In episode three of What’s Up in the Workplace, Lacey Partipilo and Brandon Laws discuss how one city is trying to limit email after work, why middle managers are miserable and what employers can do about it, and why pay transparency can benefit employees and employers.
Brandon Laws: Lacey Partipilo, what’s up? Good to have you back.
Lacey Partipilo: Happy to be here.
Brandon: Nothing going on in your world, is there?
Lacey: Not so much.
Brandon: Can we drop that news?
Lacey: We can, yeah. Yeah, we can tell the listeners. I am expecting a baby in November.
Brandon: Number two.
Lacey: Number two, yeah.
Brandon: Don’t know what the gender is yet.
Lacey: No, we’re going to wait. We’re going to be surprised, I think.
Brandon: That’s exciting.
Lacey: It is.
Brandon: So then the concern for listeners is what’s going to happen. We have you on monthly on this podcast.
Lacey: We can just bring the baby onto the podcast.
Brandon: Let’s do it. Waa! Waa!
Lacey: Yeah, yeah.
Brandon: Yeah, yeah.
Lacey: We will pre-record some stuff. We will make sure there’s plenty of content for listeners.
Brandon: Awesome. That makes me happy. But I also think you need to have all that time off with your new baby.
Lacey: Yeah, I’m excited. It will be fun. New adventure.
Brandon: Yeah. We’re back for What’s Up in the Workplace, episode number three. We’ve got three articles for you today. I’m going to kick things off. The title of this particular article, it’s “Tired of Having to Check Work Email After Hours? New Yorkers May Not Have to if this Bill Passes,” and this was in CNN March 28th, 2018 by Doug Criss. I’m going to go over the key points from the article. It’s pretty short. We will put a link up in the show notes as we always do.
So basically this bill is called “Disconnecting from Work”. It was introduced by a city council member from Brooklyn. This bill would make it illegal for businesses to contact employees via email or text instant message – probably text, I would assume – when employees are off work.
Brandon: It seems a little gray to me. It applies to businesses with 10 plus employees. So very small businesses are off limits, the startups of the world.
Lacey: Right, that rely on one another.
Brandon: Employers who violate this would pay a fine of $250 and $500 to the employee. Exceptions. There are exceptions. Employees who work over time or who are on call for 24 hours a day.
Brandon: So what do you think about this?
Lacey: I don’t know. Having – being an employee that oftentimes is – gets tapped after hours. I mean I guess I can see it from both sides. I can see the employer frustration probably for the small businesses that send out information to employees. It’s informational only and don’t require a response. So I’m curious about that.
If these new regs are going to not allow you to do that, so you would have to I guess know who’s off work before you’re sending company-wide communications. So that’s one thing. Then the whole question of like, “Do we allow employees to have access to email on their mobile devices?”
Brandon: Yeah. Do you just shut it off?
Lacey: Yeah. I think –
Brandon: There’s a way to do that.
Lacey: There is and I’ve advised my clients that have non-exempt employees that are hourly. You know, you have to pay them for any time that you suffer or permit them to work. So if we’re putting emails on their phones and they’re looking at that, that’s work time, whether you ask them to do it or they did it on their own volition.
So I think that would be something that employers need to take a look at. But I get it from the employee perspective. We want to have this work-life balance and that’s something we talk about a lot here on the podcast. How do you do that if your employer is tapping you all the time?
Brandon: The questions that come to mind with something like this where you introduce a law to inevitably change behavior and ultimately, what you’re trying to do is prohibit employers from giving employees access to do email and not get paid for it. But also for employees to say, “Hey, you don’t have to. It’s not required.” But you force it in the form of a law whereas I think culturally, something needs to change.
Lacey: I know, yeah. I think that also when we allow the information to be shared when people are off, that gives employees transparency, communication. We talked about how important that is. So I wonder what it would do in terms of just limiting the flexibility that employees have to be able to be connected and also spend time with family. We talk about how those lines get blurry and how that can be a benefit.
