There have been a number of responses to the Lean OUT message saying that ‘Corporate America’ needs to change its expectations of what professional success looks like. I couldn’t agree more. But since we can’t write a complaint letter to Mrs. Corporate America, how do we go about getting her to change?
The problem isn’t some abstract entity. The problem lies with the actual humans – millions of working women and men – who make up this “thing” we call Corporate America. The inhumane culture we all claim to detest has been created by the Lean Inners who keep setting (and raising) the bar to an unreasonable level. Technology and other advances have given the go-getters of Corporate America more and more ways to ‘prove’ just how much they care about their job. They can now send emails and join conference calls at any time, from anywhere.
And this behavior has a snowball effect, as the ladder-climbers continuously try to one-up each other to prove just how much they’re “Leaning In”, by answering more emails even later at night, making even more personal sacrifices, working even longer weeks.
Consider the individual I like to call “The One-Upper Leaner Inner”. I’m sure you’ve met him or her before because there’s at least one in every office across America. He’s the guy at the water cooler “complaining” about how late he stayed at the office the night before. “Aw man, I was here til 11pm last night finishing that report!” The typical response is to be impressed, like we’re supposed to think he’s super brilliant or committed just because he stayed so late at the office. Me? I’m not impressed. I actually lose respect for people like this because all I see is someone with poor time management skills and an unhealthy need for external validation. While he’s over there talking about how busy he is, I’m quietly sitting at my desk, working away so I can leave the office promptly at 5pm.
So what would happen to this “thing” we call Corporate America if we all stopped answering emails at midnight? If we all stopped attending meetings over the weekends and holidays? If we all worked really hard for 45 hours a week then went home to our families?
The point of the Lean OUT message is to encourage you to make these changes, not just for your own benefit but as part of a movement to reset the bar for all of us in Corporate America.
It’s especially important for those in leadership positions to actually take that PTO, to not send (or respond to) emails after hours, to periodically leave work at 4pm to go to their child’s soccer game. We need more leaders to Lean OUT as a way of giving permission to the rest of us to actually use that work-life balance the employer brochures like to brag so much about. We need to know that we will still be considered for that promotion even if we only work an average of 45 hours a week; that we don’t have to sacrifice our families and other personal priorities just to prove how hard-working we are.
If we want “Corporate America” to change her ways, it starts with us each changing our own and supporting, even encouraging, those who Lean OUT.