I am grateful that my journey to Navigen Leadership began when was I was a District Sales Manager for Boise Cascade/OfficeMax because I was consistently faced with the Future @ Work. My work ethic was second to none, and as a Baby Boomer, this was illustrated by how much time I devoted to my job. If my boss worked 40 hours a week, I worked 45. If they put in a 50-hour workweek, I put in 55 hours. I wore the number of hours I worked – the number of hours I was devoting to the organization – as a badge of honor.
Then I hired my first Gen Xer. Among other things, Generation X can be credited with the concept of the work-life balance. No longer did they want to spend more hours than needed at the office just for the sake of time. They wanted to come to the office, do their work, and go home. And what happened at home was decidedly separate from what happened at work. They were the first generation to roll their eyes at the idea of having to spend “off hours” with co-workers at company picnics or team building happy hours.
“Michele, why are we having this meeting today?” asked my new Gen-X employee.
“Because it’s Monday,” I instantly replied. (Or substitute the more stereotypical Boomer answer, “Because we have always done it this way.”)
“Well, do you think there is a way the meeting could be shorter and more efficient?” he asked. “Can we have take-aways at the end of the meeting so everyone knows their role and what they need to deliver and a deadline for delivery? I want to be clear on how I’m being measured.”
I was face-to-face with this new kind of worker who valued efficiency over hours spent on the task at hand. And they wanted to know the bottom line and what the end results were supposed to be BEFORE we even began the task/meeting/project.
Then, the Millennials arrived, and I pretty much lost my mind. With their high-speed knowledge of all things technology, not only were they smarter and more productive than me, but they also had the exact opposite opinion from mine when it came to putting time in. Whereas I proved my value and relevance by the number of hours I work, the Millennials asked, “If I can get this project done in 3 hours, why do I have to sit here all day?”
If we’re going to be prepared for the Future @ Work, we need to address the cultural changes that are happening now in the workplace. Here are 3 ways to tackle this shift:
- Boomer led organizations must change the thought process that employees sitting at a desk equals work getting done. Because if you think about it, that strategy is really only a perception that work is getting done. Even as managers, we don’t actually know if our employees are getting anything done or what they are actually doing when they sit at their desks. This leads to my second tactic to address the future @ work: job descriptions.
- When I speak to organizations, I ask people to raise their hand if they have a job description. As you can imagine, 100% of the room puts their hand up. Then, I ask them to keep their hand up if their job description matches what they do on a day-to-day basis. About 70% of the hands go down. Next I ask, “Is your compensation tied to that job description?” Most of the remaining hands go down. Finally, I ask if their job performance is tied to that job description. By question four there are either one or no hands left in the air.
There seems to be a significant gap in what we put on paper to describe someone’s job and what they actually do. If we want the Future @ Work to have stability, hiring managers need to engage with their current employees and get a real sense of what they do. When the time comes to make another hire, they are looking for the right fit based on skill set and not on what they think happens when someone sits at a desk for 8 hours a day.
- While we need to be respectful of the way organizations are run, over time we need to move to more measurable goals and support the concept that everyone’s productivity looks different. And because there just aren’t enough Gen-Xers (in terms of quantity) to fill all of the roles Boomers are leaving behind as they retire, it’s the Millennials we will rely on to fill the voids. That means creating organizations that value flexibility where work and life are combined, there are no cubicles to sit in, and work gets done not on an 8 AM – 5 PM (or later) clock, but when it’s most conducive for each individual’s schedule and the projected results.
It’s not a fair assessment when Gen Xers and Millennials get labeled with not having a good work ethic. The definition of work ethic varies by generation. They are playing a game where they don’t necessarily know the rules, and they certainly don’t believe in the way the rules are structured.
It will take forward thinking organizations to realize that the Future @ Work is now. We need to do the hard work of communicating with our employees about the time they spend at the office, what they do on a daily basis, and how they think their work is measured in their role. I promise it is an eye opening conversation for everyone.