Brandon: And I can’t remember – what’s your stance on – you personally, do you like to have the lines blurred between work and personal or do you like to just shut it off?
Lacey: I think it depends. When I took my sabbatical last December, I shut off. Like I was –
Brandon: I mean, you need to.
Lacey: I checked out. But I’m somebody who has one phone. I don’t keep it separate because I did for a little while and I just ended up carrying two phones around with me and it got annoying.
Brandon: I got rid of that.
Lacey: Yeah. So I just have the one. I tried to be respectful. My other daughter, she’s eight. So she’s keeping me on track and it’s like –
Brandon: The other daughter. So you think you’re having a girl?!
Lacey: Haha, I don’t know. I don’t know. My other kiddo –
Brandon: Yeah, yeah, there you go.
Lacey: You know, no phones at the table. She’s helping me be accountable. But it’s hard –
Brandon: Kids are accountable. It’s crazy how they will call you out.
Lacey: They will.
Brandon: They have no shame in doing that.
Lacey: They will. They will. So does my husband. So I try to – it’s important to me. So I tell people about that and then my friends and family help me try to be accountable. But I care about what I do and so sometimes you can get sucked in.
Brandon: Yeah. What I’ve noticed with why people even respond in the first place, it seems to be a behavior thing at the top. So your manager maybe emails you or it’s a common thing with leadership and then because you want to say, “I’m a team player.”
Lacey: And impress them.
Brandon: And impress them. You respond and then you’re known as that person that always responds and then now it becomes this cycle of everybody is now – not necessarily expecting it. It has just become ingrained in the culture that hey, let’s just respond after hours.
Lacey: When you’re accessible on your vacation, then people tend to think you might always be. So then when you really do want to check out, that can create problems with the team thinking they’re going to be able to get a hold of you. There are techniques that I have used. If it helps me to feel sane to have emails responded to, I might save them as drafts.
Lacey: In my inbox. So that I can send the emails in the morning because I want to set a good example for the people that report to me too about – it’s important to have our personal time. But you’re right. It comes from the top and what is role-modeled on leadership teams is definitely something that other folks are going to emulate.
Brandon: My personal opinion – I’m so on the other side of thinking we need a law to take care of this. I mean, in some cases, you do. I think this is something that shouldn’t be forced. I think it should be a change at the top and it should just be an understanding. In going to solutions, if that means shutting off the server or leadership literally needs to put their phone away, kind of like what you’re doing, I think that’s what needs to happen. I think policing a law like this would be next to impossible.
Lacey: I don’t know how you even administratively do it and the fines seem pretty significant to me, especially $500 to the employee. What if it’s like a five-minute response?
Brandon: This is the funny thing is on the surface, yeah, it looks like a really high fee. But that’s nominal compared to what happens if you get a complaint and now all of a sudden attorneys are now going through server logs to see if somebody got texted or responded at this time.
Brandon: Attorneys are the ones winning.
Lacey: Exactly. And there are fines and penalties and things on top of that, that you would be forced to pay if employees that are – again, hourly non-exempt workers are entitled to wages they weren’t receiving.
Brandon: Yeah. So just summing up, I don’t know what happened to this. This was from a month or so ago. I bet you this gets shot down.
Lacey: Yeah. I think it’s to be determined. But I do think that we’re seeing trends like this that are definitely in favor of employees and wanting to ensure that they can balance what they have going on personally and professionally. So it would be interesting.
Brandon: I get it, I get it. OK. What have you got for us?
Lacey: OK. So I found this article. This is another recent article from March, from SRHM, Society for Human Resource Management.
Brandon: You love those SHRM articles.
Lacey: I do, I do. They come into my inbox because I sign up for the alerts. Yeah. This one is called The Miserable Middle Managers. New technology, fewer meetings and continued learning can help ease their stress. So that’s kind of what the article talks about. So it points out there was some research that was done back in 2015. It’s one of the surveys that they talk about, researchers at Columbia University.
