Are you a boiled frog? Why Moritz Erhardt needs to be a red flag for all leaders.

Posted September 4, 2013 in Latest News & Insights

The story goes that if you place a frog in a pot of boiling water it will immediately leap out to safety.  If, however, you put the frog in a pot of room temperature water and slowly increase the heat to boiling, the frog with stay put and you’ll be enjoying frogs’ legs for dinner.  The analogy of the boiled frog illustrates some of the craziness we’re inflicting on ourselves in workplaces today.  We’re creating cultures where individuals are losing sight of what’s “normal” and what’s completely unhealthy.  With the recent death of intern Moritz Erhardt, who was most certainly boiled to death by Merrill Lynch’s warped company culture, here’s our quick checklist to help you recognize if you’re a boiled frog:

  • You have a goal to leave the office “early” at least 3 times a week to have supper with your kids.  “Early” being 7 p.m.
  • You get up on vacation to respond to work emails in the morning so that you can “enjoy” the rest of your vacation day with your family.
  • When at (insert fun location here), you believe that checking messages without responding doesn’t count as work.
  • You have missed your child’s (fill in the blank) on more than one occasion because you “had” to work late.
  • Your boss has his assistant walk around at 5 p.m. to take pictures of who is still at their desks.
  • You fully believe that if you don’t log XXX hours per week you will lose your chance for promotion (sadly,  you may be right).
  • You are tired of hearing yourself say “I’m tired” or “I’m busy” when your family asks “how was your day?”
  • You leave the office at 5 p.m. but flip your laptop on after everyone’s in bed and work until 1 a.m. on a consistent (4 days a week) basis.
  • You regularly blow off going to the gym, seeing friends, doing leisure activities because you “have” to work late.
  • People in your office who leave before (fill in the blank) are seen as slackers.
  • You “can’t” take a two week vacation.
  • You “can’t” completely unplug when you’re on vacation.
  • You “can’t” not check in with the office at least once a day when you’re on vacation.
  • You regularly work through your lunch hour.

For the record, if you answered “yes” to more than 1 of these questions, and thought to yourself “doesn’t everyone?”…congratulations… you are a boiled frog.  This type of over commitment to work in sacrifice of everything else is NOT NORMAL or healthy.  But over the last two decades we have normalized it…and this is something we really do need to stop.

Here’s what I know for sure: work culture is really challenging to change but it can change.  And, the only way it will change is if ambitious leaders like you and me step up and make it happen.  We are all in great positions, and frankly have a responsibility, to influence some of the changes that need to be made.  To begin, start with yourself.  What changes are you going to make to turn down the heat in your own teams?  What kind of ripple effect will that create within your organizations?  My friend Dr. David Posen asks in his new book title “Is Work Killing You?”… it certainly did kill Moritz Erhardt but it doesn’t have to kill anyone else.  Don’t you agree?


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