I Refuse to Maintain the Status Quo

I dare say that most humans are creatures of habit and routine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; in our hurly-burly lives it’s nice to rely on muscle-memory so we can drive the same daily route to the office or know that Friday evening will inevitably be comprised of pizza, pajamas and movies. The usual and ordinary tasks we have are pretty straightforward when we do them the way we’ve always done them.

Naturally this tendency to adhere to the tried-and-true carries over into our work life. Whether we’re cranking out TPS reports or processing journal entries we get into the flow and rhythm. This is also a good thing. People who take comfort in the unremarkable may find a sense of peace cranking through mundane tasks. And for those folks who chafe at “sameness” day-after-day, entering automatron mode allows them to churn through the repetitious soul-crushing chores that exist in every job.

Now envision a department filled with people simultaneously jogging on the procedural treadmill as they push out the same reports, take the same phone calls, and sit in the same meetings week after week. Picture rows upon rows of cubicles. Department after department. Floor upon floor. A humungous organization located in either a suburban office park or on a busy street in a bustling urban city center.

Certainly all those workers are providing some sort of value as they strive to meet organizational goals while, undoubtedly, participating in the latest Corporate (HR) program-of-the-month designed to simultaneously boost engagement, track OKRs, and determine annual compensation increases?

There may be a fancy new name to this program-of-the-month but, let’s be real –  it’s the same old state of affairs.

And when you’re part of an existing entity, whether that be your job/company or your personal life/family, there’s an incentive to maintain the status quo.

It’s easy.

It’s cozy.

It’s safe.

And while human resources professionals are particularly adept at (and quite fond of!) maintaining the status quo, we are not alone amongst our corporate brothers and sisters.  In the corporate setting we’re often more keenly focused on reducing risk rather than setting our sights on maximizing potential.

So we make the “safe” hire. We stick to the same procedures whilst also building additional steps and creating complexity for the most insignificant processes (“let’s have the SENIOR Director sign off for all office supply purchases too!”). We rely on last year’s numbers (and the year before and the year before that). We look backward (only) instead of looking forward. We research other companies’ ‘best practices’ instead of designing our own ‘NEXT practices.’

We stay on the hamster wheel.

I get it. I totally get it.

But as for me? I want to try new things. I don’t want to settle for merely doing what’s easy, comfortable and that-which-has-come-before.

I refuse to maintain the status quo.

Ass in Chair, Inc.

Right now, as you’re reading this, people around the world are sitting in their offices. They have a desk, chair, phone and a computer with a monitor. Maybe two monitors if they either work in IT or are sufficiently high enough on the corporate food chain to get the requisition approved that uses valuable budget dollars to appropriate a second monitor.

The lucky ones have a cup of coffee, a can of Diet Coke or a packet of M&Ms within arm’s reach. Not everyone is afforded that luxury however; there are plenty of workplaces that don’t allow the worker bees to have any beverage or food at their desks. I’ve heard tales from one company in the UK that maintains such a policy although they do permit each employee to have a 500ml bottle of water. With an eye towards an aesthetically pleasing uniformity, all the bottles match.

Closer to home I’ve had conversations with numerous folks who are confined to a desk or cubicle with no ability to keep sustenance close at hand. The general corporate blather, usually passed on from HR, is (a) “we want you to relax and take a well-deserved break at lunch!” (wellness blah blah blah) or (b) “we want the facility to look nice when clients come to visit.” (even though no clients ever actually do come to visit).

I also continue to talk with an alarming number of people who, while perfectly content to head to the break room to grab an energy bar during the mid-afternoon slump, are rarely even afforded that opportunity. There are employees (start time 8 AM!) whose log-in at their workstation is immediately viewable by the department manager; they best be logged-in and ready to roll by 7:59 AM or discipline shall ensue!

  • Have to void your bladder? Sorry; you need to wait until break time at 10:15 AM.
  • Need to get to your doctor’s office by 4:30 PM because they close at 5 PM? Sorry; you’re expected to be at your desk until 4:30 PM. Unless you request and are approved for a full day of PTO you’re not going to be able to make that happen.
  • You want to take call from your kids when they get home safely from school in the afternoon? Sorry; no cell phone use is allowed at your desk. We require you to drop your phone off in the morning and you can retrieve it during breaks or at lunch time. (note: I wrote about a company doing this in 2013; 5 years later and I recently heard of a manager who is contemplating instituting this practice)
  • Christmas Eve and all of the customers, partners and 3rd party vendors you work with are off the grid? Sorry; this is not an official Holiday so you’re expected to be at your desk until the office closes at 5 PM. No; we will not be closing early.
  • What’s that you say? You can get your work done at home? You have a phone and an internet connection? Sorry; we don’t allow anyone to work from home and all employees must report to the office by 8 AM.

Welcome to Ass in Chair, Inc.

 

#culture101

Advocating for the Workplace Revolution

I can barely browse through LinkedIn or Facebook, open a magazine (remember those?), or attend a conference/event where the topic of the Future of Work is not being debated, dissected and regurgitated out as sound bites. We churn through conversations on automation, AI and machine learning, the gig economy, re-skilling and up-skilling of workers, income stagnation, and more. We discuss how work will be organized, what organizations will look like, and how people will interact with each other within organizations.

It’s the future and it’s quite revolutionary.

While there are numerous shifts happening, when my thoughts turn to the future of work I focus on a few key areas as an HR professional. These are also, in my opinion, the things every HR professional should be thinking about:

 

  • What jobs will exist in the future of work? In addition, which jobs will survive and which jobs will become obsolete?
  • How will we connect people and jobs/people and employment? There’s got to be a better way than what we’ve been doing up to this point.
  • What will individuals experience, day-to-day, while at work?
  • For that matter, how much of what people do will be done AT work (i.e. an actual physical location)?
  • How will the psychological contracts between employers and their employees change and evolve? Will the things we’ve come to expect, on either side, morph or vanish all together? There’s already been a general erosion, over the fairly recent past, in terms of guaranteed/lifetime employment and job security…so what is yet to come?
  • What is the occupational outlook? What jobs/occupations will see a decline and for what jobs/occupations will we see a rise? (hint: it’s the jobs that require empathy, humanity and judgment)
  • What skill sets will people need to have in this new world of work? How can we help existing employees adapt and develop the skills and competencies that will be in demand? How do we prepare students to be the next generation of workers?
  • For those jobs that will rise in demand how do we ensure that wages are sufficient enough to provide a living wage? Many of these jobs (teaching, care workers, service) have historically been low-paying so how can we ensure the transition to the future does not leave entire categories of employees behind.

Is there uncertainty? Absolutely. Is there a bit of apprehension by those tackling some of these issues? Certainly.

There’s also enthusiasm in the midst of the ambiguity and change and I, for one, am somewhat eager to get the proverbial show-on-the-road. Some business leaders are embracing the shift; we see this every time we hear about a company trying something new whether it be Holacracy (meh), unlimited PTO (I want some of that) or providing extended paid parental leave. Note: let me remind you how sad that we have to applaud the offering of parental leave at all, let alone paid leave. The US remains one of the only countries in the world (the other two are Oman and Papua New Guinea) that do not offer paid maternity leave nor are businesses required to do so.

I agree with my friend Laurie Ruettimann when she says #LetsFixWork. I can’t wait for the future.

Viva la revolution!