They surveyed about 22,000 fulltime workers and they found that 18 percent of the supervisors and managers reported symptoms of depression, which is pretty sad. So they dug a little bit deeper on this and sort of found this profile for the bottom five percent and these were the things that those people in that profile had.
So they had earned a college degree, but not a graduate degree. So they’ve got undergrad degrees. They had 5 to 10 years tenure. They worked as midlevel managers and they received good as opposed to superior or terrible performance ratings in the past year.
So this is the – you and me right here, right in this bucket of these middle managers is what I thought about. So they give some tips to –
Brandon: Yeah, make them less miserable.
Lacey: How to make your middle managers less miserable. Because, it comes from the top. So if your managers are miserable, what’s the chances that their teams are going to be?
Brandon: It’s the point about the meetings. It totally resonates with me because that’s what makes me miserable to be perfectly honest with you. I’m really vocal about it too. Like for somebody who wants a meeting, like if you schedule an hour and you fill up an hour with air and just talking over each other, I’m going to be really mad about it.
Lacey: Oh, yeah. You won’t hold it back either.
Brandon: I have so much to do, right? I got to edit these podcasts and I got to write content and email – countless things that – we’ve all got to do stuff, right? And I just think the meetings is what ultimately makes us miserable because we have work to do and can’t get to it.
Lacey: I know. Well, they talked about when it comes to having too many meetings, they’re talking about this shift that leaders have to do where you’re going from being on the leadership team.
Lacey: And a lot of people are working managers. So there’s this – there can be this challenge between I’ve got these responsibilities. You and I are on this boat, right? We’ve got regular jobs too in addition to managing teams.
Lacey: So I’m having to kind of flip back and forth between managing my team, being on the leadership team and doing my job.
Lacey: That can create stress and stress can then create – in some cases it seems like maybe even signs of depression. So trying to eliminate the unnecessary meetings, making sure that meetings have a purpose, a set agenda that they’re moving work for. It’s what they talk about. Also technology.
Brandon: So explain that.
Brandon: Is it technology making them more miserable or augmenting with – augmenting the people stuff with technology solutions is what’s going to make them less miserable?
Lacey: That’s what’s going to help. So if we can find ways to eliminate some of the administrative burden that managers – and really all employees face in their day to day jobs – that might help sort of soften the load that these managers are having to do. So they give an example of like performance management.
So if supervisors are responsible for tracking performance reviews and we’ve got a really archaic way of doing that and maybe they have to keep track of it in a calendar or an Excel spreadsheet. Finding ways to automate that is going to help supervisors just eliminate stress, remove the administrative burden from their jobs. It’s funny. So yesterday, we’ve been talking for the longest time. We have a lot of different tools, right? That we’re using for communication purposes and document storage and all that and some of our teams are using Slack for a couple – like our culture team is using Slack, which is –
Lacey: Oh, I love that. I didn’t know that.
Brandon: Yeah, we just wanted to try it out because we are so email-heavy and then finding stuff is really hard. Communicating with small groups is really hard because you have email chains and copying and BCC.
Lacey: And it bogs down the computers.
Brandon: So we’re rolling out Microsoft Teams, which is a collaboration tool. It’s a project management and in some ways a task management tool, and it has some features of Slack. It’s really similar to that and some of the – there are other tools that are just like this. There’s video integration. There’s all sorts of – you can add GIFs to the communication string if you want. The point that I’m trying to make is this sort of things could on the surface streamline what you’re doing from a communications standpoint. If that makes you miserable.
Like to go align calendars for somebody or to find a file or to find an old email string. Now this is on demand. It’s like you have these in separate areas. It’s really easy to access people. If you can’t get an in-person meeting, you can just like do a little group chat with somebody with three, four, five people if you need to and you can do it remotely.
Lacey: I love that.
