The main job of a manager or anyone in HR is to listen. Listen to what people need, what people want, how things are going. When I was a manager, my goal as the leader of a team was to remove blocks so that people could do their job to the best of their ability.
But having the mindset that it’s our role to overcome any challenges can leads us to rush into fixing mode at the first request we hear vs. really listening for the deeper need someone is asking to be met… which they don’t even know they’re asking for.
Recently I was speaking at an event on the top trends in HR and professional development, and one of the trends being shared was the request to work from home. Employees are asking for flexible schedules or full-time work-from-home scenarios.
Yet, as a coach I know that community and human connection is incredibly important in order for people to feel whole and fulfilled. And as an entrepreneur and now CEO, I remember how it felt to go from office life to solo-preneur working from home: It gets lonely.
And that’s not just how I feel. Now over 1 million people work from a co-working space and the number of co-working spaces in the US has doubled since 2015 (Statista). About 40% of these people are freelancers, 60% remote workers. The gender split is also almost equal, 44/56 women to men. The Collective Gain office is in a coworking space, too. In fact, every single person around us in our co-working space are those who can “work from home” and yet they choose to pay for an office… a place to come that’s dedicated to their work (89% of people who cowork reported being happier).
So what is the real desire?
Is it really fewer distractions? (The #1 reason employees say they want to WFH according to a FlexJobs survey of 3,000 people is they feel home provides fewer distractions) Ask most people who have worked from home and they’ll say the opposite; there are too many distractions.
After speaking to hundreds of people beginning one of our coaching programs it has become clear to me what employees really want. It’s FREEDOM.
When they quit, it's often that they want freedom of creation or expression. When the ask to work from home, it's freedom to live their life. Freedom to be who they are. Freedom to respect the cycles of extreme productivity and creativity, and times of quiet and self-reflection.
In the same FlexJobs survey, some 73 percent of people said they’d rather have a balance between the office and home over more money. This is how strong the desire is to live one’s life on their terms. To have work and life ebb and flow as they need it to in order to feel optimized in both – to have it all.
But in corporate America there is no ebb and flow, no cycles; there is one speed -- ON. In fact, one of the #1 complaints we hear from employees is a lack of work-life balance. But the culprit is not what you think. It’s not a reduction in hours or workload that they want – and, yes, that’s what they ask for -- but if you look deeper into the real desire, you see that what they really want is to have permission to not always be ON.
Permission to “go dark” and recharge, rest, reflect, regenerate themselves. This is the absolute key to optimizing your workforce. The always-on mentality is draining and burns people out.
Often these team members don’t quit, they just sit at half capacity, fried from a year-and-a-half sprint. They operate at the lowest level, trying to rest and recuperate yet appearing to be activated and ON. This is why you can’t tell by looking at your team who is burnt out and who isn’t, you have to run engagement reports to understand if people are being productive or not, who’s actually engaged and who’s pretending (68% are not engaged according to a 2015 Gallup poll).
It is critical to give your teams the option to retreat. To retreat and not be productive. To be an observer, to network, to practice self-care, to be with those they love, to get outside… That’s how you restore. That’s how you get inspired. And the how one needs to retreat is unique to each person. When you give people space, respect their needs as human beings, they will come back to you recharged. That’s how you’ll not only retain talent, but retain talent that’s giving you 110%.
When I was an executive, I would travel a lot to sales and business development meetings. On average, I’d travel three to four days out of every month. I distinctly remember the feeling that’d start to come over me when I hadn’t been on the road for a couple of months. I’d want to get a trip booked -- what sales call could I join? What client needed a visit?
And only now do I see that this need to travel was a need for a break. You see, when I traveled, I got some time “off”. The airplane ride alone with no cell phone or computer (before airplanes had Wifi) was my sanctuary. No one could call and ask me for something, and there was nothing productive for me to do. When I arrived, I didn’t need to cook, do dishes, or answer to anyone but myself. The next day attending meetings was similar -- my job was to get somewhere by a certain time and engage in conversation with a client. That was it. And there would be time in the day for a leisurely lunch or evening meetup with friends.
This allowed me some reprieve from the daily demands of being an executive, a job where creativity, problem solving, decision-making, clear articulation and inspiring others packed every hour of my day. On some level, I knew I needed some time and space to recharge and renew.
The always-on mentality is driving people away and making your fixed-salary investment a bad one. An employee asking for a flexible schedule or to work from home is the request of someone who can sense they are burning out. They know that their battery is low. So they come up with an idea that feels less stressful. That feels like it will give them the freedom to rest when they need to take a break and work when they feel unstoppable.
With that in mind, here are a few ways to give people the space they need to recharge and regenerate:
Cyclical Schedules: For those in production or jobs with times of heavy workload and other times of the year where it’s more quiet, allow for very flexible schedules during the slow time. When it’s crunch time, 70+ hour work weeks are required, catered lunches and dinners, and then once the project is launched and some down time can be enjoyed… maybe it’s a 6-week sabbatical or perhaps a two day-a-week schedule for a few weeks so they can rest and recharge. We see this most often in gaming companies. And please note, their need to recharge is happening anyway, it’s just happening while they sit at their desk futzing around; no benefit to the company and no real benefit to them and it will take them much longer to recharge than if they had approved time to slow down.
Intermittent Vacation: For those in jobs with a steady stream of work all year long, allow for short bursts of time off every couple of months. For example, every eight weeks, give a day or two off. This can be used to create an extended weekend, giving an employee a chance to travel with family, see a friend, or get some home projects done. They key here is they pick the day… based on when they need it. Trust that they’ll do it when it’s best for them and the company.
Coaching: The reprieve we’re talking about is a mental break. We’ve heard over and over from our clients that having an hour or two every other week to not have the answers and just be in reflection mode with a coach has been remarkable. Remember the #1 reason employees want to work from home? Fewer distractions. After 3 months of coaching 82% of Collective Gain coachees report improved clarity and focus and 64% report more progress toward their goals. And they’re still working in the office with the same teams and company dynamics. These micro moments of rest really add up to an overall increase in clarity, focus, work-life balance and overall happiness. (68% feel more life balance/happiness after coaching).
We understand that in sports there is a competitive season and then an off season. This is required to give the body rest after months of exertion. Our minds are no different, but modern work isn’t allowing for the break--the reprieve.
In nature, this is called seasons.
In children, this is called growth spurts.
And in adults, this is called “I want to work from home.”
Your employees don’t need to work from home, they need permission to not always be on. To have the FREEDOM to listen to the cycles of their body, their mind, their energy--and to rebuild so they can show up fully activated and ready to deliver.