The Boundary-Full Organization.

April 10, 2022

The Boundary-Full Organization.

May 29, 2023

In General Electric's 1990 annual report, CEO Jack Welch described a new organizational model, "Our dream…is a boundaryless company…where we knock down the walls that separate us from each other on the inside and from our key constituencies on the outside." Welch proposed a much less rigid, more fluid organizational chart that could nimbly make and execute decisions.

Because GE vaulted into being the most valuable company in the world during that same decade and Welch was considered a leadership guru, the business world did everything possible to "tear down these walls"—internally and externally—as the 90's was also when globalization found its stride.

Furthermore, it was during the 90's when the rest of us plebes were first introduced to the internet, email, cell phones, and texting. The boundary between work and life had been punctured, and the boundaryless company to the employee, metaphorically speaking, became as permeable as today's Ukraine border.

It's time to acknowledge that the boundaryless company has taken its toll on our personal lives and mental health. When we've been held Zoom-hostage in our homes, the pandemic has accentuated that feeling of work being a 24/7/365 endeavor with no boundaries. It also created the kindling for The Great Resignation.

The 2021 Global Workplace Burnout Study offers some observations to back this up and suggestions for organizations to re-erect boundaries for their employees (thanks to MEA alum Gabriela Domicelj for introducing me to the study). Here are some of the key results:

1. The three dimensions of burnout can be defined as (a) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; (b) increased mental distance, alienation, and feelings of negativity or cynicism toward the job; and/or (c) reduced professional efficacy.

2. The team factors that can lead to burnout include: (a) a lack of manager support; (b) unreasonable time pressure; (c) unmanageable workload for an extended time; (d) unclear and inconsistent communication from managers; and/or (e) unfair or inequitable treatment.

3. The organizational factors include: (a) poor senior leader role modeling when it comes to boundaries; (b) lack of support structures and guidelines; (c) structural under-resourcing; (d) adherence to outdated modes of working; and/or (e) values mismatches between employee and company.

4. In the 2020 survey, more women felt burned out than men (partly due to more caregiving responsibilities). Today, both genders show significant burnout, with more than 30% of employees showing identifiable signs of burnout. The most significant jump in workplace burnout trends is those solidly in midlife (45-54 years old). And the highest levels of burnout occur in middle-managers (those who manage managers).

5. Most importantly, people seek structural or cultural shifts (not just wellness band-aids) to address the issues that cause chronic workplace stress. Short-term fixes and individual-focused solutions have little or no preventive or curative effect on burnout.

This topic is a very personal issue for me. I admit that I get triggered a little when I hear people in any of my past and present companies—Joie de Vivre, Airbnb, and MEA—complaining about workloads as I'm not much of a complainer (but I'm also the boss). And I also have historically had almost no boundary between my personal and business life.

But I did have an epiphany 20 years ago when I overheard one of my hotel middle managers complain. He said it was frustrating to have European guests travel to San Francisco to stay in their hotel and know that, with two paltry weeks of vacation each year, he would never be able to do an extended visit in the EU to visit some of the guests with whom he'd become friends. Soon after that, we introduced a month-long sabbatical for all salaried employees every three years of their employment, and it quickly became one of the most-beloved perks in Joie de Vivre.

Once again, I've been faced with the handwriting on the wall from a different staff. Like so many other companies—especially those in the travel industry and start-up mode—MEA has a workforce that often feels overwhelmed, especially given how punishing the pandemic has been in our industry. Here are some steps we've taken to address this topic head-on organizationally rather than simply offering a new, small wellness perk (which I alluded to in a blog last week):

1. Our Huddle team (top 15 execs in MEA) devoted a one-hour meeting specifically to the topic of burnout, including reading materials, personal testimonials, and suggested solutions. One solution that came out of this meeting was to designate the last week of each month as a no-standing-meeting week unless a meeting was absolutely necessary.

2. Each of these leaders was asked to develop a list of personal boundaries to present to the rest of the team. But, before they delivered it in another Huddle meeting, they needed to share their preferred boundaries with their boss to ensure there was internal alignment on whether “doing an abstaining from email each weekend” or “congregating accrued vacation time into a month-long vacation” would work for the company. This conversation opened the door to a refreshing collection of topics, including the "creeping scope" of a leader's responsibilities, partly due to one of their direct reports being under-trained or maybe there’s stress around the fact another leader needs to provide more care to their parents in the next six months.

3. Once there was alignment in that 1:1 meeting, each leader presented their boundaries in an extended meeting. Afterward, we assembled all of these boundaries into a single document that helps our administrative team know when and when not to schedule meetings.

4. Lastly, we introduced a 5% annual salary bonus that would be paid to all these leaders at year-end if they self-determine that they met their boundary goals for the year. For this to work, the direct report and their boss must have regular conversations about whether the boundaries work for the leader, the supervisor, and the company. In other words, we pay you extra if you adhere to your boundaries.

In a boundaryless workplace, we are not going to solve corporate burnout by just offering 15-minute neck and shoulder massages in the office. And, when both performance reviews and bonuses encourage workaholism, talking about wellness in the workplace is just window dressing. It's time we look at the underlying foundation of all organizations and consider novel, new approaches that respect and understand that a turned-on employee produces better work than a burned-out employee. This isn't just good business, it's also humane.

Go deeper with a workshop, in person or online.

No items found.

A Mastery Week with the World’s Leading Evolutionary Astrologer, Steven Forrest

May 20, 2024
 to 
May 25, 2024
Santa Fe, USA

Learn to Love Your Inner Critic with IFS and Dick Schwartz

May 27, 2024
 to 
June 1, 2024
Santa Fe, USA

Cultivating Purpose with Jeff Hamaoui

May 27, 2024
 to 
Jun 1, 2024
Baja, Mexico
May 27, 2024
 to 
Jun 1, 2024
Baja, Mexico

Cultivating Purpose with Jeff Hamaoui

May 27, 2024
 to 
June 1, 2024
Baja, Mexico
May 27, 2024
 to 
Jun 1, 2024
Baja, Mexico