Brandon: So that would make me so much happier and I’m already seeing the benefits of this tool and it will be rolled out soon. But –
Lacey: Can I share something that makes me nervous about that kind of stuff too?
Brandon: Please. Please do.
Lacey: So I have seen – I have a ton of clients that have those types of programs and Slack is one that comes to mind that people use just as a means to communicate between teams. Oftentimes though, it’s viewed as a less formal means of communication, like instant messaging or texting.
Brandon: So they’re using language like that. They’re not using any formality.
Lacey: Talking about work-related subjects.
Lacey: So what I have seen happen is that these conversations can quickly go sideways and just wearing my HR hat and then also paying attention to ‘is that stuff discoverable if we have an employee who complains?’
Brandon: Sure is, it’s on the server.
Lacey: Absolutely. So making sure that if you are going to implement a technology like that, there’s training involved. Employees understand the purpose of it and the types of conversations that are allowed to happen on those channels. I think it’s really important. So if you’re going to roll something out like that, just be thinking about it. It’s the same as email communication.
Brandon: I couldn’t have said it better myself honestly. Like with technology, yeah, I can solve a lot of problems. But if it’s not thoughtfully done and planned out and you just like implement it without putting any thought into any legal stuff that could come up down the road or structure to it, you can actually make life worse down the road.
Lacey: Yes, yeah. And it’s – all that stuff, it doesn’t go away, right? It exists forever.
Lacey: So, OK, so onto the last recommendation they have, it’s around professional development and I feel so strongly about this. A lot of supervisors grow up with companies. They’re the highest-performing person in the role and then what happens, they get promoted and they don’t have leadership skills. They didn’t get training. They don’t have the education around that and I just feel so strongly that supervisors need training. They need us to invest in them, just like we are with all of our employees. So finding opportunities to give them that professional development can be a way to mitigate the stress, give them tools they need, so they’re not so miserable in their jobs.
Brandon: I agree. What’s your favorite form of like professional development? If you’re going to be less miserable as a manager, what do you want?
Lacey: That’s so tough. I am definitely not – I mean you and I are very different. I am not the kind of person that’s going to read a book and feel like, wow, I learned so much I can go implement this.
Brandon: Sure, yeah.
Lacey: I’m more hands-on type learning. So opportunities to go to workshops where I can practice techniques.
Lacey: Shadowing with more senior folks on the team.
Lacey: Throw me in the deep end. Let me figure it out. Make mistakes and get better.
Brandon: Our fields couldn’t be more different. You’re in HR. So you need the hands-on experience. Me in marketing, I can get all my education from like, well, following people on LinkedIn and reading books and blog posts.
Brandon: Totally different world. Workshops for me make no sense because by the time somebody has built a curriculum, it’s already outdated. Even books to a certain extent.
Brandon: So there’s no one size fits all for professional development. So I would encourage people, like if you’re going to make your middle managers – going back to the article – less miserable, you need to ask them what’s important to them and what’s going to make the biggest impact in their growth. It should be a collaborative thing. It shouldn’t be all on them and it shouldn’t be all on the employer.
Lacey: Right, and giving them resources and a budget so that they can invest in themselves I think is important. So just some cool ideas to help your managers have better morale.
Brandon: Yeah. Thank you for bringing that article to us. All right. I’m going to end this thing with a bang. I found this one on Medium. There are a bunch of free thinkers on Medium. This one is called Ask Your Co-Workers What They Make. You Will Earn More. This is by Nick Cassella. So the disclaimer I want to make on this one is it’s really written from an employee’s point of view.
Brandon: Pro-employee, which is great. It seems to be really partisan in terms of political stance. I’m not going to get into that stuff. But I do think even though I don’t agree with a lot of what’s on this article – and you know why, because you know my political views. I tend to look at this as a great conversation starter because there’s inherent issue in wage disparity, equal pay.
Brandon: And this –if you – unless you’ve been under a rock, you should know that this exists and the fact that employees have less information than employers and that’s what probably is causing some stagnation in certain areas. So –
Lacey: When people don’t have the information, they’re going to make stuff up.
