In any relationship there are boundaries that need to be set. We must define what we want from the relationship, and, whether it is explicitly delineated or not, it’s important that we make clear our intentions and needs while also accepting and understanding the needs of the other person. This mutual agreement is the bedrock of our society and of our ability to form lasting connections and mutually beneficial partnerships with the people around us.
With our friends and family members, we almost unthinkingly express our wants and needs. With our coworkers and other people with whom we need to reach a common goal, we tend to be more prescriptive. We outline what we want the other person to do, what we will do, and how we will act throughout our partnership.
For some reason, though, we tend to forget that this same principle applies to the relationship with our employer. Why? Because we often think that in this relationship we cannot ask for what we want. We assume, due to the perceived power differential, that we cannot state our needs and must only accommodate the wants of our employer.
When we allow our employer to unilaterally dictate the terms of our affiliation, we are less likely to be fulfilled, engaged and satisfied because we have not shared any of our needs. Instead, we need to define the relationship and clarify the unspoken social contract that exists between us.
The social contract with your employer can be described in terms of social exchange theory, which proposes that social behavior is the result of an exchange process or give and take. If we fail to identify what we contribute to the relationship and what we need in return, we will fail to have a mutually beneficial relationship. We cannot expect our employer to meet our needs if we do not convey them in the first place!
So, where do we start? Communication.
In our new world of work, it is even more important to understand how we want and need to communicate AND how to best communicate with our employer. For example, can we text our boss? Can they text us? What conversations are better suited for a phone or Zoom call?
Ask your manager:
- What is your preferred method of communication?
- How do you want me to communicate with you if it is urgent or if there is an emergency?
- Are there conversations that require we use a specific form of communication? If so, what are they?
Once you are clear on how to communicate with your manager, share your preferences.
- I prefer to communicate via…
- If it is urgent or an emergency, please with me communicate via…
- I prefer to have [x type of conversation] over [x platform].
Of course, some conversations are best had in person. While that may be difficult right now, we can ask our employers how we could meet in person. Maybe its outside, with a mask, or maybe in a small group. Work together so you can ensure everyone’s health and safety.
The second step to effectively communicate is to define expectations regarding response time and work hours.
Ask your manager:
- What are your expectations regarding response time to an email? A text? A phone call?
- What response time can I expect from you to an email? A text? A phone call?
- Do you have set work hours each day? Are there specific times of day when you are not available?
- What are your communication and response expectations of me in the evenings and on Saturday and Sunday?
Then share your preferences:
- I will not be available before… or after…
- I prioritize my family, pets, volunteer work, etc. and will have limited availability during [specific hours].
It’s time to take a leap and have a clear, sincere discussion with your employer about what will enable you both to achieve your professional and personal goals.
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Carson serves as a consultant to executives at Fortune 500 companies. The author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style, and the upcoming Own It. Love It. Make It Work: How To Make Any Job Your Dream Job, her views have been included in Bloomberg Businessweek, Fast Company, Forbes, Harvard Business Review blog, and The New York Times.