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Times are changing

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Two articles in the Wall Street Journal reminded me that unless we are purposeful about our culture and work relationships, things will get messy.

One article focuses on annoying colleagues back in office together, and the other on heavy demands from CEOs. Both articles identify trends at work that left unchecked could create additional problems.

It might be two employees used to working alone at home that start to bicker. First, they clash over food in the work refrigerator, and then they argue over who saw which customer first. It might be CEOs telling employees to pick up the pace because the company needs to survive a worsening economy. The climate in the workplace is evolving, and this means employees, managers and even the C-Suite are in for a change.

CEO lectures employee

Calibrating Workforce Expectations

The number of job openings has decreased over the past two months. However, openings still outnumber the unemployed by nearly two to one. How is this impacting the C-suite? When management demands abrupt changes and does not provide concessions for employees, these businesses risk losing talent. However, it is a two-way street and the tables will turn. Just like the administration is hoping for a soft landing with the economy, businesses must make changes deliberately and cautiously.

Let’s look at the C-Suite’s expectations of the workforce. In general, the leadership of an organization desires a strong and well-functioning team. These executives want to ensure they have high-performers and quality output to meet customer needs. This article mentions how many CEOs privately admit to disliking when employees work remotely. Some felt there was less control over employees and the caliber or quantity of the work they generated when working from home.

There is a balancing act needed to bring expectations in line with the current workforce – especially for companies hoping to keep employees for the long-run. The national quit rate (the number of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs) is hovering around 4 million people each month. Keeping employees takes skill, finesse, and planning.

The C-Suite can’t run roughshod over employees and demand changes without caring about the ramifications. While certain aspects of the economy may be darkening on the horizon, there are other parts keeping employees in the driver’s seat.

Take time to look at changes from the employees’ perspective. Perception versus reality can lead employees to not understand the reason behind the change, and ultimately push back. This is a preventable obstacle, in most cases.

Office meeting with scrum board

Coworking in Harmony

The second article ties in with people returning to the office and bringing their pet peeves with them. Too often managers find themselves refereeing spats between loud gum chewing, noisy keyboards and overly talkative co-workers. Employees have gotten comfortable working from home without the distractions of others (save for the pets and kids). Now they have to “put up with” the annoyances of colleagues. And it doesn’t always work out.

It might take time to learn to work with others, particularly after a two-year hiatus. But in order to have effective teamwork and create camaraderie, employees and managers must find a way to work it out. This is an ideal time for team building. Get to know the new hires. Talk to the people who were only boxes on a Zoom call. Instead of finding out what bugs us about our cubicle neighbors, find out what everyone has in common.

A focus on communications is critical. John Spence, a recognized thought leader in business, recently posted an article about learning how to work with each other on LinkedIn. The key is being upfront about how you communicate and what you want from others. This is not only a good idea for leaders to do with their teams, but for co-workers to do with each other.

Maintaining Workplace Peace

Addressing these issues proactively will help reduce conflicts later on. Help employees understand which things they should really be concerned versus the small potatoes.

Confused manager illustration

  1. Have a loud co-worker nearby? Try noise-canceling headphones.

  2. Concerned someone may steal your lunch from the breakroom? Bring an insulated lunch bag and keep it at your desk.

  3. Tired of people just dropping by to chat when you are working? Hang a colored piece of paper outside your cube: Green, for doing light work and available to chat; Yellow, for working on something that needs my focus but alert me if it is important; Red, for deep in work and need complete concentration, but if the building is on fire, let me know. (Just don’t always keep it on red!)

frustrated and bored employees waiting to leave work

Real Life Challenges

I had a client recently who was dealing with an employee who seemed to be complaining about everyone else and every situation that was happening to them. What the employee didn’t see was any good in others or the fact that they may also have the same concerns. The employee also didn’t see any issues with their performance. While we are still working on this issue, it is important to not let things get out of hand.

We must set expectations for communications, teamwork and their performance, then hold them accountable. We must set performance management in motion. We are in for some changes. Our workforce may not look the way it did, but we are getting used to that.

The key is to be proactive about how leaders work with their employees.

  • Be proactive about setting expectations and ensuring the workplace culture is moving in the direction you want it to move.

  • Be proactive with your communications with your team and remember that you have two ears and one mouth, and the best communicators use them respectively by listening twice as much as they speak.

  • And finally, be proactive about holding people accountable.

If you have been a bit lacking in this area, don’t throw down the hammer all at once. Gradually begin the process, but don’t let up if you meet some resistance.

Times, they are a changing… but we’ve got this!



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