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When Did Work Become Such a Fight?

It was noticeable during the pandemic, but the stories have really been picking up steam this spring. Maybe the specter of recession wafting around newsrooms is fueling it.

Whatever the reason, article after article has pitted companies against employees on everything from remote work to professional attire. Even traditionally agreed upon subjects like taking initiative (good) and child labor (bad) have been turned on their heads.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is at its lowest point since 1969 and employers continue to struggle with hiring and retention. It’s the disconnect that’s so glaring. Employers are both fighting for new hires and fighting with new hires about salary, benefits, remote work, and more. The question is, why.

In a word, fear. Companies are showing us that they’re suspicious of their workers and fearful of allowing them more autonomy and less oversight. These are not the actions of organizations that trust and value their staff. Rather, it seems to be an adversarial game. Employers give the least possible (salary, privacy, time off) while expecting the most (productivity, connectivity, people in the smallest office space).

What would happen if employers trained their leadership and managers to assume good intention? Managers would know that their primary job is to remove obstacles so that their employees can shine. Accommodating these rainmakers would be a top priority including keeping them happy with their physical workspace, salary, and work/life balance. No one would want these stars to burnout. Underperformers would be dealt with as anomalous situations that don’t impact companywide policies and management practices.

For many organizations, this would require a huge shift in training and leadership. It would likely take some time for workplace cultures to shift and workers to learn to trust their managers. However, the boon in growing a mutually trusting and respectful relationship would be enormous. Employers would value their employees rather than policing them, and act like it. Workers would gain ownership over their work and feel more engaged and satisfied in their work.

Some employers do seem to be getting this message and adjusting. Those companies are likely to attract and retain the best works. The organizations who don’t will continue to fall short of hiring needs and wonder why their can’t move the needle on morale.

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