In the past, spending our weekdays in the workplace entailed sacrificing our time in exchange for food and shelter. Now, many people want to “work” and not sacrifice anything.
We’ve talked about this virtual work environment thing to death for the past couple of years. Literally to the point where I can’t take another person sounding off about “empathy” and “flexibility”… oh god, put another record on, puh-lease.
There has to be a balance in the workplace
Yes, we need to create environments where managers invest time with their people to understand them, motivate them, and show they care about them. And staff reciprocate by appreciating more flexibility on the job to focus on family needs/lifestyle etc. (see earlier blog). But at some point, there is a line to cross between giving staff flexibility and essentially allowing them to “work” when they want. The problem many organizations are now facing is teams of disengaged and “burned out” employees who struggle to identify with their jobs and think it’s OK to work when they can be bothered.
Motivation is on the wane, and burnout is to blame.
We’ve been talking about “burnout” on the job for years before the pandemic, and the cure was normally to delegate more, take a break, even go to the gym / find an outlet for stress, etc. Today, most people are claiming they are burned out; however, the reasons are more than being stuck at home staring into a screen all day while enduring soul-crushing video meetings where they’re trying to multitask and appear engaged. Yes, that is burnout behavior, and we need to get smarter about the incredible time wastage having half these meetings, but the real reason is the shear multitude of worrying events happening to us that are destabilizing our lives… inflation, recession, job security, energy crises, the climate crisis, extreme, irrational politics, ongoing war, etc. Yes, we are living in a world where we’re all burning out by the sheer instability and misery emanating all around us.
What is essentially happening in many organizations right now is a breakdown of the very fabric of a company… what it means to belong and spend most of your working week with your colleagues and customers. Many people I am engaging with these days are simply disengaging from their companies. They are literally having a handful of in-person meetings with a select bunch of colleagues over the course of many, many months. They are trying to keep the threads of connectedness going, but the reality is they are drifting further and further apart.
The Bottom-line: With all the instability in the world, the workplace must become a place where we can focus on positive things and engage with each other like we used to
In pre-pandemic days, your job was an important part of your life, and the people around you mattered. Work mattered, and performing well really meant something. Today, many people are withdrawing from engaging with their colleagues. Many are producing the bare minimum to stay relevant in the workplace.
With such a global assault on the stability of our lives, shouldn’t this be a time when we find some solace with our colleagues? Isn’t this a time when our bosses and colleagues are people with whom we can share our concerns and find some comfort in working together? Because the more we distance ourselves from our workplace, the more we are cutting off a valuable place that can help us through these challenging times.
Employers have no choice but to re-engage their workforce by any means possible. This means managers set the example, going into the office at least two days a week and demanding their staff follow suit. This means companies getting tougher with employees who are simply underperforming… especially when other staff sees their colleagues getting away with coasting, as many will follow suit. Sure, we all got a free pass during the pandemic, but those days are long in the past, and organizations must refocus on being meritocracies.
While it’s easy to point the finger at this coasting culture, the major reason behind this hybrid work failure is poor management. Far too many mediocre managers out there haven’t adapted to the remote environment and are simply failing to approach the job differently to be effective. Good managers are driving better collaboration across colleagues, encouraging more in-person sessions, investing in technologies like whiteboarding and smart meetings that really help collaboration, investing time in social activities that promote staff bonding etc. It is no surprise to me that so many staff are disengaged because they do not have mature, motivated leadership to give them direction and motivation.
There has never been a time like this where the very nature of doing a good job is under threat. Companies settling for mediocrity are going to face a huge struggle trying to get their mojo back in the future. It’s not OK to be meh… it really isn’t.