“I deeply resent how we’ve infantilized the workplace”: A manager’s manifesto goes viral

“Heading in early!”
“Heading in early!”
Image: Reuters/Toby Melville
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Between the rise of remote work, the growing popularity of unlimited-vacation policies, and the 24-hour nature of the always-on work culture, it’s increasingly expected that white-collar workers, even those just entering the workforce, will have mastered the ability to set their own schedule and prioritize their obligations, without getting into the weeds with any authority figures about exactly how they’re organizing their life.

Or not.

US advertising executive Ian Sohn still sees too much permission-seeking in the workplace. And he wants it to stop.

“I never need to know you’ll be back online after dinner,” he promises in a widely embraced LinkedIn post on the topic. “I never need to know why you chose to watch season 1 of “Arrested Development” (for the 4th time) on your flight to LA instead of answering emails.”

Sohn is president of the Chicago office of Wunderman, a digital ad agency. He says he doesn’t want anyone to feel guilty for having a rich, sometimes complicated life outside of work—nor does he want you to keep making excuses for it to your manager.

“I never need to know you’ll be in late because of a dentist appointment,” he pledges. “Or that you’re leaving early for your kid’s soccer game.”

At the heart of his manifesto is his concern about how and why people feel the need to clear so many things with their managers:

I deeply resent how we’ve infantilized the workplace. How we feel we have to apologize for having lives. That we don’t trust adults to make the right decisions. How constant connectivity/availability (or even the perception of it) has become a valued skill.

To be fair, some companies do treat their employees like wise, capable adults and have made this aspect of their company culture a point of pride. Patagonia expects people to go surfing when the surf’s up, and to keep joining climate-change protests, sans permission. Many organizations have instituted flexible work hours and remote work policies. Arguably, there’s a growing recognition that looking after personal tasks at work is normal; in fact, it may even make you make a better employee.

However, these forward-looking firms remain exceptions. Sohn’s LinkedIn post attracted 20,000 likes within a few days, suggesting that employees still feel the need to do things like parent in “secret.” It also speaks to a related issue: The cult of productivity and the pressure people feel to prove they’re always hustling, always available. That many large companies now operate like wealthy socialist states, providing employees with free breakfast, dry-cleaning, on-site healthcare, and climbing walls, further warps the employee-employer relationship, creating the impression that one should live for work, and removing many of the traditional excuses for leaving. We’re left with an unfair playing field for people who logistically cannot be available around the clock and those who fear burnout if they have to be.

Sohn apparently understands the conflict from experience. He mentions that he is single and a dad, and he alludes to a boss who once didn’t respect his decision to put family first and not fly for work on a Sunday night.

Some people who saw his viral post commented that he was “brave,” which he found puzzling. Sohn told USA Today: “I have to think that there are places out there and people out there who can’t speak their mind and can’t speak truth.” He acknowledged that he is lucky, too, because he has a boss who shares the same “basic human values.”

Promisingly, he also reported receiving messages from graduating college students who—in keeping with the alleged ethos of their generation—told Sohn they want to work for someone like him. Let’s hope they won’t accept less.

For the full text of Sohn’s LinkedIn post, click here.