Managing the whole person: Remove stress, give them space to rest

Managers seem to be obsessed with time.  Ever since I first started working, the clock and I have had a complicated relationship.  As I began my career, I made all the silly mistakes you can make - I overslept (because I wasn’t taking care my sleep schedule), I missed entire meetings (I’ve actually done that at least once in the last year), I’ve been late for things, I’ve almost (but didn’t actually) missed flights, the list of these transgressions against “the clock” at work are almost endless.  The thing that was common here is it was all about where I was at what time.  Not really whether what I was doing there was right, helpful, or valuable in some way, it was about my presence. 

Time is a precious resource

We’ve all got a finite amount of it (at least that’s our current understanding) and the more time in theory we spend working the better our companies should perform.  The equation is that simple right? It takes time to do work, to make things, to be productive, so the more time we spend doing those things than the more successful the organization that needs you to be productive doing things will be.  

Of course that’s not true at all, because not all time is created equally.  I know for a fact that I do my best work when I’m well rested and slightly under the influence of stimulants (talkin’ bout coffee, relax folks).  

A solid 8 hour work day where I’ve had a great nights sleep probably gets 10x more value out of my time than a day where I’m exhausted, even though they’re the same length of time.  I’ll also say, that days where I don’t have the dread of some stressful thing hanging over me are much more productive as well, and this where my advice to new managers comes in.  

Give your folks time to do two things: be properly rested and deal with the bullshit that comes up in life.  Over just the last month at Rhabit, I think we’ve had a serious pet illness, a fallen tree, a death in the family, a cross town move, and sudden loss of childcare.  

In each of these scenarios, my behavior has been the same:  Prioritize creating time for the employee to deal with the crap that life’s thrown at them and figure out a way to flex around the needs of the company.  

My operating theory here is that if I support people through the BS and help deal with it and create a culture and an environment where people will trust me and communicate with me when things get sideways in life, the long term result will be that I get more days of people working with minimal external stress acting on them and they’ll be well rested and capable of doing their best.

The short term thinking of making employees handle everything outside of work or having some system that penalizes them for unexpected life events is so freaking backwards and dumb I can’t even begin to think of running a company that way, but you have no idea how many stories I’ve heard or witnessed first hand about companies treating the time that a person should be in the office or on a work site as this sacrosanct subreality where you’re supposed to just turn off the context of everything that isn’t work for an entire day.  

The consequences to ignoring the whole human

This rigidity is the asinine downstream result of work environments in a time where workers were a commodity, not people.  With the advent of the proliferation of skilled knowledge work, this has changed dramatically in today’s world, but I still see it all the time manufacturing environments and in many small traditional businesses.  

Much of the reaction to this can be seen in the margins of the “Great Resignation”, which I think we’ll really look back at as a period of a shift in supply of knowledge workers and the emergence of a society where the previously commoditized production worker now has perhaps its most favorable supply and demand balance as ever.  

Over the long haul some of this will come out in the wash as automation continues to spread to manufacturing in both high and low tech, but for now the worker commands more power than they ever have in history.  What I would encourage leaders to do in this time is really to embrace it, embrace all that is good about the increasing normalcy of caring about the balance between work and non-work life.  Think about that big picture of the potential output of your people being a function of stress and rest.  

Make time to talk about these things and your position on them with your team.  Tell them directly that you want them to be at their best - tell them it’s your job to get them there, and the way you want to get there is removing barriers and providing support.  

How do you do this? 

Look for stress to remove, and encourage them to take good care of themselves and support that.  Whether it’s support for their mental health, physical health, the health of their cockatoo Peter, or creating space for them to go be a bridesmaid for their cousin who they can’t stand but feel guilty about taking time off for.  

Remove stress, give them space to rest.  This will put them at their best.  

Gotta be a cheeseball little rhyme somewhere in that one, probably the title of some god awful cliched LinkedIn self published book or something.  It doesn’t make it any less true though, so go out there, talk to your team about what’s creating stress and make sure they’ve got the proper time to rest - they’ll reward you with the performance your company needs to succeed, and it’s a work culture that can be self-sustaining, wins all around.  

Happy leading, 

Kevin