National Boss/Employee Exchange Day is right around the corner, scheduled for the Monday after Labor Day. If you do a quick Google-search, you’ll find this national “holiday” was created to give employees and their managers a chance to swap places for a day. By switching roles and responsibilities, employees and managers can better understand and appreciate the challenges that each other encounters on a daily basis.
National Boss/Employee Exchange Day seeks to answer much more than the question: “can he or she do my job?” With a little pre-planning and communication, the swap can be more than a day spent watching your boss answer the phone and make the coffee. Instead each participant – the boss and the employee – can use this day to get a better understanding of the other person’s role, share information, and exchange ideas.
Here are 5 suggestions for making the National Boss/Employee Day productive and mutually beneficial.
DO: Discuss your goals prior to exchange day
For National Boss/Employee Exchange day to be successful, it’s important for the manager and employee to define success and communicate what it looks like prior to the official holiday. This day is not for everyone. It comes down to the individual. Job-swapping for a day is most effective when mutual trust and support are already in place. When the manager-employee relationship is built on trust, it’s possible to discuss--with complete honesty--what you’d like to get out of the exchange day, and vice versa.
Before the official holiday rolls around, lay the groundwork by swapping schedules and briefing one another with enough details to allow the day to go smoothly. Understand your goals for the day-- maybe you want to understand what it’s like to be in so many meetings each day, or learn what it takes to collaborate with other departments to develop a product. Discuss your goals and ambitions ahead of time so you can prepare for success.
DO: Communicate before, during, and after
Worried about all the things that could go wrong on National Boss/Employee Exchange Day? If you and your boss or employee fail to communicate before, after, or during the event, you’re bound to experience a few hiccups and possibly create riffs that will be hard to patch up once the day is done. Before you begin your day in the other person’s shoes, understand what the expectations are for both parties. Communicate up front about any decisions that need to be made during the exchange day. If you’re a manager allocating responsibility to an employee for a day, you want them to experience life in your shoes, but need to balance this with decision-making that requires context. For example, if you have a board meeting, or other meeting where sensitive information may be shared, on exchange day, it might be wise to reschedule the meeting or advise your employee to skip it.
It’s up to the manager and employee to set one another up for success. Try looking at the exchange day as one, big project. It’d be nearly impossible for your manager or employee to jump into everything you do and be instantly communicative and successful. Instead, scale it back for them by assigning portions of your day that will make them successful. Communicate appropriate boundaries and expectations to ensure you both have a positive experience.
DO: Stay focused on learning
Instead of looking at this day as a chore that must be done, bosses can use the day to learn more about employees, their day-to-day experiences, and the skills required to perform their jobs. For example, you might realize the requirements you’ve set for a particular position, from skillset to experience, are lacking, or too stringent. Or you might spot gaps in workflow, or discover places where you should hire smarter or plan for succession. When you begin to understand what your employees do day in and day out, it’s easier to help them connect, develop, and ultimately succeed. Keep your eyes open for gaps in support. Then, when you put your manager hat back on, think about how you can invest in employees to enhance their productivity and effectiveness.
Likewise, employees can learn a plethora of new information and skills from a day in their manager’s shoes. If nothing else, the exchange should help to answer the burning question, ‘what does my boss do all day?”
DO: Let go of the cloud of fear
Swapping places with your manager or employee for a day can feel daunting. You might be afraid you have a skills gap, or you may be scared to ask questions – for fear it will reveal a weakness or lack of knowledge. Employees need to understand that one exchange day is not going to end their careers and that no matter what happens, the boss’s goal is for each of them to use the experience as an opportunity to learn and generate a flow of ideas. If a cloud of fear hangs over your employee’s head, the experience won’t be positive and the day may be wasted.
DO: Have fun and enjoy the process
No matter how you spin it, it’s fun to try out someone else’s job for a day. Let go of preconceived notions of how your day will go, and instead just let it happen. Remember, the goal is to share relevant, helpful information and not control or “spy” on your manager or employee.
If you don’t participate in the official National Boss/Employee Exchange Day there are other ways to gain similar information. Find other ways within your team to open up discussions about workflow, skills development, and the challenges of day-to-day operations to find solutions that benefit the team and the organization as a whole. Agile workplaces that collaborate and share information will develop more empathetic company cultures, as employees feel like they’ve--figuratively or literally--walked a mile in each other’s shoes.
Happy National Boss/Employee Exchange Day!