Brandon: Yeah, that’s exactly right. So I want to make some points from this article. Really summarize it and then kind of bring some of my thoughts to it. So Nick, the author, tells a story about – he’s asking for his first raise and he asked for $44,000 a year. The thing is he didn’t know what the five other employees made. So when his boss came back and said, “I can offer you 42 grand,” he didn’t even balk at it. He just said, “OK,” because he had no information. The employer has the information.
So then he kind of goes on to say that talking about pay or thinking about pay tends to be taboo.
Brandon: And it’s just not part of our culture. Even we leave it out of our homes. We don’t even really talk about money at home.
Lacey: I know.
Brandon: So –
Lacey: And many employers have – you know, maybe not even legally, depending on the state that you’re in – policies that prohibit employees from discussing wages.
Lacey: So employers are even trying to communicate that message from the top, that not only is it taboo, but it’s something that could result in disciplinary action.
Brandon: Absolutely. So on one side of the spectrum, you have employers having most of the leverage because they hold all the information. The employee holds nothing.
Brandon: And it’s totally skewed because employees I don’t think know the full total comp picture and they start making assumptions. Oh, I can get more money here, or this is what I’m worth. But they’re not looking at industries and all the demographic data. So they might leave.
Brandon: So employers holding all the information is bad for both the employee and for them, because you might have somebody bail when – if you just let them understand what was part of your pay structure, they might have been a partner in – like, how do we get to the next level? What does tier two look like or whatever your structure might look like? So the other thing he was saying, like in a true, competitive market, having equal access to the information would be a true perfect knowledge market.
I think that’s a utopian view. I think it’s great. It will be a true market. Like access to every piece of information at any given time. That would make everybody better. It’s not realistic though. In America, we certainly do not have that. But he also suggested keeping wages private is what has stagnated wages from an economic standpoint.
Lacey: What do you think about that?
Brandon: I think there’s some truth to it because, without all the information, people are less likely to negotiate. I really don’t know what to think about that.
He goes on to say – and this is where it really started getting political. He goes on to say like, “Well, unions,” because unions’ pay rates were known and you’re more likely to negotiate because you have a union rep. Unions are more likely to negotiate with the employer that you’re more likely to get those bigger raises every year. Whereas employees, they’re working on their own behalf and some people – maybe you’re not likely to ask for a raise, but I would be because of whatever, and –
Lacey: Well, sometimes you see that. They talk about the gender disparity and oftentimes, when it comes to an offer of employment, generally speaking, a male candidate is going to be more likely, and I don’t know what the percentage is, to negotiate that offer than the female.
Brandon: I believe it. Yeah, I believe it.
Lacey: It’s interesting because his topic about unions, I know of several and the challenge with that kind of environment is that the supervisors are sort of held hostage to increases because of the pay bands.
Lacey: So there’s no flexibility and merit increases turn into cost of living increases.
Brandon: Yeah, and nobody likes those.
Lacey: No, no. I mean we – people want to be paid for high performance. Maybe low-performing employees want to get the same as their high-performing counterparts. So I think there’s a flipside to that, that piece around unions are going to negotiate for me. I think it maybe allows there to be a seat at the table, the bargaining table. But it’s not a promise of getting anything more.
Brandon: Yeah. Honestly, like the – why I think this article is a good one is it just brings an issue to light and for employers – because this is an employer-focused podcast. This is an employee topic. But employers should recognize the fact that if the risk in not giving a little bit more information on pay structure and what went into – like here’s your pay, here’s what went into it and why we’re giving you what you’re given, is that people may just make some assumptions on their own based on – like I got a Glassdoor alert that – right before you and I started recording that said like, “Oh, as a marketing director, here’s what your pay should be.” You know what I mean? Like it’s – this is the stuff – it’s noise and if I was just making decisions on my own without involving the employer and I just said, “Here’s what I’m worth. I need to go out and get it,” and I just left, and that everybody else would be like, “Why did you leave?”
