What We’re Learning about the Workplace
It wasn’t all that long ago when the workplace was predictable, or at least it seemed that way. We didn’t have to contend with diversity issues, for example, and all that that means.
Back in the day, we recognized that everyone was different to a certain extent, but we also felt that we had more things in common than we do now. Religion and political convictions, for example, are only two areas that have risen to the top of the agenda, and there are others. Sometimes it feels as though political correctness has supplanted common sense.
All of these changes, however, have redefined the workplace. It is no longer what it once was, and the problem is that our methods of management simply feel out of sync with what’s going on. We feel as though we’re working in a parallel universe where the boundary is separated by an invisible, yet impermeable sheet of glass. We can see what is occurring, but despite our best efforts, we’re not getting the results that we used to.
Let’s consider for a few moments what some of these changes have been and what they mean for you.
Diversity has already been mentioned, but it’s not limited to religion or political convictions or immigration or anything else. Instead it’s a sort of cauldron – a melting pot – of competing issues. One can’t be ignored in favour of another.
The problem stems, in part, from our understanding of tolerance. Forty years ago, that word meant that everyone was entitled to his / her opinion. It did not mean what it means today, which is that everyone’s opinion is of equal value.
Let’s take an extreme example to make the point. Under the old definition of tolerance, a parent and a child could hold differing opinions; but it was what the parent decided that carried the day. In some parts of Europe, the opinion of the child is considered to be as valid as that of the parents – his or her word against theirs, and both equal in the eyes of the courts.
At the risk of seeming to be intolerant, which can result in legal consequences, managers have backed away from making much needed managerial decisions. In fact, what is perceived by the majority as intolerance has stifled discussion of things that really need to be talked about. That’s because those who are considered to be tolerant never disagree or criticize.
The “new” tolerance, as Josh McDowell calls it, leads us into this whole idea of inclusion – that no one should be left out for any reason. It doesn’t matter if that person is incompetent or lacks the necessary qualifications.
The flip side of this is that those who are exceedingly competent and have all of the qualifications and education you could ever want are lumped together with those at the other end of the continuum. In other words, in an effort to include everyone, no distinction is made between any of them.
This eliminates incentive and motivation.
The generation gap is quite interesting. Gaps in understanding and culture have always existed between generations. They just haven’t been as noticeable because of the size of the various cohorts.
The Baby-Boomers were the largest generation since WW2, and so anything they did looked like a revolution to their parents.
Now they are the ones who are reaching the end of their careers, and it’s the rising generation that looks like the rebellious ones. Having said that, many Boomers are refusing to retire. You may have heard that 60 is the new 40. The majority of Boomers don’t want to retire, at least not completely, either because they can’t afford to, have the vigour to carry on, or both.
The truth is that each generation works just as hard as the previous one, but they also have their own way of doing it. The Millennials, for example, are your replacements in the workplace. Learn to love them. They will get the job done; just not your way.
And it’s not only the Millennials you need to love. You also need to build a positive relationship with everyone else. It’s part of the diversity in the workplace.
There’s a shortage of skilled labour in this country. If the Millennials don’t fill the positions that the Boomers, and the much smalerl generation of X-ers, vacate, those jobs will remain unfilled. That means that your company will be unable to meet the needs of your customers and, if you’re a public company, will fail to deliver value to your shareholders.
Millennials want more from their jobs than the income to cover their expenses. They want to know how you going to help them achieve their goals. Does this attitude sound familiar? It should. If you’re a Boomer, it’s the way you thought at the beginning of your career.
How can you help those in your organization to do this? Play to their strengths. Don’t worry about overcoming their weaknesses.
In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a name for this attempt to compensate for employee shortcomings. It was called job enrichment. People were expected to work in positions where they were both strong and weak, and courses were laid on for them in order to bring them up to par where that was needed.
Many people, especially Millennials aren’t interested in an enriched job. They only want one where they get to do what they want all the time. So that means that you must encourage them to be who they are. Don’t try to make them into someone they’re not.
Three hundred-sixty-degree feedback has been around for decades. It’s only recently, however, that employees’ evaluations have been considered as an integral part of their managers’ overall rating. Employees who don’t get on well with their boss can provide feedback that could hurt them.
What this means is that you can be doing all the things that you used to and that brought you success, but if your employees are unhappy with you, then you’ll get a lower rating.
Social media chat has enabled companies to hold town-hall styled meetings between executives and employees. These events help people to put a face to a name.
They do much more than that, however. They also prevent managers from hiding behind meaningless platitudes – the kind of thing that’s so common in general emails that everyone receives about this or that issue. That’s because body language can’t be hidden. If executives sit behind a desk or stand behind a podium, it makes people feel disengaged.
Given the shortage of skilled people in the labour pool, recruitment is becoming more difficult. Unemployment levels today are almost low enough to qualify as “full employment” by the definitions used by economists. That’s not to say that everyone has a job; rather it is an indicator of the relatively small number of workers you have to choose from.
One of the problems is that the areas in which skill is required is outside of the skill set that many unemployed people have. So those without jobs are not only unemployed, but also unemployable.
Twenty years ago, it was unusual to find many men who could touch-type, for example. Now it is limited largely to those who have refused to embrace computers. Certainly for “white-collar” jobs, everyone is expected to have a working knowledge of word processing, probably spreadsheets, and probably presentation software. Those who have never owned computers will have no idea how any of this works.
Benefits have also changed largely because of the way the Government treated them. Before company cars were considered to be income-in-kind, nearly every job that was anything included a car. It was a certain car with a limited range of colours; but it was a car nevertheless.
Nowadays, only the most senior people get company cars.
In the US, organizations offer flexible benefit packages that are worth a fixed amount. Employees can choose any combination of benefits up to the value of the package. So those who need childcare can get it, and those who would rather have a gym membership can get that instead.
Workplace design has changed, too.
More people are working from home. Those who come to an office may not have a desk. Instead, they may plug into any one of a number of work stations scattered around the organization. This frees up office space and meeting rooms. It means that people are free to get together with their teammates wherever they happen to be.
Homeworkers and office workers alike receive training and mentoring according to what they need and often on the basis of what they ask for. It’s part of the desire by employers to help their people remain employable, whether it’s to give them a new skill, enhance an old one, or simply to enable them to get better at a hobby.
Today, there’s a lot more crossover between work and home. The boundaries are not so easy to separate. The majority of us check our work email when we’re on holiday, for example. It’s as bad as that. And if you work for yourself, it’s nearly impossible to ever switch off entirely.
The world of work will continue to evolve. As the saying goes, “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be”.
Looking back is only beneficial to the extent that it makes you wiser for the future.
What does your future hold? No one knows. All you can do is to prepare for it by identifying what you have learned about the workplace so far, and then incorporate those lessons into your plans for tomorrow.
If you consider your organisation would benefit from exploring change, diversity or inclusion further – email me to set up an initial chat