We all want the same thing

Over the past decade or more, journalists, social commentators, futurists and more than a handful of consultants have indulged in the practice to defining young people in the workplace by comparing them to the previous generations. In most instances what has been written and said is utter crap.

There are no differences between people in generations. They all want the same thing. They all need the same things. They simply exist in different circumstances which enable them to do things differently.

Let’s leave aside income to pay rent, buy stuff, pay for education, have holiday, raise a family, and retire. Afterall we all need those things.

We also all want something else from our work. We don’t want to be bored. We don’t want to be engaged in mind-numbing tasks where we cannot see the value we create. We want to understand the purpose in what it is we are doing. It doesn’t matter whether you are 20 or 50 we all want this one thing.

The difference is that if you were began work between 1960 and 1990 you had very few options. In general employers didn’t give a crap about your social and emotional wellbeing. You were expected to work 40 hours for 40 years pretty much in the same place. The entire economic system was geared around that certainty. It wasn’t that you wanted to be bored with your work; you were not provided with the tools to consider alternatives.

Today employees, both young and old are provided with those tools. They are empowered rather than enslaved. They have a multitude of choices. They have more options than there are word choices on a scrabble board. Today’s workforce still need the same thing, they need to generate income. What they want is to have something to look forward to for five days a week.

A lot of work activity is not interesting, it is often tedious and boring. We attend a lot of useless meetings, we write a lot of lengthy reports and feasibility studies, we spend an inordinate amount of time entering data into reporting tools, where it often sits, under-utilised – and of little value. It shouldn’t be any surprise to anyone when people become bored at work.

I read some research about a decade ago that suggested the key role of management was to remove barriers to workplace effectiveness. When was the last time you surveyed your workforce to identify the barriers, physical, mental and emotional that get in the way of them doing their job?

Let’s start a revolution in the workplace. Let us identify the dull, boring, repetitive, mundane and damned right uninteresting parts of our work and find other ways to do things. Let’s begin engineering our workplaces around the wellbeing of those doing the work rather than those needing the work to be done.

Why should people tolerate poor workplace design? Afterall we ask them to spend a very large part of their lives within the workplace. Some people need comfort space within which to work, others do their best work in a concrete block devoid of personality. Why are we still placing people into cubicles or offices all shaped the same. The reason is that we are simply assuming they will do as they are told. Take me back to 1959 or even 1859!

Even today I continue to recieve resistance from managers towards remote working. Come on, it’s almost 2020! The reason for the resistance is poor management practices. If a manager had in place an effective process for accountability – workplans, reporting, mentoring, coaching, feedback then it wouldn’t matter where someone chose to work from.

Not everyone wants to work from home, not everyone can do so due to the nature of their work. For those people it is about creating a space where they can work in a relaxed and collegial manner, where they can share ideas and develop collaboration. It is about removing from them tasks that are repetitive, mundane, dull, boring, changing systems, bringing in automation and then enabling those same people to have conversations, to look at client/patient/customer satisfaction, to think about innovation and to enjoy coming to work. Wouldn’t that be novel!

As a manager what can you do? Be aware that the little things do matter. You don’t have to make big change to make someones worklife more interesting and enjoyable – little changes have a big impact.

Many employees are engaged in activities because of habit or tradition or it was what they were shown when they started and noone has ever really questioned the value of the activity. Take small steps to identify those. During performance reviews, supervision and coaching ask, What can I do to make your job easier/safer/more interesting? Keep asking the question and over time you will learn what is worth changing.

Look at job design. Ask what is the value of this or that activity. What does it achieve, who does it create value for, what are the alternatives? Things remain the same because noone asks the question.

It will take time, probably years. Sudden change is never advisable, unless unavoidable. People resist change, even if you believe they will be better off. Switch from managing people as a resource and move to leadership by creating followers. Give people a reason to follow you.

Whatever you do, start today.

Since 2002 John Coxon has been advising and guiding management teams in nonprofit organisations, and operators of small businesses. His building block process comprises assessment and audit tools designed to gather data to inform your decision making and enable you to prioritise activities. This reduces the risk to you.

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