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February 10, 2010

Are Those Dinosaur Eggs On Your Desk?

Blog cartoon 2-10-10

[Cartoon courtesy of Grantland Cartoons]

When your manager went on maternity leave last month, were you tempted to ask her where the dinosaur eggs were stashed?  I’m lucky my current managers are pretty with-it, but that wasn’t always the case. I once, as a journalist, had a manager who couldn’t type (a managing editor who couldn’t type!). When considering how to stay evolved enough not to be wiped out by a workplace asteroid, it’s important to think about all the ways to be behind the times.

A lot of people think being up-to-date just means knowing how to use all the technological devices and systems housed in the office, but that’s the least of it. It’s far more important to understand the changing workplace culture. Stories abound of bosses who don’t feel comfortable about their employees’ productivity unless they see their scrunched up faces squinting and sweating before their eyes. Those stories, however, will have to change once the economy rebounds or the youngest, most promising workers will look elsewhere for their paycheck. Older workers like me might stick out because we’re used to not being treated well. But what I’ve heard about the youngest set is they (really strange; don’t know where they got the idea) expect to work for an evolved company that prizes their talents and the end results of their work rather than adherence to picayune rules.

As I’ve explained before on this blog, I love the idea of a staggered workforce because there’s a greater chance that way of avoiding people you don’t like. But more than that, customer service can soar in flex-time/comfortable atmosphere work environments. Allowing employees to choose a schedule that best suits their lifestyle means they will be fresher when the calls from customers, or requests to service them, come in. They also likely will be in a better mood (less resentful someone dares to call at 9 a.m.; doesn’t everyone know it isn’t polite to call until 10?).

There’s a great deal of talk these days about corporate wellness programs, and I’m even writing an article about it for our May issue. But it doesn’t seem companies yet make the connection between flexible schedules, work load, and health. It seems like companies feel guilty because they can’t stop (or aren’t willing to limit profit to top executives) the acceleration of work loads, and, so, instead are offering health screenings and fitness programs (you have to give up your lunch hour to participate in). The yoga classes and access to in-office gyms is fantastic, but doesn’t address the root cause of work related un-wellness issues—the stress itself. Instead of companies changing their behavior towards employees, they’re just giving them ways to cope with it. It’s like an abusive friend who, instead of changing her ways, decides to buy her continuously hurt companion a box of chocolates every Friday as consolation. If companies treated workers better, with more realistic work loads and fairer compensation, a company-sponsored wellness program wouldn’t be necessary.

But since most companies won’t change their ways to institute what some experts refer to as a “wellness culture,” creating an evolved workplace, with a multitude of coping options, is a good thing (the box of chocolates isn’t a solution; but better than nothing). In addition to flex-time, creating a non-dinosaur-led workplace should focus on developing observant, emotionally intelligent managers. I’ve noticed a lot of managers aren’t good at noticing bad dynamics between subordinates. I once worked with a man I disliked so much I chose to deal with it by not looking at him. I wouldn’t try to sabotage him (somebody once did that to me, so I know how awful that is, and wouldn’t do it to somebody else), but I also wouldn’t acknowledge his presence any more than I needed to. The funny part is throughout all this my boss noticed nothing. Or if she noticed something she chose not to deal with it. It’s a shame, too, because the reason he got on my nerves probably got on her nerves too, and effected the productivity of our business, but she didn’t feel comfortable dealing with it. He was a disengaged slacker, and that’s one thing I hate, and one thing any credible manager also should pick up on and resent. My boss was doing a quarter to a half of the work he should have been doing himself! 

That kind of obliviousness is the old, dinosaur way of management, something that only should have been seen in the 1950s or before. These days, and since the greater understanding of human psychology in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there’s no excuse for not developing emotionally aware managers who understand it’s part of their job to observe and react to the inter-dynamics of their employees.

The plight I describe also brings to the fore the problem of passive managers—another dinosaurism that should be part of the distant past. The old way of thinking (I heard Traditionalists or Matures are apt to think this way) is to work in fear of “rocking the boat.”  For the World War II generation, and those older, there was an awful fear, I heard, about not conforming, and of challenging authority. Those fears, I presume, also led to a tendency for passive management styles. With this old fashioned way of thinking in place, even those wearing the title of “manager” are afraid to take action against employees because they’re afraid of creating “a situation.”  I once heard about a manager whose employees had to be guilty of extreme absenteeism and profound on-the-job mistakes before he would get rid of them. Obvious slackerism wasn’t enough.

Do your young employees relate well enough to your managers to understand and follow-through on assignments?  If there’s a disconnect, think about speeding up the transition of Generation X employees into leadership positions. And make sure those you’re considering for new leadership roles aren’t young dinosaurs. It’s possible to be young and a dinosaur. And of course there are doubtless Traditionalists out there who were ahead of their time years ago, and now finally can flaunt the fact they weren’t born from eggs laid by the out-going CEO.

Is there anything you can do to encourage forward-thinking management?  What does your company do to evolve with the changing workforce?


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