Employees hate work because they feel like they don't have control over their lives, began Jody Thompson, founder of Culturerx, during her opening keynote address at the 2013 Workplace Benefits Summit in New Orleans. She told an audience of more than 800 benefit professionals and advisers that, put simply, "work sucks."
Thompson argued that workforces still operate under an outdated structure where employees need to ask managers for permission over their schedule. "It's 2013, and we're still operating like it's 1952," she said.
Many employers have introduced flexible work practices to help employees manage their work/life balance, although Thompson believes that "standard flexible work programs are holding us hostage."
Employers could do more, she noted, because "a flexible schedule is an oxymoron. There's nothing flexible about it; once you have a flexible schedule then you have to ask for permission for everything around it."
This paternalistic model still requires employees to ask managers if they want to switch the day they work from home, for example, and those scheduling requests have bogged down managers. Thus, "it's really not flexible, it's limiting," Thompson said.
Further, labeling different arrangements and workers, such as full-time or part-time teleworkers, generates workplace jealousy. Defining employees as "the haves and have-nots makes a hostile work environment," she said. Further, employees believe presenteeism wins promotions, not necessarily generating great product. "It's all about perception, not about results," she added.
The whole system, she argued, continues to be bogged down in an archaic mindset. Managers often ask: "How will I know my people are working if I can't see them?" To which Thompson responds: "How do you know they're working now?"
Employers must clearly express their expectations around measurable results to have employees achieve those goals. However, the classic 9-5 office workday model has been etched in workers' brains so "even if you're not punching a clock, it's in our DNA," Thompson said.
She argued that the workforce needs to break out of that antiquated mold with a new Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) strategy, which determines whether the employee is getting their work done.
ROWE establishes a new definition of work: "Each person is free to do whatever they want whenever they want as long as the work gets done." By offering employees 100% autonomy and 100% accountability, they can achieve optimum results for the company while self-managing.
Managing should be based on measurable results, she advocated, so that employees know up front that if they don't achieve the expected result, they will be out of a job, not simply lose the privilege of flexibility.
At the same time, managers should "manage work, not people. People need to start managing themselves," Thompson explained. For example, setting deadlines with firm dates and times ensures the work gets done and everyone knows when to expect it. So instead of asking for a result to be completed in a nebulous timeframe ("ASAP" or "soon"), managers should set a specific deadline, like Thursday at noon, so there's no confusion or excuses. This platform "levels the playing field," said Thompson.
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