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Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, navigating after-hours emails from the boss, casual sexism, and finding a new career.
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Because my workplace is all working from home, my boss seems to work unusual hours. It’s not uncommon for me to wake up to a dozen emails from my boss which have all been sent overnight. I am finding it a really stressful way to start the day and I am also feeling like I should be checking my emails in the evenings, which I really don’t want to do. I don’t feel I can speak to my boss about it, so what I can do?
This is a tricky one since working from home does mean everyone’s usual routines are completely tossed about. If your boss has kids home schooling and is simply trying to manage their home life during a pandemic, as well as managing their job, they may only be able to catch up on work emails outside “normal” hours. It’s hard to know their situation without having an open discussion with them.
I do think there is a responsibility on your boss as well to explain, and make it completely OK, that their emails are not read or actioned until the recipient gets to them whenever their working from home circumstances allow. I have noticed some people are putting a note like that on the bottom of their email signatures just reassuring people they work at strange times and have no expectation that you do. Even better are the people who use the schedule function so emails are sent during regular hours.
Basically, I think a conversation does need to be had. Find a way to inquire with your boss about their expectations on all the emails you are waking up to each morning, and see how the discussion progresses.
I am the only woman working in a team of men and virtually every email that is sent to us as a team begins, “Dear Gents and [insert my female name]“. It’s so old-fashioned and is just a constant reminder that I am the only woman in the team. Bringing it up seems really trivial and I doubt anyone else has even noticed. What do you recommend?
“Gents” is such a dated word. What you have identified is casual sexism and I’m sure you are right, none of the men receiving or sending the email would have even noticed. I know I’ve experienced this sort of thing earlier in my career and was never brave enough to say something – I always worried that the issue, in isolation, would be seen as hardly worth talking about. I may even be tarred as one of those “crazy feminists”.
Well, that was early in my career. If it happened now (and I am so sorry to hear that it clearly is still happening now), I would speak up and happily risk the compliment of being a feminist.
I might try and find a humorous way to address it or I would go straight to the person who always uses that language and just ask if they could use something else like “Hi all”. It’s not that hard to be inclusive, but so many people who have never experienced feeling excluded sadly don’t make the effort.
The shift toward working from home looks like it will be a permanent one in my industry. I work in tech, where software engineers make up the majority of the staff and they tend to love working from home. Most people in the engineering adjacent roles, however, hate it for various reasons. I am now in my second job since the pandemic and it’s become clear that it isn’t the job that I hate, but my career. Almost 15 years in, how do I even begin to find a new career for this new world?
That is a tough one and yet it is a question that the pandemic has led so many people to ask. There have been a number of articles recently about “The Great Resignation” sparked by the pandemic. Work that we may have been prepared to put up with before no longer seems tolerable. I mention all this to reassure you that you are not alone.
That doesn’t make your decision easy though. Fortunately you are discovering you don’t like your current career now and not at the end of your working life. There are so many opportunities to work in ways we may never have thought possible. I recommend you find some space to yourself and imagine what the perfect career looks like to you. Don’t only think about what you are doing but how you are doing it; think about where you want to do it; the kinds of people you want to be working with. Form a really clear picture in your mind. I have every confidence you will be able start to make conscious and unconscious decisions that will set you on that path.
Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to [email protected]. Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.
Dr Kirstin Ferguson is an award-winning leader, executive coach and public speaker. Her upcoming book ‘Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership’ will be published by Penguin Random House. You can connect with Kirstin at kirstinferguson.com.
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