A Chicago boss spelled it out clearly for employees.
He doesn’t need to know if they’re late to work for a dentist appointment, leave early for their child’s soccer game, working from home for the silence or any other work-life-balance moves.
Ian Sohn, a single dad of two and the president of Wunderman Chicago, penned a now-viral essay on LinkedIn imploring his employees to stop apologizing for “having lives.”
“I deeply resent how we’ve infantilized the workplace. How we feel we have to apologize for having lives,” Sohn wrote in the post that’s received more than 15,000 positive reactions. “That we don’t trust adults to make the right decisions.”
‘Never need to know’
Sohn created an empowering list telling employees at the marketing communications company that he simply doesn’t need to know their life-balance decisions.
He told USA TODAY that the gist of the list is that he trusts employees, of which the company has 17,000 worldwide, to manage their personal and professional lives. “Like any modern business … there’s an additional need to respect other people’s lives and environment you work in, and everyone is accountable for getting their job done.”
Sohn’s never-need-to-know list:
- I never need to know you’ll be back online after dinner.
- I never need to know that you’re working from home today because you simply need the silence.
- I never need to know why you chose to watch season 1 of “Arrested Development” (for the 4th time) on your flight to LA instead of answering emails.
- I never need to know you’ll be in late because of a dentist appointment. Or that you’re leaving early for your kid’s soccer game.
- I never need to know why you can’t travel on a Sunday.
- I never need to know why you don’t want to have dinner with me when I’m in your town on a Tuesday night.
Sohn, a divorced father of sons ages 12 and 8, said he was overwhelmed by messages from single moms and single dads, saying they value his understanding. He received emails from managers saying they strive to be a similar kind of boss. He received notes from recent college graduates saying they hope to work for such an executive.
“They each read it and found it lends itself to their own situation,” he said. “I find that so interesting.”
Sohn said he keeps a running list of essays to write and this one just happened to be one. It was prompted by nothing in particular other than he had the time last week.
He was perplexed that one of the primary reactions coming from readers was to call him “brave.” He thinks that it’s most likely a commentary on other companies’ workplace culture.
“I have to think that there are places out there and people out there who can’t speak their mind and can’t speak truth,” he said. “I suspect some of the use of the word ‘brave’ is about having a boss. I have a boss and my boss has a boss. He’s a great guy. And I feel I would never have the confidence to put something like this out there if I, and many other leaders at the organization, weren’t aligned on basic human values.”
‘I never want you to feel horrible’
Sohn said he’s worked for companies where employers failed to understand that workers had outside lives. He even mentions in his post when a senior colleague “reacted with incredulity” when the single father could not drop everything and catch a flight on 12 hours notice.
Sohn said he didn’t feel guilty, but the situation felt horrible.
“I never want you to feel horrible for being a human being,” he wrote.
The company president said it’s not lost on him that he’s fortunate. The viral post was helped along by years of bosses like him, and he’s hoping more will come up behind him.
“I know it’s actually very easy for me to say this,” he said of his post. “And I’m grateful I can have this point of view. I didn’t come up with it sitting on my bed drinking coffee. This is a behavior and belief shaped by colleagues, bosses and mentors who have demonstrated this to me over the years.”
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