Beyond Jeans on Friday

In the ’70s, progressive workplaces implemented dress down days or “jeans on Fridays.” In the ’80s, progressive workplaces implemented business casual, flextime, and job sharing. In the ’90s, progressive workplaces implemented remote offices, home offices, sandals as part of the dress code, and no set work schedule. In the 2000s, progressive workplaces have implemented “leadership is everywhere,” frequent travel, free soda, on-site daycare, global titles, and part-time management schedules. What does a business in 2010 and beyond have to do to go on the offensive and create the workplace of the future? A workplace that attracts a vibrant employee, distinguishes them from their competitors, and weathers the economic cycles?

In thinking about “being on the offensive” with designing your workplace, I struck up a conversation with a few of my business colleagues and asked them if they could change three things about their work environment, what would they be. The small sample size said basically the same thing: work to live, not live to work.

When asking the same question to members of a Young Professionals Association, they said they want their “life” back. This is a group of 20 to 25-year-olds that have been in the workplace for one to five years, and they are already talking about burnout.  

When I was at my doctor’s office, the woman sitting next to me was on the phone (yes, I eavesdropped; how could I not!) She said, “I am here because I am so tired.” Later on, I overhead that same woman telling the person next to her that she got back from a business trip at 11:05 p.m. last night. She was trying to find a doggy daycare because she was on her way to Winnipeg, Canada for her son’s hockey tournament. She needed this doctor’s appointment to go quickly as she was already late for the two meetings she had scheduled at 9:30 a.m. I would like to say this was an isolated situation of one woman being obnoxiously busy; however, I think if we look around, this is probably more mainstream than not.

When I asked traditional college students a version of the same question, they said things like: “I didn’t take that job with XYZ Company because the manager was a maniac and expected me to work all the time. I could just feel it in her comments on how she organized her day.” “I would have stayed at that internship, but my boss refused to let me go to my friend’s wedding.” “I was offered two jobs. One job paid $70,000 and the other paid $56,000. I took the one for $56,000 because they gave me five weeks of vacation and said I could have every other Friday off if I was willing to travel.”

This is hard for me (a traditional MBA graduate, recovering workaholic, and small business owner) to say, but what if the offense for the future workplace is to become the company that will do “less with more” instead of “more with less”? That is not a typo. Imagine if you could figure out how to profitably cut the “crap” from your company, innovate, grow without being frantic, overworked, or eaten by the competition, and maintain a reasonable 40 to 50-hour work week. In some European countries, this has already proved a viable business model. It may seem impossible, but some also thought it was impossible to have remote employees. It seems odd to be recommending this in times of potential economic turmoil; however, when there is turmoil, there is opportunity.

I have a friend who said that she bet you could cut 40 percent of what most businesses did and really not feel the effects. I don’t know if 40 percent is right, but the question to ask is what is the price of inefficiencies? Things such as bad meetings, unprepared conference calls, redundant conversations, and poorly facilitated off sites? Could a business really do less with more if they just got serious about making things count and not just about having an activity-based culture?

I see people driving their cars in a race to pass everyone, swerving in and out of lanes, and palming the steering wheel. It is always interesting to see the fast car’s driver reach the stoplight at the same time as the driver who was simply just driving along. I am not advocating that you fall behind your competition, but I wonder if the “cat chasing your tail” approach is beating your competition to the stoplight anyway.

I don’t have any fine statistics or research results, but often going on the offensive requires you to think differently. If our workforce is tired of living to work, if college kids are not taking jobs because they want a balanced schedule, if young professionals are saying they want their “life” back, if people are at the doctor’s office because they are “so” tired, it may be a competitive advantage to figure out how to create the future business environment that thrives financially, does not subscribe to the more with less philosophy, but actually innovates to do just the opposite – less with more.

I don’t have the answers on how to do this, and nothing surfaced in the more formal research I conducted. However, I strongly believe that this is the time to innovate and figure out what is going to be truly different in 2010. Doing less with more, profitably, would indeed be something that would capture the attention of many. It might even be our future because the current system will eventually work itself to death.

Innovative people could figure this out together! To be a part of the solution, contact Pam McGee at Pmcgee2@hotmail.com.

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