To the veterans, baby boomers, old guards, or the so-called “dinosaurs,” the idea of office work is a 9-to-6 affair that involves sticking to a routine and ticking off tasks designed and intended to meet an organization’s objectives and goals.
This “well-oiled machine,” where individual parts function in accordance with a particular template to deliver an intended objective, is a management concept taken from the Industrial Revolution and perhaps, inappropriately adopted by service organizations.
I say “inappropriately adopted” because the intangible output of a service organization is far more difficult to measure compared with a tangible product spec sheet, and machines are arguably easier to tweak for efficiency than a process that involves data, knowledge, systems and people. Why is this “cogs in the machine” management thinking so prevalent and does it still apply in today’s sharing economy?
The current generation does not comprehend the dinosaurs’ command-and-control principles and other management methods. It’s been said many times before and in many other media that today’s knowledge workers demand “flex everything:” flexi-time, flexible benefits, work anywhere policies, dress-as-you-please office environments, quiet rooms and “play” rooms, fully-stocked pantries, mobility across different divisions or offices, customized training and personal development, engaged coaching and mentoring, and so on.
The old guards are naturally aghast—amid all these seemingly personal demands, where is the organization? Can’t employees just perform their tasks in accordance with prescribed processes, policies and standards so that we can hit our goals and targets for the benefit of the organization—and ultimately, the workers? How can management function amid all these flex options?
These are difficult questions to answer, and I suspect something better suited for a sociologist, psychologist or anthropologist to answer. However, let me propose my own theories based on my own observations.
I believe freer markets and globalization, advances in technology and rapid urbanization have created a situation where individuals, particularly knowledge workers in urban areas, are spoiled by choices and they have almost limitless opportunities for self-actualization. This may sound like a sweeping generalization, but I see it everywhere.
I see it in supermarkets, department stores and malls—both brick-and-mortar or virtual—where you can select from a bewildering array of goods compared with even just a decade ago. I see it in the entertainment business, where media is as on-demand as Spotify and Netflix and where you can become an instant star on YouTube.
I see it in the ease and relative affordability of air travel and along with it the rapid flow of ideas and insight from one culture to another. I see it in education, too; not only can you choose from the many schools in your vicinity, but more and more, you have numerous opportunities to satisfy your intellectual curiosity online.
I see it in entrepreneurship. It’s simple to set up an online storefront, to freelance via Upwork or Elance, to self-publish your credentials on WordPress or to market your business on social media. Most importantly, I see it in community-building and cause-supporting. It is now easier than ever to find like-minded people who share a common belief or purpose (or, conversely, for them to find you) through online groups so they can rally together toward furthering that shared objective.
Not only do opportunities abound, but I also believe risk appetites have increased along with it. Your employees’ friends are opening their lives on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, et al, and your subordinates’ hunger becomes more palpable with every post of success and achievement by their peers.
I recently had two rising talents leave for greener pastures because they had acquired condominiums on current salaries that were far too low to comfortably cover monthly amortization and then they saw high school friends online having properties of their own and landing higher-paying jobs with their similar credentials. Peer pressure and influence have increased immeasurably with the advent of social sharing.
Endless choices, limitless opportunities, and increased appetite for risk all brought about by freer markets, globalization, technology advancements and rapid urbanization. You, the dinosaur, are seeing this change unfold before your very eyes and are still likely trying to comprehend the changes as they happen. While they, your knowledge workers, have known no other way to live.
So, the knowledge workers have more expectations and apply these in their work. They want more choices and are hungry for more opportunities. They want a customized work experience, tailor-fit for their needs and wants. They want flex-this and flex-that because that’s their daily situation outside of the workplace. Along with it is an idealism of sorts, a belief that they can shape their environment to fit their purpose whatever that may be. If they don’t get it, they leave—there are many choices and opportunities out there.
The answer to the question, therefore, is No. Employees will no longer perform work for its own sake and without justification. More and more, they will not accept being treated as mere cogs in the machine. This is because to them, an organization is not a machine but a community. The workplace becomes an extension of who they are and what they believe in. And your organization is the plaza where they congregate to join like-minded people in achieving a shared purpose.
It is no longer enough that organizations service financial needs. Today’s employees expect the workplace to provide for their sense of belonging, self-actualization and shared purpose. For your organization/community to survive, it needs to be deliberate in the articulation of its common values and purpose. Find that, share it, make them believe it—and give them the freedom to choose how to get the work done.
Emiliano ‘Third’ Librea 3rd is a Partner, Head of Advisory Services and Chief Information Officer of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firm in the Philippines, with 20 Partners and over 700 staff members.