Lacey: Yeah, and it’s surface data. It’s not necessarily information that is comparing this organization to other ones of similar size and revenue and location and industry and employees need to be educated about all of that. I am an advocate for being transparent about – with employees about how much their job, the job they’re in, is worth. So people what the sort of cap is.
Lacey: At some point, a job is only worth so much and if employees aren’t educated about that and don’t know that, they have unrealistic expectations.
Lacey: So I think being transparent about that – I don’t know about opening up all that information for everyone.
Brandon: I don’t think so. I mean total transparency of wages. That might bring in jealousy and all that. I truly think it’s being aware of pay bands, structures, philosophies, multipliers, whatever you’re putting into your philosophy. But also understanding that a title doesn’t necessarily equal a certain wage.
I got an alert about a marketing director job. But like if you actually look at my job duties, maybe I’m something else. So having people make some sweeping generalizations about what they’re actually doing or what they’re doing based on the title. But really like Tyler, our compensation analyst, he would say, “What does the job description say?”
Lacey: Yeah, he’s not going to go off a title.
Brandon: No, he’s not. He does not. And for employers that are wondering what goes into the wage surveys, it’s the job descriptions and then the demographic data about your company, the industry. It’s not the title.
Lacey: No, because a director of marketing in a ten-person company is very different than a director of marketing at Nike.
Lacey: Right? So we got to compare apples to apples and I think encouraging employees to have conversations like this and equipping managers on how to talk about pay with their employees is important. Because just speaking for myself being a manager of people, I talk to supervisors all the time about how to do this. But when you’re on the spot with an employee who’s either asking for more money or asking about the potential for their job, we need to be equipped with information. So we can respond, so we don’t lose credibility and so that we can speak on behalf of the company.
Brandon: One last thing I would say just about like action items for employers who are listening to this is I would say that as a middle manager – going back to that second article – it’s like also what drives us nuts is not having information. So if you don’t give us the tools to be able to – as we’re working with our employees and they have questions about what goes into their pay. If you don’t give us tools on the philosophy, you’re setting us up for failure. You’re truly making us a middle man whereas –
Lacey: And uncomfortable.
Brandon: Whereas if we are an extension of the executive team, we should be basically saying, “I’m onboard with what the executive team is doing because I’ve bought in to the philosophy,” and I can relay that to the employee and I’m 100 percent backed on that versus if you just say, “Here’s the number. Go tell your employee,” like I don’t – I don’t have any tie to that. I don’t know what went into that.
Lacey: And you’re inevitably going to get questions that you’re maybe not going to know the answer to and not everybody that’s a supervisor is also out consulting on HR and even those of us that are, we need to understand the why and how the number got created.
Brandon: Absolutely. So going over philosophies, sharing some data on wages and what you’re willing to pay people and pay bands, anything that really goes into it. I think that would help managers quite a bit.
Brandon: Yeah. So that fun discussion. I love these articles that we got. So listeners, if you have any articles or topics that you want us to discuss, email me. My email address is in the show notes. You can also reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter, Instagram, wherever you want to contact me. Lacey, where are you at?
Brandon: Yeah. Please, please, please, if you’re on Apple podcast, go give us a review.
Brandon: A five-star would be great. It helps people find the show and we’ve had crazy growth in the last few months and I think it’s because of these podcasts, right Lacey?
Lacey: I do too. We want to keep it going. We need to know how we’re doing and knowing that you guys like what we’re talking about, we will keep it going.
Brandon: And more importantly, feedback on this particular episode would be great. We’ve got a new microphone set up today. So if you like the quality and it was better, let us know about that. So Lacey, awesome to have you here. Thanks for dropping the announcement today.
Lacey: Yeah. Yeah. Thanks for letting me do it on the show.
Brandon: All right. We will catch you next time.