Would you have kept Peggy working late?

The most recent episode of AMC’s ‘Mad Men’ probed even deeper into the exceedingly dark side Office-window-sam of Don Draper (nee Dick Whitman).

In last Sunday’s episode, ad man extraordinaire Draper worked late into the night to develop new strategies for a Samsonite Luggage campaign. Not content to suffer alone, Don forces his creative aide de camp, Peggy, to work right alongside him. The endless evening ends up costing Peggy a surprise party thrown by her soon-to-be-erstwhile boyfriend (but draws her closer to Don in some very interesting ways).

I’ve never been a fan of making people stay late into the night. It’s abusive. It speaks poorly of the organization. And, it will eventually impact image and reputation.

That said, I’ve heard of more than one PR firm, especially those in the technology space, who suggest their employees leave the office at 6pm, gobble down a quick dinner and then return to complete their assignments. That’s brutal. I’ve heard of other firms that use the ‘West Coast’ excuse to keep East Coast employees working well past 8:30pm. That’s also bogus. And, then there are the corporate versions of Don Draper’s “keep ‘em late and make ‘em sweat” management style. In Jacked Up: The inside Story of How Jack Welch Talked GE into Becoming the World’s Greatest Company, author Bill Lane says the entire corporate office staff was afraid to leave for the day before their chief had. This was problematic since Mr. Welch seldom departed before 7pm. He knew others feared him, wouldn’t dare leave before he did and, either didn’t care about inconveniencing them or enjoyed the rush that went along with controlling other people’s lives.

We once had a mini version of Jack Welch working at our firm. This guy’s office was conveniently located right by the elevators. So, he’d naturally spy anyone who was skulking out while he was still slaving away. After hearing about the issue, we sat down with the executive (and his reports). We found that he tended to while away his time during normal working hours and, for whatever reason, didn’t really roll up his sleeves until late afternoon. As a result, he’d set meetings that began at 5 or 5:30, mete out assignments and then expect his direct reports to stay and finish their work before leaving. Rather than suffer a palace revolt (I’ve always believed that people quit people. They don’t quit businesses.), we had our strategy consultant work with the executive to help him better organize his day. We ended up keeping our people, but losing the executive to a corporate gig (which was a win-win in my book).

Because of the nature of our business, we still have people who, because of a client crisis or over servicing on our part, stay later than they should. When they do, we try to either intercede or, at the very least provide transportation home and compensatory time off. But, we’re far from perfect.

There are many different ways to manage an organization. Draper’s approach may work in the short-term, but I’ve rarely seen it work over the long haul (unless an employee completely defines himself by his work and thrives on a steady diet of 24×7). I can’t speak for Welch’s management style since I never experienced it first-hand. But, I know we don’t want executives who, intentionally or unintentionally, make their employees stay late. Life’s way too short (which I hope Don Draper figures out sooner rather than later).

10 thoughts on “Would you have kept Peggy working late?

  1. That’s easy, Julie. They survive because they produce. They’re either rainmakers or know how to keep big, important clients unhappy. In other words, senior management is willing to look the other way with ‘stars behaving badly.

  2. The bigger-picture question is: Why are people — who exhibit the reprehensible behaviors described in your blog and in all the subsequent comments — why are they allowed to manage anyone or anything when their priorities are clearly unbalanced…

  3. This is classic stuff, Ghost (although I do feel for our Pennsylvania-based readers). Management abuse clearly belongs right alongside death and taxes as a given.

  4. Thanks (as always) Art. Great points. Agree 100 percent. I can remember working for one boss who interrupted out late Friday afternoon meeting to take a call from one of our account managers in the field. He’d been waiting to hear from him about a big new business pitch and was obviously upset by the lateness of the update. I sat and listened as my boss purposely prolonged the call, knowing that the account manager was trying to catch a plane home from the pitch. After a good 15 minutes or so, my boss said: ‘Don, did the plane leave? Good. I hope you’ve learned a lesson. Never, ever, keep me waiting. Enjoy getting home after midnight.’ Nice, no?

  5. Thanks bookandblogeek. When the times get tough, so does ‘The Man.’ We do our best to get people home at a reasonable hour but, when our clients are squeezing us, it gets increasingly difficult. It’s the ultimate trickle down theory. When a Fortune 500 CFO decides to cut costs across the board, all the support services, such as yours and mine, literally pay the price.

  6. I had a boss who didn’t like it when I sat at my desk with a bagel and a newspaper — even though I had arrived 45 minutes early for work. He was from Pennsylvania, though, so it must have been hard for him to see how reading the paper would ostensibly help someone working in public relations.
    This same boss offered me a car home one night, only to renege, literally, past the eleventh hour (it was around 1 am). Anybody want to know what the Port Authority Bus Terminal was like at 1:45 am, circa 1989? Here’s a hint: I was ready to fake my own death.
    The day I officially realized there was a disease involved was when my California-based client called me on his car phone at 7:10 pm his time — 10:10 in New York — and found me at my desk. “What are you guys doing, running a slave-labor camp or something?” Respectfully, I didn’t answer.

  7. I once worked for a boss who complained that he never saw my staff working over lunch, not to mention staying late. He equated how hard we were working by how inconvenienced he saw that we were. Didn’t really know how to respond to him, since for me lunches are sacrosanct; it’s my little break time in the middle of the day. Suffice it to say that I never shared this with my staff, because I wouldn’t make them do anything I was unwilling to do myself. I rarely worked late, and if I did have to do things after hours I would take it home and work there. When the 5 o’clock whistle blows it’s time to call it a day, unless doing so would mean someone dies. That’s my philosophy.

  8. The legal business doesn’t work like this, at least on the corporate end of it. I have spent many a night, well into the next morning here at my office, while the bosses were negotiating deals in NY. That said, in the beginning, they did what you did, paid OT or compensatory time off, made sure you were ok to drive home (which, unlike the city, is not far); however, times and bottom lines are a changing. Now it is always OT and once you hit that 9:00 a.m. bell the next day and you have stayed, you are into a new day and back to regular hours. You can take off, but you use a sick or vacation day. Consequently, these days are limited by me as to who wants the work done. Your post was a good one.

  9. Thanks Lunch. You nailed said person. And, yes, I remember your IM’s on that horrible day very well. I also remember convening an all-hands meeting the following Monday and telling the staff we had no idea what 9/11 meant for the world or, for that matter, our business. With the latter, I also remember the total lack of phone calls and e-mails for a good two weeks as clients tried to figure out what was, and wasn’t, appropriate to say or do.

  10. Back in the dotcom days, said person (if I know who you are talking about) got me a car home once for staying late (it was about 9). At this point in time, I was living with my parents in Yardley, Pa. That was likely a costly one.
    I was thinking about Peppercom a lot the past few days considering tomorrow’s the anniversary of 9/11. I’ll never forget the somber faces of my colleagues, how relieved we were when everyone was safe and accounted for, how AOL IM was the best way to share info/talk with loved ones (besides the TV or radio), connecting with clients downtown (Capital IQ and that Merrill Lynch tech business we had), Teddy Ballgame coming over to my parent’s house for dinner as we were attending a client’s funeral in the Philly area, the company town halls where we would talk about planning scenarios, Lee and Fran preparing the office for the next potential disaster (which was the Blackout – when I crashed for a night on your couch and ate those damn cheese wheels for dinner), and how we all came together to share stories and offer support instead of taking order from clients and higher ups like you (haha).
    Time flies and so much changed that morning for the city and its people…again, I will never forget.