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The Happier Office
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It’s not always easy being Steve Harvey. An enduring meme by virtue of his voice, taste in suits, and signature mustache, the popular US television host made headlines in 2015 when he accidentally crowned the wrong winner in the Miss Universe pageant. Human history contains few moments more awkward than Miss Colombia relinquishing her crown to Miss Philippines after an eventful four-minute reign.
When not flubbing basic pageant duties, Harvey can be found flitting between his many other hosting gigs, including The Steve Harvey Morning Show, Steve Harvey, Family Feud, and Little Big Shots. On TV, Harvey comes across as a bemused observer of people, the kind of guy who can banter with grandmothers and 6-year-olds alike. But off-screen he has struggled to fend off criticism—of the pageant blunder, of his politics, and of some unsavory comments he made about Asian men. In February, Harvey reportedly chatted up a Scandal-style fixer about the possibility of repairing his image.
It’s unfortunate, then, that an email surfaced this week showing Harvey going full diva on his colleagues. In a story about Steve Harvey‘s upcoming move from Chicago to LA, media reporter Robert Feder shared a memo allegedly sent by Harvey to his staff at the beginning of the show’s most recent season. And boy it’s a doozy:
Good morning, everyone. Welcome back.
I’d like you all to review and adhere to the following notes and rules for Season 5 of my talk show.
There will be no meetings in my dressing room. No stopping by or popping in. NO ONE.
Do not come to my dressing room unless invited.
Do not open my dressing room door. IF YOU OPEN MY DOOR, EXPECT TO BE REMOVED.
My security team will stop everyone from standing at my door who have the intent to see or speak to me.
I want all the ambushing to stop now. That includes TV staff.
You must schedule an appointment.
I have been taken advantage of by my lenient policy in the past. This ends now. NO MORE.
Do not approach me while I’m in the makeup chair unless I ask to speak with you directly. Either knock or use the doorbell.
I am seeking more free time for me throughout the day.
Do not wait in any hallway to speak to me. I hate being ambushed. Please make an appointment.
I promise you I will not entertain you in the hallway, and do not attempt to walk with me.
If you’re reading this, yes, I mean you.
Everyone, do not take offense to the new way of doing business. It is for the good of my personal life and enjoyment.
Thank you all,
There are a lot of fun potential reasons for this missive: Steve Harvey likes hanging out naked in his dressing room. Steve Harvey is a silent investor in an up-and-coming calendar app. Steve Harvey is the proprietor and chief hype-man for an exclusive nightclub called Steve Harvey’s Dressing Room. But what seems most likely is that Steve Harvey is a generally unapproachable person, who has maybe been taking management lessons from the wizard of Oz.
That’s a fair assessment. But (hear me out!) Harvey is also not entirely out of line. Sure, it’s a bit dogmatic to prohibit casual walk-and-talks—and a bit hilarious to imagine Steve Harvey staffers lurking in various hallways trying to ambush him—but carving out “you time” at work is important, and doing it well requires discipline.
In a 2009 blog post, Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham identified two types of schedules that most people subscribe to at work. The “manager’s schedule”—common among bosses, but also in most offices—is dictated by appointment. Days are generally broken into one-hour intervals, and tackling a half-dozen different activities in one day is par for the course. By contrast, the “maker schedule”—common among programmers, writers, and other people who… make stuff—plays out in much longer chunks. An entire day dedicated to one task is ideal.
Graham notes that, for makers, meetings (let alone impromptu meetings) are a recipe for disaster. “A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in,” he writes. “[A meeting] doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.”
Georgetown University professor Cal Newport echoes that sentiment in his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. When Newport asked Adam Grant—a prolific author and Wharton’s youngest tenured professor—how he stays so productive, Grant explained that he divides his time into “batches.”
Within a semester dedicated to research, he alternates between periods where his door is open to students and colleagues, and periods where he isolates himself to focus completely and without distraction on a single research task … During these periods, which can last up to three or four days, he’ll often put an out of office auto-responder on his email so correspondents will know not to expect a response. “It sometimes confuses my colleagues,” he told me. “They say, ‘You’re not out of office, I see you in your office right now!’ ” But to Grant, it’s important to enforce strict isolation until he completes the task at hand.
To be fair, I have no idea what Steve Harvey might be writing, programming, or making in the isolation of his dressing room (though mustache upkeep does seem time-consuming). But later in his book, Newport posits that people who don’t batch their time, or at least allow themselves periods for deep work, will ultimately suffer for it. “Unless your talent and skills absolutely dwarf those of your competition,” he writes, “the deep workers… will outproduce you.”
Perhaps therein lies a clue to Steve Harvey’s seclusion. It’s hard to argue superior talent when you recently pronounced “Philippines” as “Colombia” on live television. Maybe Harvey is setting aside private time to run lines, do vocal exercises, or think of names for shows that aren’t just versions of his own name. Maybe he’s trying to stay ahead of his competition. After all, Ryan Seacrest has never met a hosting gig he didn’t covet.
Yes, Harvey could use some pointers on delivery—”Do not approach me” is not a good way to seem approachable—but his quest for “the good of my personal life and enjoyment” is hardly unique. It could be that dressing-room solitude is to Steve Harvey what sleep is to Arianna Huffington, bread is to Oprah, or the blood of young people is to Peter Thiel.
Wellness, mindfulness, and productivity hacks are all the rage these days, and while there’s no excuse for being rude to your colleagues, there is one for keeping order in your schedule. It’s okay not to have an open-door policy—just be sure your dressing room has a doorbell.