You’ve Got Mail

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A business owner from Washington state called me the other day to talk about various human resources issues (e.g., goal setting, staffing, compensation) necessary to improve his company’s productivity. With approximately 85 employees, the owner implied a sense of frustration, becoming overwhelmed, and approaching burnout. Stubborn beyond good judgment, the owner innately spoke about conducting his business by working harder, longer hours, and doing things the right way.

I’m sure we don’t know anyone like him, right?

Me neither.

As I tried to get the owner to understand his role as a leader, relying on functional systems, delegation, and accountability to achieve business goals, he replied that he simply did not have enough time to complete those lofty activities day-in and day-out. After a couple of repetitions, I took the bait. “Let’s get back to basics. How do you spend your workday?” Courteously, he responded that he goes to meetings, talks to employees, and reads his email.

I took the bait again and said incredulously “That takes up 9 hours a day, every day?” His response was, “Yeah. I have a lot of emails to read!” “How many emails can you get a day? 75-80?” He blinked, tilted his head, and said, “You don’t understand. I read every e-mail sent and received by every employee in my company.” At that point in time, I then blinked and tilted my head, so much so that I now have a standing meeting with my chiropractor.

The owner revealed he has over 30,000 emails to read to get caught up.

Yeah. You read that right. 30,000.

While it is his company, and he can spend his time anyway he wants, that is a crazy work routine that lacks value, implies paranoia, and tells me all I need to know about the company culture. Amazingly, his company is successful, making money, with a qualified management team and a loyal customer base. He simply does not understand his supplementary roles beyond being the “owner”: leader, executive, coach, businessman, etc.

Of course, every employee’s communication should be transparent. And he has the standard policy language in the Employee Handbook:

“The Company reserves the right to access, search, and monitor the voice-mail, e-mail, computer files, or messages of any employee, that are created, stored on, transmitted, or deleted from the computer, voice mail, or other systems at its sole discretion, without advance notice. Accordingly, no employee should expect his/her voice-mail, e-mail, or computer files, communications, or usage to be confidential or private. Employees should not expect privacy when they use any Company resources or are on Company property.”

That’s not the relevant point here. We agree he can do those things. He just should not do them.

Unmistakably, he personifies the bunker mentality, bereft of growth, innately suspicious, and increasingly withdrawn, controlling, and delusional. Suggestions of a reduced work schedule, joining a peer group, working with a business coach, and even seeing a counselor fell on deaf ears.

He didn’t have time to listen to any of my incremental advances or breakthrough ideas.

He had to read his emails.


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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.

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