Lazy Workforce or Lazy Leadership?
We have all read about what is wrong in the workplace today. You will find that our problems aren't new if you read enough.
In most narratives, the "new generation" is always lazy and lost if you ask the 40+ crowd. The "older generation" got us into this mess. The 20-somethings want the workplace to change for the better, but older generations want nothing to do with it because everyone after them just needs to work harder.
The narrative continues that the net result is that unhappiness is increasing, the workplace is toxic, and companies - that aren't listening - need to evolve to understand the modern workforce.
The problem is, it isn't entirely true.
Many companies are listening and changing. Leaders worldwide are burning the midnight oil to figure out how to build more diverse, satisfied, and productive teams. Happiness isn't decreasing, it is evolving as the definition broadens and priorities change. We are not relying on work to make us happy or satisfied, and that's okay.
The reward of success at work is an increasingly better quality of life outside work - and we want some time to enjoy that.
Not so crazy, right?
I have a call to action to all people leaders: stop panicking.
The changes aren't coming, they are here. The people you lead aren't quietly quitting unless you ignore them, so ask questions. Proven leaders know that these changes are expected, if not inevitable, and are evolving with those they lead.
Trying to figure out how to get things back to the way they were is a waste of time.
The way it used to work
- Salary was code for not being willing to pay overtime.
- Job descriptions were ambiguous and usually ended with 'and any other tasks required' - which wasn't a job description as much as a free pass to get additional skills for the same money.
- A 40-hour work week for a professional was shameful. The hours you worked represented your commitment to your company.
- Arriving late could cost you your job. Leaving late was expected regardless of your commitments outside of work.
The list is long as it has been for 100 years, but these are examples of what we hear the most:
- Agree on the work required of those you lead, ensuring that it fits into agreed-upon hours. If the job requires 50 hours a week, say that upfront. Get rid of the 'and anything else required by your supervisor' clause.
- If work demands evolve and require additional work outside the agreed-upon scope, there should be additional compensation. Most don't mind picking up an extra task to help out here and there - but if the job changes, the compensation should too.
- Stop posting value and culture stories on your website that aren't what a new employee will see on day one. If they are taking the time to look at company websites to find one they connect with, you should take the time to be truthful. If your truth is embarrassing, do better work. Lying is an unacceptable shortcut.
- Compensation shouldn't be reviewed only when hired but constantly adjusted with the market. If you are paying new employees 20% more than existing ones, it's time to check yourself. You have created a system where quitting is the best way to get a 20% raise.
- That annual pay increase we keep talking about doesn't keep up with inflation - stop saying it is a raise. Your finance department knows that a 4% annual raise means their salary has less spending power each year. If you call it a raise, raise spending power. If your raise is less than inflation, you pay your team less yearly.
- Flexible schedules are needed to align with the 'people first' values companies have been saying are at their core for years. Having no time to spend with the people we love doing the things we love isn't a life people are willing to have anymore. Find the balance between meeting business needs, helping employees fund their life, and giving them time to live it.
You are in control
You may not have control over some of what I wrote above. The people in your charge know what you control and don't. They want to be heard and respected, like every team member who has ever worked for any employer.
Ask and listen
Many leaders say they listen to their employees. They can summarize those conversations into actionable if needed. That isn't enough, however.
Leaders must ask proactively, show interest and curiosity in what they here, and listen closely to the answers.
Promising to fix something out of your control is unwise. If you are the problem, you can fix it. If not, don't commit. Gain a deep understanding of the concerns, ask them what would resolve those concerns, and thank them for sharing.
Put work into understanding what part of the problem you own and fix that.
Represent needs intelligently
When escalating needs to decision makers, framing is important. Connect concerns to financial outcomes. Employees being upset about uncompetitive wages might not turn heads, but a 3% adjustment in wages, saving 9% in attrition for a $40 million increase in profit will get everyone in the room to stop multitasking while you speak.
Do your homework and represent the concerns appropriately.
The modern workforce wanting to evolve how we think about work and where it fits into life isn't lazy or misguided - it is innovative and is fueling a needed evolution.
In business - clarity is a gift.
We need to find a path to meet business needs now that we have clarity, thanks to their bravery to stand up and speak.
The more experienced workforce has known poor work-life balance was toxic for decades. We have known working unlimited hours for the same money was ridiculous. We have known that increasing work demands without increasing compensation was nonsense.
We were also told that speaking about such things would be 'career impacting' - so we were the ones who sat in silence.
This generation was courageous enough to speak their truth, stand for their values, and demand that the conversation happen. They are intelligent and efficient workers who are honest about what they need and willing to be part of the conversation to make it happen. They are all in - willing to walk away if the other side doesn't do their part.
Let's not work to get them to comply with a social construct that broke decades ago. They are not walking away because they are lazy or unmotivated; they are walking away because promises weren't kept.
Let's honor their courage to stand up for their values by asking genuine questions, listening with curiosity, being honest about the state of things, and representing opportunities to decision-makers with informed intelligence.
The only way forward is together.