We all pay emotional taxes. They’re our fees for the privilege of living. Heartbreak, disappointment and stress are par for the course.
But not all emotional taxes are created equal. Worrying about what the neighbors think of your car is a waste of energy. Worry about your child’s progress in school is not.
The former inspires nothing but negativity, and is avoidable. The latter inspires positive involvement in the life of a loved one, and demands your attention.
The workplace is an ideal setting for both kinds of taxes. On the one hand, anxiety about completing a project on schedule can act as a spur to performance. On the other, anxiety about violating some bureaucratic no-no can hinder performance significantly.
A leader is responsible for seeing that the energies of their team are directed toward the satisfying fulfillment of a unified vision. Getting rid of avoidable emotional taxes will make this task much easier.
Let’s take a look at four areas ripe for emotional tax cuts:
1. Grooming standards and dress codes.
The idea that you can’t judge a book by its cover is mildly irritating. Of course you can.
A luridly-titled novel depicting a handsome, muscular pirate embracing a curvaceous damsel in distress isn’t shy about what it’s selling.
Human beings, thankfully, are a little more complex. What we wear and how we comb our hair are paradoxical in that they’re both powerful forms of self-expression and surface-level concerns that may not have much to do with what we’re really like at all.
In recognition of this, my company’s dress code basically boils down to “Use your brain.”
Nudity, out. Beards, crew-cuts, shorts, skirts, jeans, khakis, t-shirts, ties, sneakers, heels, etc. etc.—whatever your style, within reason—in.
It’s not my job to police how my employees deploy a brush or a razor. It is my job to leave them free to focus completely on theirs.
2. Office hours.
A rigid 9-to-5 schedule—especially in tech—isn’t always necessary. Strength and flexibility go hand in hand.
One of my most brilliant, dependable employees has been with us for three years now. It’s the longest he’s ever stayed at a job.
When he started, a family issue arose that caused him to come in late one or two days a month. Can you imagine the emotional tax we’d have inflicted if we’d given him any reason to be paranoid that he’d be fired for prioritizing his family?
The notion that a person of his talents could only be valuable within a strict timeframe was crazy to us. We treated him accordingly, and he returned the favor.
3. Paid time off.
I’m a big fan of unlimited paid time off for several reasons. For one thing, I try to hire the kind of people that you can turn loose knowing they’ll give you their best and not require babysitting.
For another, it sends a potent signal. I ask each of my employees to perform at the highest level. To take responsibility, to be an owner. Unlimited paid time off is hard evidence of my belief that they’re capable of it.
Finally, a liberal paid time off policy leaves room for all those unexpected messes and tragedies that strike when we least expect it.
Last year, one of my employees lost a close friend. To truly mourn and be available to his loved ones, he had to leave for a week.
Wasting any of that time on the emotional tax of worrying what we thought of him would have impaired his abilities for far longer. Requiring the best of him required the best of us.
4. Religion and politics.
I’ve seen up close and personal the damage caused when company leaders–intentionally or not–pressure employees to conform to the religious standards of a dominant culture.
You get uniformity and cliquishness and fear. You get blandness and boredom. You get dishonesty.
In these emotional, contentious times, politics can have a similar influence. It cuts both ways, liberal and conservative.
Whatever side a person’s on–or even if they’re on no side at all–feeling pressured to conform to majority opinion on these issues is exhausting and dispiriting. Leaders should do everything they can to foster cultures in which such pressures simply don’t exist.
Easier said than done, but we owe it to our teams—and ourselves—to try.
This article originally appeared on Inc.
This article was originally written on August 4, 2017 and updated on January 28, 2021.