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Home | Got a Minute | Bad bosses | No. 90 – My staff are split over late night emails and I might be to blame

No. 90 – My staff are split over late night emails and I might be to blame

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18 January 2023

I own and run a small to medium-sized firm, and it is an intense work environment requiring staff to be on-call and work unusual hours. We are a flexible workplace with hybrid home/office and don’t require set hours as long as key meetings are attended and the work gets done. We also have six weeks annual leave in addition to time in lieu arrangements. However, there is now tension between people about sending non-urgent emails at night and on weekends. One group is annoyed by the stress that constant emails create, while others feel it’s part of the gig and there is no obligation to respond. I’m sympathetic to both sides of this, but starting to think I contributed to the conflict by being accommodating and creating an environment in which all staff feel they should be listened to about these matters. Part of me thinks staff are spoiled and the other worries about genuine stress and anxiety. Any ideas?

I do think sometimes even generous and flexible bosses – as you sound like you may be – sometimes need to make clear that for any working relationship to work, there has to be a bit of give and take. If your employees are happy to enjoy the benefits of a hybrid workplace without set hours, then they also have to deal with the fact that means some people will be working hours different to them.

I think you can communicate, as often as needed, that the culture in your business is that just because you may receive a non-urgent email outside of your working hours does not mean you need to respond until you are back at work. However, everyone receives urgent emails from time to time that may need to be prioritised and the fact you offer two weeks annual leave a year more than most makes up for the inconvenience.

In many organisations, and especially ones that work flexibly, the concept of regular business hours is a thing of the past. I suspect you may have to bring everyone together and ask for a bit of understanding on both sides and suggest the flexibility you offer from your end is going to need some flexibility from everyone else if it is to work long term.

I have been noticing some serious regulatory breaches and legal issues where I am working, and I have quietly discussed it with a couple of trusted colleagues. They said I should keep quiet and keep my head down as others who have spoken up found it hard to get new work. These are really ethical matters affecting our customers and I really feel in a bind – how should I deal with this?

This sounds like a serious issue and one that you probably need to deal with sooner rather than later. If your workplace has a whistleblower policy in place, use it. You can receive significant legal protections as a whistleblower although, as you are most likely aware, there is no doubt it can be really challenging. If you are unsure, you can contact whichever agency regulates your business and seek their advice. Either way, staying quiet about illegal activity is not an option, and it sounds like this is a workplace you will need to leave. It is regrettable you have been put in this position but in the long term it will sit better with you by knowing you did what you could and are not participating in illegal or unethical conduct.

My team at work like to celebrate everyone’s birthday by sending around a birthday card that everyone adds their best wishes to. I’m quite private and don’t really want my birthday to be known to work colleagues. I’ve let my manager know every year, and she still persists in arranging for someone to send a digital card. Am I damaging work relationships by asking for this privacy or running the risk of being thought of as a non-team player?

I am confident that if you make a big deal about the digital birthday card you are likely to risk being seen as not wanting to be part of the team. While there is an argument for asking your boss to respect your wishes and end the annual birthday card tradition for you, I would class it as one of those ‘pick your battles wisely’ moments. Just delete the digital birthday card email when it arrives and relax in knowing it will be another year before you have to deal with it again.

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Kirstin Ferguson is an award-winning leadership expert, author, columnist and company director.
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