10 Jul Questioning the Morality of the Workplace: A Rare Opportunity to Reframe our Work World
At the dawn of the hybrid work era, the morality of unequal-opportunity remote work is being questioned. Specifically, by Elon Musk.
Musk recently drew attention to the (albeit obvious) fact that not everyone has the option to work remotely, which of course poses a dilemma about fairness and equity.
I don’t typically agree with him, but when I heard Musk’s interview on the matter, I found it to be thought provoking. I don’t typically agree with him, and I would not describe the push to work-from-home as “bull-***,” nor do I think that people are on a “moral high horse” about WFH needs. That said, this particular matter is certainly complex, and I think it is worth diving into given it is top of mind for almost every employer and employee.
While technology has made it possible for certain individuals to carry out their professional responsibilities from the comfort of their homes or any location with an internet connection, countless others are unable to access such opportunities due to the nature of their work or the circumstances they find themselves in. Those who can work remotely enjoy greater flexibility, better work-life balance, and reduced commuting time, among other advantages.
Working from home isn’t something that was invented as a result of the pandemic – it has been around for a long time and was on the increase in both opportunity and acceptance. The pandemic simply accelerated a workplace norm that was inevitable. These opportunities are not – and haven’t been – accessible to everyone.
No doubt, inequities are created between those who can and can’t work remotely – both across industries and even within one company or one office. I get what Musk is saying; it’s not fair that some people get to work from the comfort of their home when many others will never, ever have the same opportunity. So many of the world’s jobs require a physical presence – healthcare workers, factory workers, home builders, service industry workers, and so on. The disparity between those who can work remotely and those who cannot creates an imbalance in terms of opportunities, income, and overall quality of life.
That said, the world is changing and remote working from home is here to stay, so the question is not whether or not we should try to stop it in its tracks, but rather how we can embrace it with conscious intention. Instead of advocating for the way things used to be, here’s our opportunity to re-define how, when and where we work in a way that includes everyone. It starts with less focus on productivity measures as the be all and end all, and instead a focus on creating equitable workplaces that have employee well-being in mind. This ensures that while people have different jobs and work schedules, the experience they have while they are at work is one where everyone benefits.
Here are some ideas to consider:
Lean into uber flexibility:
Recognize that we all want our work and home lives to be in harmony with each other and that the current work structures are outdated. Embracing flexibility will vary for each company and role. Explore utilizing four-day workweeks which have been proven to provide a productivity boost as well as flexibility. Shift work is (and has been) prevalent in many sectors and offers the opportunity for a compressed schedule as well as time off during the week. While people in these roles are unable to work from home, they can be offered the opportunity to craft a more flexible schedule that meets their needs. Flexibility isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Prioritize mental health:
We’ve overlooked this aspect of our health in the past. No matter what industry you work in, mental health cases have been on the rise across the board since the pandemic. Even worse, our youngest members of the workforce, Gen Z, have the highest rates of anxiety and depression. They are more likely to seek out mental health counseling and as a result, they seek out companies that prioritize mental health care. Organizations can lead the way by expanding their benefits to incorporate more mental health benefits as well as reduce the stigma and the way it is talked about.
Mitigating systemic causes of burnout:
The relentless pressure people have been feeling from the pandemic, economic instability, social media, initiatives to do more with less, etc, have all led to an increase in burnout across the board. Burnout isn’t solved with yoga classes and meditation apps, although those aren’t bad things to offer. Solving burnout is about seeking out the systemic issues in organizations that are related to workload and distribution, hierarchy and bureaucracy, toxic cultures, and a lack of psychological safety. Leaders can prioritize addressing these root causes by systematically addressing these deep workplace culture issues.
At the end of the day, no matter if our firms are in the tractor-making or bridge building or selling intellectual expertise business, helping people learn, grow and flourish is paramount. Leaders can match employees to work that leverages their strengths and offer development opportunities through stretch assignments, coaching, mentoring and formal training. We work with human beings not robots – at least not yet – so center your workplace around the human elements.
If we’re going to talk about morality in the workplace, let’s shift the conversation from work from home being unfair to some, and instead creatively think about how we can create a more fair, equitable and thriving workplace for all.