Recently, a dear friend of mine, co- #HumansFirst Ambassador and fellow 360°’er, Ozlem Brooke Erol, shared a piece with the title “Employees are quitting instead of giving up working from home”[i]. Companies are demanding returning to the offices for the sake of returning it seems. Remote work has become a proven modus operandi – we should use it with thought and care.
This kind of ignorance requires forgiveness, it must be based on lack of knowledge & understanding of humans and appreciation of employees being real humans – not machines. Most certainly a case where we must show “Clemencia” in the words of Seneca, but it must be firm yet lenient.
Before resigning we are obliged to explicate our why, because in our encounters and relationship with others we are bound by the ethical demand (K.E. Løgstrup), the silent demand of laying ourselves open, even if only in codified trust (contractual), we had the best intentions at the outset – we should expect (demand) no less from our relations. Set people free and abolish modern paycheck slavery –presenteeism holds no inherent value.
We have known this for a loooong time – maybe we should finally get our heads out of … and get it in our heads. The assets on this topic are overwhelming like the recent piece in BBC worklife:
If the pandemic has taught us anything about work, it’s that we don’t need to be pulling long hours in an office to be productive. So, why is presenteeism still so important? [ii]
So, we (employees also incl. leaders) carry responsibility for the mutual edifying process that we committed to when signing up. If we don’t take this responsibility, we can never be engaged in the deeper sense of the phenomenon. Signing up can only be seen as placing some sort of commitment that can be no more than codified trust.
The hoarding of hoards
The excuse of remote work not being feasible and/or viable is completely unfounded – the pandemic has finally shown the world.
Hoarding people back in the office is downright stupid, especially when based on an ingrained fear in individual leaders and executives – they should get professional help to overcome that fear. They should edify themselves and each other in the ways of what can be a good life, for the one whose life it is – because there’s only one life, it goes for all of us! The excuse of remote work not being feasible and/or viable is completely unfounded – the pandemic has finally shown the world. We must also remember that there’s a cure for the illness of stupidity, and more importantly, that symptom treatment is not a cure!
Commitment and engagement – serving at the core
At the core of leadership lies “Servus Servorum”, The servant of servants in management jargon this equates enablement (e.g., the scrum master’s noblest task is to remove impediments!). If you manage to do this well, you’ll receive a bonus called commitment and perhaps even engagement – the people working in your regime might even like doing it (enjoyment). Commitment can turn to engagement, in the sense that engagement is a higher & deeper level. As a phenomenon it is not necessarily tied to specifics tasks or people – it is a floating and vibrant sensation in “communities” of people, whereas commitment more often is specific to a context, engagement is a much wider phenomenon that pertains to flow.
In real life (the one we have) you can be committed to a certain thing without being (fully) engaged, that’s because “committed” is in the family of the specific and dedication – you dedicate some of you for a specific time or cause. Engagement on the other hand also has devotion as a close relative and can penetrate the surface, the superficial quick fixing.
It’s much less in need of contractual connotations exactly because it makes no sense to talk about forced engagement – that would equate to play-acting. Most notably we can observe the subtle differences in the way we use the words/phenomena in our regular daily life. We are normally “committed to” and “engaged in” – we put ourselves to a cause or we submerge ourselves in a cause, potentially a huge difference.
Off the clock – what a stupid conception!
Let’s also once and for all kill the infantile notion that people stop thinking about the work-related challenges once they clock-out. This is a most harmful perception for generations engrained by our psychotic obsession with time management spewed for decades by all business schools – essentially a systemic brainwash mainly based on Taylorism, we have only just recently begun to realise the price we pay. In the recent few decades, we have attempted to duct-tape this or remedy if you prefer, by (re)inventing coaching, counselling, mentoring, guidance, and more. In the professional sphere predominantly from a functional perspective and a rationale of – guess what – performance and efficiency.
This pandemic has provided many with a breathing space. They don’t have to spend 2-3 hours commuting, they don’t have to be in giant office spaces all the time and being constantly bothered, interrupted, and stressed by noise and movement. Let’s not take that completely away from them. At the same time let’s do an effort to provide these conditions for those who thrive in them. My wife and I are eminent examples of these differences – she detests working from home, I love it – it’s quiet, I can focus and be productive, whereas my wife gets stressed out. Different humans thrive under and in different settings – SO DO MAKE AN EFFORT TO REALISE THIS BASIC FACT OF HUMAN EXISTENCE! This is potentially the pragmatic prototype that makes it relevant to even talk about DEI in the first place.
Hands on your hearts – how many of you can honestly say that you have not had a thought about work outside working hours and how many can honestly say they have never discussed a work challenge in the family and/or friendly setting?
Those of you who can honestly proclaim this, I would love to hear from you. The basic fact is that you get paid for working 8 hours, but that’s only pay for the norm working hours – the rest is enterprise freebee. A great starting place could be autonomy by flexibility. A by-product of balancing “stability & flexibility” (Highsmith definition of Agile, 2002) is that they are mutually reinforcing each other, they are complementary (theory of complementarity, Niels Bohr). An ossified command and control work environment is paying a high price for rigid stability – because it is a constraint that impacts the way of life by the way of work.
Provide affordances – not just constraints
Forcing people into structures that constrain their ability to live for the sake of perceived stability is downright stupid. The clever, insightful, and thoughtful leader and enterprise of the future realise that there is only one life and that life is the more important element and further successful work is based on thriving in life, not the other way around.
Exchange, transaction, and reciprocity can be starting points but eventually, to be successful, you will need to move beyond the level of strictly codified trust (it is rigid by nature), to avoid unnecessary levels of uncertainty and fear on both leader and employee the context can prescribe such a beginning.
In 2008 I had recently started as ERP implementation project manager in a global company Vestas Wind Systems. I had a personal challenge by a family appointment with my wife to be, which meant I would have to miss a status, coordination, and alignment meeting. So, I approached the head of Organisational Change Management about my challenge, remember I came straight from the Royal Danish Army, so my expectations weren’t very high. I was completely blown away by his approach, he said:
“Per, I don’t mind, we can easily do the meeting with your status update, you’ve just given me. And as long as you deliver the change impact analysis on time, you can be in a sun chair on Mallorca for all I care. I don’t care where or when you do it, I care about you doing it”.
The “Why” was a given, the “How” I already knew along with the “What”, the “who” was my stakeholders – the where and when was at my own prerogative.
By this small token of flexibility, life was manageable at my own disposal – he provided the necessary autonomy. What he also provided was a token of an environment that was psychologically safe to be in, I was not dismissed by rigid ideas of physical presenteeism being the magical wand of work. I was trusted and entrusted with the responsibility of being responsible – which is a fundamental thing in relationships, so I also trusted. I think this is called the virtuous cycle – my God it is simple (yet the human structure behind it is immensely delicate and complex)!