The Misguided Mania for Onsite Work

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Jul 13, 2021
This article is part of a series called Remote Work.

One only needs to log in to their favorite news and social media platforms to see that many organizations — and their leaders — are struggling with back-to-workplace plans. And beyond the usual suspects of when and how, a surprise contender is leading the pack among stress-causers: why.

Unfortunately, CEOs seem to be out of step with the issue. In a recent study, the Best Practice Institute (BPI) showed a significant discrepancy between what CEOs and employees expect from their back-to-work experiences. In that study, BPI reported 83% of CEOs want employees back in the office full-time in 2021, while only 10% of employees indicate that they wish to be back on a full-time basis. 

In other words, many leaders haven’t yet realized what many employees already know:

  • In numerous workplaces, the “old normal” sucked; while “unfulfilling” is probably the best word to describe a typical work environment, “toxic” is the word that seems to get the most attention.
  • Our “now normal” — initially thought of as forced upon us by the pandemic but now seen as a game-changer by many employees — brought a fresh perspective on the nature of work.
  • Our “next normal” can’t just be a return to the “old normal”; instead, it must be a combination of the best of “old,” “now,” and “next.”

Autocratic Leadership

Despite all this, leaders from companies such as Apple, Google, JPMorgan, and so many more are doubling down on their autocratic leadership styles. Of particular note: JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon recently stated that working from home “doesn’t work for those who want to hustle.” 

Employees, stakeholders, and influencers took these words to mean “come back to work or else.” 

Others went a step further and considered the words a direct threat to their careers and livelihoods. At its core, Dimon’s message is, “Regardless of past or present productivity levels, continue to work from home and we’ll punish you.”

More importantly, JPMorgan’s CEO is saying, “There was nothing wrong with our workplace before. The water in the employee pool is fine. Come back in!”

Dimon, like many old-school leaders, is wrong. Pre-pandemic workplaces were rife with frustration, stress, and burnout. People often felt demeaned and demoralized. To feel valued and respected was a rare occurrence. Only results mattered. 

During the pandemic, results also mattered. But we asked more of our people than we ever have before. 

  • Work from home at a moment’s notice? Check. 
  • earn to balance work and life commitments overnight? Check. 
  • Remain productive while juggling homeschooling, child and elder care, technology inequities, and isolation? Check. 

Employees and employers alike were forced to be agile. We worked together to create the “now normal.” And throughout the process, people felt their voices were heard.

But instead of learning from that partnership — and instead of showing gratitude and demonstrating a willingness by leaders to co-create a mutually beneficial “next normal,” many leaders now insist on returning to what was versus what can be. 

The Great Resignation

In the meantime, we continue to hear workplace horror stories. Just from recent weeks:

  • The world of work has roundly criticized CEOs at Medium, Basecamp, and Coinbase for their autocratic, non-inclusive “culture memos.”
  • The NFL (pot) fined the Washington Football Team (kettle) $10 million for their toxic workplace culture, including intimidation and bullying, particularly of women.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris is under fire for an autocratic work culture that is becoming known as “abusive” and where “people feel treated like <expletive>.”

No wonder people are quitting their jobs at an alarming rate. Why give up all the freedom so effortlessly handed out during the pandemic just to return to a company culture that sucked before the pandemic? And why work for leaders who aren’t self-aware enough to know their workplaces suck?

As we point out in Good Comes First: How Today’s Leaders Create an Uncompromising Company That Doesn’t Suck, today’s best employees — those who believe in themselves and the quality of their work — will no longer tolerate workplaces that are less than fulfilling. Instead, they’ll organically migrate toward leaders who deliberately respect and value the contributions of every stakeholder. They’ll choose to work for a company that chooses to treat people right, do the right thing (even when not convenient), and fight the good fight.

As employees consider their personal back-to-the-office scenarios, they will continue to leave their current jobs. And employers will continue to complain about a labor shortage. But the reality is we don’t have a labor shortage as much as we have a respect shortage. And until companies start building companies where good people can expect respect while helping drive tangible results, this trend will continue.

After all, in the rebuilding phase of the pandemic, the opposite of “good” is not “bad. The opposite of “good” is “autocratic.”

This article is part of a series called Remote Work.