Are You the Manager Who Cried Wolf?

Last Updated Apr 15, 2009 1:23 PM EDT

In case you missed it, there's a lively discussion thread happening on my post about the resurgence of the 9 to 5 mindset.

One particularly interesting question has come up: What constitutes a legitimate business need that would require people to work more than 40 hours a week?

MMFisher wrote,

"So many organizational managers have spent so long and so much effort in developing a false sense of urgency among staff that truly urgent business needs just go into the in-box with everything else. It's the business equivalent of crying wolf.

That is 100% the fault of managers and so-called leaders by not defining the difference between a true crisis and a manufactured one. And the vast, vast majority of crises are purely manufactured."

I think the poster has a great point here. I think we've all been in workplace situations where everything becomes an emergency -- the report needs graphics ASAP (drop everything else!); that artificial deadline is set in stone so we have to work all night; this question must be answered NOW.

If a manager rates every workplace issue as a Code Red emergency, three things happen:

  1. All problems get treated as five-alarm fires, whether they're truly urgent or not. This means when something really is mission-critical, it might not get the attention it deserves.
  2. Stress levels rise as staffers try to adjust to perpetual long hours and non-stop pressure.
  3. Burnout happens, productivity drops, and employee engagement disappears.
As a manager, you're the gatekeeper of the projects, milestones, tasks, and -- yes-- emergencies your staff has to handle. It's your job to parse them and prioritize them.

If you're always crying wolf, you're needlessly stressing your staff and you won't get the response you need when there's a real crunch.

So think twice before you label something an emergency and ask your people to move heaven and earth to address the problem. And save the Code Red designation for a time it'll really count.

(image by dumbledad via Flickr, CC 2.0)

  • CC Holland

    CC Holland is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a number of national magazines. Online, she was a columnist for AnchorDesk.com and writes regularly for Law.com and BNET. On the other side of the journalism desk, she's been a managing editor for ZDNet, CNet, and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, where she earned an APTRA Best News Web Site award.