On Overcoming Generational and Outdated Views of Work

In the interview We Can’t Work All the Time on HBR recently, there’s this gem (emphasis added in the final paragraph):

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Well, I’m also curious to know, given these are a couple of things that you’ve learned through experience, are there other things where, as a leader, you’ve looked back now and said, you know, when such and such employee came to me with some work-life issue, I wish I had responded differently at the time? Are there other kinds of things where you looked back thought, like, huh, if I knew then what I knew now, maybe I would have responded differently?


ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: The thing I think I wish I’d done most is not so much individually, because I have had the view from the beginning that when people came to me, I always tell them absolutely, do what you need– but, again, I expect you to get your work done. But I wish I’d pushed back harder institutionally, and I think this does go to something many leaders encounter. You want to do it differently, and you can’t see any reason why we shouldn’t let people work from home when they need to work from home, or really be more in control of their own schedules. But you run up against an institutionalized bureaucracy that is very nervous about those kinds of changes.


And when I was a younger leader, and even to some extent today, you often don’t push as hard as you need to, because your HR department tells you, oh, we couldn’t possibly do that, or managers you depend on, and trust, and need to work with say, well, but my work is different. You know, the work in this department, really they have to be present to do it. In my younger days, I would say, well, I guess that’s right, as opposed to really saying, no, that is a generational view, or that’s just an outdated view, or we are not going to be able to attract and retain the talent we need if we keep insisting on working the old way.

In re-imagining effective work (or transformation of any kind), this is the heart of the challenge: what is held as true in the way we organise work that could have an alternative and equally valid point of view?

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