On December 22, 1944, at about 11:30 in the morning in Bastogne, Belgium, a group of four German soldiers, waving two white flags, approached the American lines carrying a letter demanding the surrender of the US to Germany. The letter warned that the American troops were surrounded and that failure to surrender would result in their total annihilation. When Brig. General Anthony C. McAuliffe was awakened with this news; his initial and written response was “NUTS!” It wasn’t exactly elegant, and the colloquial terminology was lost a bit in translation, but a few other choice words eventually got the General’s point across. Although he couldn’t have been certain of the outcome, his fortitude that the US would never surrender to the Germans under any circumstance proved him right in the end.
There are more reasons than we can tackle that support the importance of a strong anti-surrender stance in wartime. Still, I think the term surrender takes on different importance when considering the workplace. It can play a critical role in company culture.
When a company stresses the importance of work/life harmony as a core value but ignores obvious evidence of team members routinely working late into the night, that may create a cultural problem. If we believe that team members are more productive, happier, and healthier when they have the freedom to leave work at the end of their workday, it’s important to reinforce those cultural expectations. If we fail as leaders to correct behaviors because they benefit us, it weakens an organization’s culture.
I encourage you to engage with team members who routinely send late-night emails, make commitments they can’t keep, and seem to be running at a pace that is not sustainable. The goal is to seek to understand, provide resources to support, and coach the team member to succeed within the standard workday. Making it safe for an employee to admit to feeling overwhelmed without fear of negative repercussions is fundamental to aligning stated culture with actual practice.
Leaving cultural misalignment unresolved leads to burnout and chronic stress, one of the most common health issues related to the workplace. It can even lead to hypertension, digestive difficulties and is linked to a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
Surround your team members with support, resources, respite, and candor. Correct behaviors that don’t align with values early on. Pay attention to the clues that a team member is struggling with. Listen for the discordant notes of “busy-ness.” Model raising your hand for help. Come alongside and help a team member unpack the load they’re carrying to get to the source of the problem. Please encourage them to surrender whatever they are holding onto so tightly that it doesn’t serve them.
Some questions/conversation starters:
- What is one thing that we can eliminate that would make your work life more balanced? It’s surprising how often the answer is an easy fix. The team member may be laboring for hours over a report that is no longer needed but was never fully phased out. Any duplicate work needs to be surgically removed asap.
- Does your current schedule work for you or does it contribute to your stress? Sometimes, a shift of fifteen minutes makes a huge difference in traffic patterns or school drop off/pick up timing.
- Your happiness and success are important to me. What can I do to better support you?
Create relationships and systems that surround your employees with resources and allow them to surrender when stuck. Doing so helps maintain a healthy culture and permits your team members to flourish on and off the clock.