We are jumping up and down (literally) after reading this amazing LinkednIn post from Heather McLintock, CEBS at CMHC, posted on March 17, 2022.
If you were to feed a starving person some crumbs, they would feel grateful to have anything at all. That’s what’s happening with the Future of Work conversation and the Hybrid/Remote work programs that are being introduced. Little crumbs are being presented as a feast, and employees are eating it up. But these programs are just a token gesture that won’t eliminate the stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout that millions of workers are facing. Why won’t they, you ask? Because of judgement.
Picture this. I’m sitting at my computer at home, getting my work done. I need to go to the drugstore to pick up a prescription and I want to drop in to see my mother for a cup of tea. The pandemic is affecting all our mental health, and my mother has been spending a lot of time alone.
Then I realize…If I leave my computer alone for a few minutes, my green light will turn yellow indicating I’m not online. If I’m gone for two hours, everyone will know. If I don’t answer my phone immediately when it rings, or if I don’t respond to that email immediately, they will suspect that I’m not at my desk and will judge me. I don’t want anyone, especially my manager, to think I’m slacking off. The stress builds. My personal responsibilities never seem to align with the rules of work.
I wait until 5pm when it’s reasonable for me to log off. At 5pm I have children who want dinner and help with homework. It’s dark out and snowing and I’m not comfortable driving in the dark, but I need the prescription. I guess I won’t visit my mother because once the kids are home the evening is shot. Oh well, I’m sure she is ok and won’t miss the social interaction too much.
Now picture the same scenario with a different result. I’m working at home, getting my work done. I decide to go to the drugstore at 10am, and then pop in to see my mother and spend an hour or two with her. I have access to monitor my emails and phone calls on my cell phone, so if something urgent comes up, I can respond. But I intend to take care of my personal responsibilities and not answer every email or phone call that comes in until I get home. I arrive home at 12pm and have lunch. At 12:30 I’m back online. At 2:30 my manager calls me. I tell her about visiting with my mother and we talk about how the pandemic is having a negative effect on mental health, and the importance of socializing. I don’t fear any judgement because there isn’t any. I don’t use vacation time for the 2 hours I wasn’t working, because the work has continued to move along while I was taking care of personal matters.
Of the two outcomes described above, which would you prefer to be your reality? Which feels less stressful?
Who else has sat at their computer all day when they had important personal life things to do, because they knew if they weren’t immediately “available” they would be judged a slacker? Who else has skipped spending time with family because they knew they would be judged if they weren’t immediately responsive to their employer? Who else has answered emails at night as soon as they arrived because they didn’t want to be judged as not being a team player?
When everyone was still going to the office every day, did you ever see someone come in 15 minutes late and hear someone say, “Nice of you to join us today”? Who has thought to themselves as they watched someone leave 20 minutes early, “Oh, look! Mr. So-And-So is leaving early again. Must be nice to be the boss’s favourite.”? Be honest, we have all done it. And we all do it when we are working at home too. When someone doesn’t pick up the phone on the first ring, or doesn’t respond to our email within 5 minutes, or when their MS Teams light turns yellow - we judge them. We are a judgemental society. We don’t have a lot of empathy for one another.
I recently read a presentation on hybrid work models given by an industry “expert”. The conclusion said that employees who don’t work well under pressure, don’t have childcare arrangements in place or have poor time management skills should not be allowed to work remotely. I was shocked. The judgement and parental condescension that were baked into that one slide is the epitome of what is wrong with the whole “Future of Work” conversation happening right now. Never mind the legal and equity problems with including that kind of statement in a policy, likely under the guise of managerial discretion (I’ll let the lawyers talk about that), company leaders actually buying in to such “expert” advice is one of the biggest reasons employees are burnt out.
Hybrid work models and remote work policies don’t address the situation above because they don’t address judgement. Those models and policies are built on a foundation of traditional beliefs about work. Beliefs such as work happens between 9am and 5pm in an office building, and teamwork is most successful when we have in-person meetings and spontaneous collaboration by the water cooler. Letting people work from home sometimes, or even all the time might eliminate some of the stress (ex. not having to commute), and it might help employees save money on gas and clothes, but it doesn’t relieve the stress of trying to balance work and personal life because it doesn’t address judgement. It will never address judgement while our collective beliefs about work are maintained.
Judgement has been a very useful social tool for keeping everyone in line for thousands of years. To maintain the status quo, we judge everyone whose behaviour deviates from the accepted rules, and we make sure that everyone fears the judgement, so they think twice about doing something different. But judgement is hindering us now. It is holding us hostage to outdated ways of doing things. It is what is causing so many people to feel anxiety, depression, and burnout, because while the functioning of society, work and personal lives has changed immensely, the rules about work and the judgement that comes with it haven’t changed at all.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that people can get their work done outside of the office, with kids at home all day and elderly parents to care for at the same time. They work at odd hours, and in odd locations. They use their cell phones and text apps. They have been getting their work done and taking care of their personal lives in non-traditional ways for 2 years. If they can succeed during these unprecedented times, they can surely succeed in the future when life is normal again.
So, could we try to challenge our beliefs about work now? Could we try to stop judging everyone for arriving late and leaving early, and having a yellow light and not responding to an email right away? Could we let people visit their elderly parents and pick up their prescriptions when it’s convenient for them without requiring them to ask permission or book time off using some leave policy? Could we talk about our humanness and support each other instead of pretending to be perfect model employees while keeping the judgement machine well oiled so that the rules never change?
The company I work for made the transition to a Results-Only Work Environment™ (ROWE) in 2018/2019. If you’ve never heard of it, the Results-Only Work Environment™ is a commonsense workplace culture strategy that is so far ahead of hybrid and remote work programs, you can’t even see them in the rear-view mirror. During our transition we collectively challenged everything we believed to be true about work. It was extremely difficult for me to stop fearing judgement. It was a little easier for me to stop judging others. It was a painful, but necessary behavioural and mindset shift. Once we had fully dismantled our beliefs about when, where, and how work happens it was much easier to see that putting more rules in place through remote or hybrid work policies isn’t the answer to employees’ feelings of overwhelm. All those policies do is reinforce the status quo and strengthen our outdated beliefs about work.
The real answer is simple in concept, but difficult in practice. A technical change is easier to make than a behavioural one. Hybrid and remote work models allow for a different location (technical change), but the beliefs and expectations about the behaviours (i.e., hours of work and availability and how collaboration happens (read, in person is best)) haven’t changed at all. That’s where the judgement is baked in. A behavioural change requires that we think and act differently. It requires companies to trust their employees. That’s a much bigger ask than simply letting people work at home 2 days a week.
The answer is to set employees free by eliminating judgement and letting them do the right thing at any given moment for ALL aspects of their lives. No more parental HR department rules about who is allowed to work at home and for how long. Just freedom to make the best choices and decisions, judgement free. Only then will employees feel in control of their lives, which will reduce their level of stress and lead to increased productivity. Of course, with great freedom comes great responsibility and that’s where the commonsense approach of the Results-Only Work Environment™ shines, in helping employees and leaders learn to balance both for the benefit of all.
It’s time to stop accepting crumbs at work. If you are ready to challenge the status quo and eliminate judgement in your work environment, and if you want practical advice on how to manage the work, increase productivity and bring joy to your employees check out www.gorowe.com. Or read the book "Why Work Sucks and How to Fix it" by Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler.