I'm fascinated by the idea of defining what "hard work" has traditionally meant to people. Is it about logging the most hours? Producing the most work? Being the most stressed out? Having the most scars on your knuckles? What defines work ethic? Boomers came of age in a dog eat dog world and their work lives represented that. Fiercely competitive and stereotyped as workaholics, the time to get the office was 5 minutes before the boss and the time to leave was 5 minutes after and not a moment sooner.
Xers brought in work-life balance. The mindset was, "I’ll be present and focused and work incredibly hard from 8-5. After that, don’t talk to me, don’t call me, don’t bother me."
Empowered by technology, Millennials are now helping to influence a new era of work/life integration or as some might call it, simply life. The barriers between our personal lives and our professional lives have eroded. Everything is happening simultaneously today. You’re on Facebook at the office and you’re working on your couch while watching Newsroom at home.
This is no longer only a Millennial trend, work/life-integration is becoming an emerging trend, which means that although it began as a Millennial-centric trend, it is slowly folding into the fabric of today’s workforce culture.
Today we have the tools and the technology to work from anywhere and at anytime and the statistics show it's helping us accomplish more. In fact a recent study found that flexible working options can increase productivity by 20-30%.
Despite these new realities, many leaders are still attached to old rules about when and where work happens and what it means to be a "hard worker".
I'll give you an example...
What's the first thing most of us do in the morning when we wake up? We roll over and turn the alarm of on our phone and immediately check email. Boom. Plugged in at 5am. Tonight when we go to bed, what's the last thing we'll do? Set the alarm on our phone and check email one more time. We're "plugged in" for pretty much 18 hours.
However, despite being plugged in since 5am, when the Sr. VP walks by the 28 year old analyst's desk at 9:20am and sees an empty chair, the thoughts that immediately fly through their head are, "not a hard worker", "not committed", "not a high potential candidate" and "How can I count on this person if they can't even show up on time?" The list goes on.
Now these thoughts might never be spoken out loud but make no doubt about it, 20+ of navigating the hierarchy and a world where work happened between 4 walls will not magically go away over night.
We can roll out all of the greatest flexibility programs under the sun but if leaders aren't ready to let go of an old story about what work ethic looks like and where work happens, it won't make a bit of difference in your culture.