In Robert Frost’s second collection of poetry North of Boston, a man questions why he and his neighbor need to rebuild the stone wall dividing his farm from the adjacent farm. The neighbor responds with the well known line “Good fences make good neighbors.” I was thinking about this last week when a group of managers brought up the challenge of managing people who bring their personal lives into the workplace with full force.
They cite Facebook, and LinkedIn and Blackberry’s and IPhones as tools that, while connecting us in new and never before imagined ways, also keep us connected when it might make more sense to not be so bonded. The lines have become blurred between our activities that it has become common to be connected to anyone or everyone no matter where you are or what you are doing.
There is also a sense that the casualness of everyday communication has been translated to mean that bringing your home and personal life into the workplace is acceptable because you are being ‘authentic’ and who you really are is part being genuine.
We laugh, embarrassed, at a Senators ‘tweeting’ during the President’s State of the Nation Address. We sigh when a phone goes off during a speech (presentation, meeting, class, movie, church). We churn when others take calls during meals, performance reviews, or dates. We cringe when we are behind the driver who is holding a device to the ear and changing lanes at the same time.
It makes me think about those fences and wonder why people don’t employ them a little bit more. I know that it’s hard to leave home at home and work and work – but focus is essential to effectiveness. A little maturity and compartmentalization might be a welcome relief. It used to be called decorum.
In fact I like the idea of some mental fences between personal and work. People focused on getting the job done and the service or product out the door are entitled to what really amounts to good behavior, some correctness or respectability, and even some emotional restraint.
I’ll even go so far as to suggest that Managers are the very ones who should model it, ask for it, and teach it to their employees. Ask for handheld technology to be turned off (unless someone’s baby is due or they are waiting for an organ transplant). Request that people refrain from the emotional excess that can come with a family fight. Interrupt gossip and ask that people focus on the job at hand. A little ‘fence building’ might just be in order!