My director just won a loyalty upgrade. I asked for what I consider to be a major concession, and he immediately said, “Whatever you need.” I am so happy about this that I would probably come over and mow his lawn or paint his house.
What that means in business terms is several things.
One, if he needs me to expedite something, I’m eager for the chance to show my gratitude and I will leap into action.
Two, if he needs me to come in early, stay late, or skip lunch, why sure, I can probably do that.
Three, I’m not planning to go anywhere any time soon. He isn’t going to need to recruit or train my replacement.
I knew I had a good shot at getting a yes, because I took my job right at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown. The whole team had just turned over, and it was a bit chaotic. I’ve had a year to demonstrate that I can get things done remotely. In fact, while I have worked for this organization, I’ve never done it any other way. I don’t even know where my desk is.
I also know that my boss is a future-focused person. He is generally ready to try new things, willing to experiment and shrug off anything that maybe doesn’t pan out.
What an employee will ask for depends on the person. I’ve seen it happen. One person wants a standing desk. Another person wants to start the day at 6:30 AM and leave in the afternoon to beat commute traffic. Someone else wants to job-share with another person who also wants to switch to part-time. Yet another person wants to go back to grad school, someone else needs physical accommodations after surgery, and someone else wants to cut back hours and ease into retirement.
All I wanted was to continue to work from home in another state, so I can help out with some family stuff.
As far as employee requests go, this could have either seemed completely impossible, or come across as a cheap way to earn some brownie points.
In fact, the only effect my request should have is that I took some short lunches and then left early on Friday so I could go to the airport.
Whether this is going to sound like a perfectly acceptable request, or an unbearable imposition, depends a lot on company culture, the makeup of the team, and the attitude of management.
A scarcity-minded boss is naturally suspicious. What is going on?? What are these people trying to pull? How is anything going to get done around here if people are off gallivanting around? What else are they going to ask for? Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile.
An abundance-minded boss will think, Oh good, my team is comfortable coming to me with things. If I wasn’t seen as a reasonable, flexible person, then I wouldn’t be hearing about this. This is a much better situation than someone handing in their notice. Nobody wants that.
A decent human being is still open to the fact that real life proceeds while we are at work just as it does when we clock out. A person who has not been shut down and made callous by rigid structures will think, Of course, anything you need. Let me know if I can help.
The pandemic has shown nearly half of the workforce that we can do our work from almost any location, and in many cases we can be more productive while we do it.
I know of an early-career person who took off for a few months, working out of his van and driving from one campsite to another. That trip seems, if anything, to have enhanced his work ethic and commitment to the mission. It also seems to have had positive ripple effects on morale, as others heard about the trip, realized that they could probably do the same, and that they weren’t going to because they didn’t really want to live in a van that long.
It’s fairly common at my company for people to work late into the evening, and sometimes clock in on weekends, but then log in around 9 am. This arrangement is probably open to me, but the very thought depresses me. A younger version of me definitely would have preferred to sleep in every day and work as late as necessary to make up for it. The more mature me wakes up before 8 am, even on weekends, and might as well roll out of bed and get cracking.
What is it that we want out of work?
I submit that it isn’t any one thing. We can accept particulars such as a strict dress code, long or weird hours, high stress, tight deadlines, and other quirky rules. For instance, I worked for years for a company where nobody was allowed to use a phone with a camera. It was a security thing, and we shrugged it off. Constraints are a part of working.
What we want is to feel appreciated, that our contribution matters in some way. We also want to feel a certain amount of autonomy.
The core tension seems to be about that autonomy.
From one perspective, the requirement seems to be: demonstrate that you are on task by strictly obeying all rules and regulations at all times. Do not deviate.
From another perspective, the question is: if I get all my work done on time and meet or exceed all deadlines and other criteria, then why does anything else matter?
Are you really going to tell me that it is more important for me to wear shoes when I’m on the job than it is for me to go above and beyond on my projects? That you’d rather have total compliance on issues like being physically present, even if it came at the expense of many other things?
There is soon going to be a large-scale Game of Sorting. Some companies are going to insist on returning to 18th-century office procedures as soon as possible. Others are going to read the room and accept the new normal. Then the more traditionally-minded, authoritarian companies are going to find themselves surprised by the stampede for the exits.
I can already guess where my company stands on this issue. How about yours?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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