As the boss of a successful human resources firm, I was deluged this week with questions from employees wondering whether the office-based culture they’d created had really changed. Would “fetch” be enforced on the ride home from work? Would everybody whip out their phones and send sexy selfies? Would they suddenly all become “busy”? The Internet was absolutely rapt with employees wondering how and if the people who met the same requirements every day would evolve on their own.
It turns out the dynamics won’t change dramatically, because we’re merely shifting the casual culture I’ve dealt with and have overseen for six years. Here’s why.
Paying extra attention to “busy” people isn’t uncomfortable at all. Researchers found that a boss’s assessment of work-related personality is an indicator of their chances of being promoted. It takes five traits to be “on-schedule,” and 40 percent of people categorized as on-schedule are judged to be great bosses.
This includes all of the most important attributes a boss should consider:
They take time to train you and show you how to do your job well.
They respect your extra skills and take them into account when picking whom to hire or fire.
They share leadership styles and encourage teamwork.
They empower you to keep your mistakes to yourself.
That leaves “busy.” It’s no problem to be busy if you’re conscientious and prepared, and it’s no problem to be busy if you have a high level of integrity, self-motivation and self-management. Most women have these qualities, and “busy” is neither a skill nor a personality trait (much less part of a personality assessment). Yet we often hold it up as a key requirement for a “great boss.” As a result, many employees fret about it as though they would have the ability to spell drunk without studying.
Here’s how it’s really worked for me: I didn’t let that last rule apply to me. After giving it lip service for the past few years, I’ve quit calling anybody “busy” (even though I sometimes secretly did), and I’ve stopped judging and stereotyping busy.
Here’s how I do my best in response to “busy” requests:
I tell them that I’m too busy to talk, or that they should contact someone else. I’ve found that this usually means I haven’t worked up the nerve to talk to them, so once they’ve given up trying to get in touch with me, I’ve just asked what they want to do next. I’ve shared with them my schedule and appointments, and asked them to make an appointment or schedule it sometime soon. Then I ask what they’d like me to do for them. It’s more efficient and polite than saying that I’m too busy to do it at all.
I’ve asked them to convey to me what they would like me to do for them. I’ve gotten better at anticipating work-related needs rather than reacting to demands. You can always ask. But the standard response is always positive. “Oh, I forgot that my Mom and I went to Go Old Style [Steakhouse] this weekend, so I need you to see their new sign on their building!” Or “I really would like you to go with me to go see a biographical movie about Eleanor Roosevelt.”
When someone asks for me to come up for a coffee or get up for a short visit, I take a different tack. I say, “If you really need me to talk to someone for a while, I can come down.”
Most people are good at recognizing when they’re scammed. I’ve noticed that when you ask an employee to do something, most of them will say, “No, I need time to think about that.” But then they think of some and say “OK,” and it happens again and again. In other words, most people respond quickly to a “please,” and hardly at all to a “thanks, I’ll call you back.”
Management consultant Siobhan Gallaghers writes her book, “What’s Your Big Idea?” for middle-level managers.