This email forward was a rage in some offices a few years ago. The forward itself contained a short, impassioned email by an IT company CEO to his staff, and was forwarded and reforwarded for weeks. The missive was all about work-life balance. And readers treated it like a mantra. (I’ve rummaged in my inbox all day. But alas, can’t find the forward or recall it precisely. The exact details and names are sketchy.)
He was (is?) the CEO of a midsize IT firm based in Bangalore. I suspect it was the local development centre of a foreign multinational. One of those companies that quietly went about doing its business, paid spectacular salaries and genuinely believed in things like Friday dressing and company gyms. A land, if you will, of plentiful Sodexho booklets and high-quality company logo polo shirts.
In the email, the CEO (Bob Something) thought aloud about the work culture prevalent in his office: How long did his people work? What work-life balance did they achieve? How many of his people worked late? When did security finally close the building?
And he sounded very upset. People were working too long, he said, and that too for no reason that was apparent to him. He wondered when they got the time to spend with family, or pursue passions outside work. And it went on. But before I reveal the rest of that email forward, let us analyse.
First, you are surely thinking, this is one of those emails that the HR head sat next to him and made him write. Full of irritants like “team”, “friend”, “partners in success”, “last but not least” and so on. It wasn’t. This was an actual outpouring of CEO grief.
Perhaps, I hear you persisting with profundity, but is it anything new? Don’t all CEOs and managers, at several points in the year, make this very same speech? Indeed isn’t this part of their CEO orientation programme along with the the “Rumours of my resignation are completely false!” and ‘I sold a few shares for some personal family need only’ emails?
Fair point. While most senior management has perfected the art of showing other people the virtues of a balanced work life, they really don’t do much to help underlings achieve it.
Instead, every quarter or two, at the office party open bar, a senior manager will tell a gaggle of underlings how easy it is to balance: “I run a marathon every weekend,” he will say. “And every evening I go swimming at the India Habitat Centre...” he will spout, sipping the Laphroaig that appears at the bar only when he does.
At this point the eyes of one underling, and there is always one, will glaze over with faux admiration. “Too much, sir! How do you do all these wonderful things and such a super job in the office? You are great! I am Vikram from second floor accounting. But you are simply amazing.” (We will talk exclusively about the Vikram variety in a future Cubiclenama.)
“Oh, I manage time by delegating!” boss will say, leaving out details of his two secretaries, executive assistant and the fact that each time his email stops working, someone in admin gets two weeks’ notice.
And if it’s not delegation, the “ultimate secret” is either focus, planning, speed or, my personal worst, prioritization. That one just makes the skin crawl. I welcome you to try “I understand there is a blazing fire in our paper factory. But my cousin’s son's mundan is tonight, so...”?with the boss.
How many times have you sat in office, bags packed, computer making those shutting down noises, when big boss pops his head out and says something innocuous like this: “Why are all our PowerPoint slides in purple?”
Instantly, within minutes, the entire organization makes depurplification its core competence. Meetings are convened, conference calls are scheduled and KRAs are mass-rewritten.
And then two hours later, he pops out again: “Actually, purple is OK. I don’t know why my Babloo said that. Say hello to everyone, Babloo...” And you smile at Babloo like that doll in the Child’s Play movies. Purple swoops back in, work-life goes out of the window.
Face-time is another massive imbalancer. As an astute office elder once mentored me: “Why do you leave office so early every day? To make your resume?” Zen-like, no?
So between pressure, face-time, deadlines and meetings, how in God’s name does one balance anything?
The CEO in our storied email forward decided to do something. He announced office reforms with immediate effect: At 7.00 pm security would empty the building. And no, laptops would not be issued to anyone to make up for this. All overtime would need his picky personal approval. The benevolent CEO then exhorted his colleagues to enjoy their lives more.
Do you remember reading this email? Was he your CEO? If so, please send a copy to the address below. I will read it between 8.30 and 8.47pm next Friday. If I can.
Cubiclenama takes a fortnightly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at email@example.com