on. In other fields it's not always as clear cut.

  25. Avatar for GonzoI
    GonzoI March 26th, 2015

    Indeed. What it boils down to is the notion that the manager "deserves" on-call status for free. Sort of like refusing to buy a warranty and then complaining when you have to cover repair costs when something breaks. I have noticed the managers that do this are indignant and dismissive if you point out that what they are expecting is a paid status.

  26. Avatar for Joe Davis
    Joe Davis March 27th, 2015

    I think most management advice treats symptoms and not diseases. If your people feel anxiety about receiving late night emails, then you're not creating the right team dynamic.

    I'm not saying that your employees should expect to be dragged into a work discussion anytime and anywhere. I'm saying that you have to ask yourself why your employees are feeling anxiety. If you have created a culture where employees are admonished for not responding to bone-headed late-night emails, then you are the problem... not your emails.

    I get late-night emails and I send some, too. But, I try to preface them with, "Here's a thought I had to jot down, let's talk about this tomorrow." And then the next day I will make it clear that my late-night ramblings are not priorities... and real priorities would have been made over the phone.

    If people understand their value and that they are appreciated, it's not hard to keep them from feeling job-related anxiety.

  27. Avatar for haacked
    haacked March 27th, 2015

    > I think most management advice treats symptoms and not diseases. If your people feel anxiety about receiving late night emails, then you're not creating the right team dynamic.

    Spot on! This was the point I was trying to make.

  28. Avatar for Danny
    Danny March 28th, 2015

    The only problem is that the vast number of folks that really need to change the behavior are probably not the ones reading this post.

  29. Avatar for nop
    nop March 28th, 2015

    "on some pretentious site like", and what are you being in your post? In all your posts you seem the kind of people I would hate to work with.

  30. Avatar for JC
    JC July 7th, 2015

    I would expect a professional manager for a professional company to not steal resources from their employees. If you need mail on mobile devices, you need to provide the resources, and pay people for the work they do after hours. Morally otherwise its simply theft and abuse of power.

  31. Avatar for GonzoI
    GonzoI July 7th, 2015

    Absolutely true.

  32. Avatar for bg
    bg August 20th, 2015

    "Mac Fryyyyy!!!"

  33. Avatar for Bob
    Bob October 30th, 2015

    As a manager myself, I want to share a different side of things. When I send and email off-hours, it is usually because I'm catching up on things and need to get either a question sent out or info provided while I'm thinking about it so people will see it when they normally come online, NOT to ask for an immediate reply. Email is NOT a medium for immediate turnaround at all hours.

  34. Avatar for GonzoI
    GonzoI October 30th, 2015

    I would assume you make that clear to your employees so that they aren't anticipating getting in trouble if it waits until on-hours. That's different from what we're discussing. From two comments up the chain: "It becomes a clear breech of work life balance when that is reinforced by comments or complaints when I don't get the email for a while."