Ethics and Expectations

Here is a fairly typical scenario that I’ve run into both at the corporation I worked at for 11 years and now at the advertising agency I am currently consulting at: Someone makes a last minute request for data and expects you to drop everything in order to meet their “very important deadline”.

Sometimes such a request comes in and I’m swamped and have to push back and reprioritize. Other times I’m less busy and could easily accomodate the request ahead of schedule. However the question is – should I? Here’s my dilemma: if I accomdate last minute requests (that could have easily been requested day or even weeks earlier), does that set up an expectation in my clients that I will always be able to do so? But if I purposely delay providing the data even when I am able to do so immediately, is that ethical?

In the past I was always the one who dropped everything to accomodate such “emergency” requests, only to end up working until the wee hours of the morning in order to meet all my other deadlines that day. That pattern had to stop and when I was very busy I learned to push back and ask what the priority of the request really is in order to prioritize projects more effectively.

This approach works well when I’m very busy, but there are times when there is a lull in activity and its much easier for me to accomodate “emergency” requests. However this always seems to backfire – once my clients get used to my responsiveness during a lull, they are much less understanding when the lull is over. If I had a nickel for everytime someone said to me “but last week you turned around my request in 30 min, why is it taking so much longer?”

I have tried delaying my delivery of people’s requests to account for the kind of turn around they might expect when I’m busier, but that does feel a tad unethical.

Ultimately there is no right answer – if anything I’ve learned that clients can’t be trained to think about such requests ahead of when they actually need them – they will continue to wait until the last minute and come to you in a big rush begging for a quickly turned out report.

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