Note: Inc.'s Ask a 20-Something series offers sage advice for navigating all manner of workplace issues, from the perspective of a young employee.
My under-30 employees have recently been lobbying for flexible hours and work-from-home policies. I'm convinced they're just going to abuse those perks, and our productivity will nosedive. Is there an easy way for me to meet them halfway?
Before my editor chews me out for writing a one-word advice column, let me explain: Flexible hours and work-from-home policies are all-or-nothing propositions. If you institute half-measures--offering these policies only sometimes, or to some employees but not others--you'll come across as inconsistent, or worse, as playing favorites. So, no, you're not going to meet your employees halfway here.
These policies function on accountability and trust, and clearly, you don't trust your young employees. I've gotta say, that seems pretty paranoid to me. Think about the last time you took a sick day. Did the entire office fall into shambles in your absence? If not, it sounds like you need to do some serious self-reflection here. Figure out where those trust issues come from.
And if your office did fall apart, I don't think your under-30 employees are entirely to blame. Either you've made some serious hiring mistakes, you're terrible at motivating your employees to buy into your mission, or you're doing too much yourself and not delegating important work to others.
Let me dispel a myth for you: Young workers aren't trying to game the system. Your average 20-something is well aware that it takes hard work and dedication to get ahead, especially because we constantly find ourselves fighting against the (very dumb) stigma that Millennials are inherently lazy and entitled.
That stigma colors everything you tell us. If anything, we work harder than usual to make our presence known to our bosses when we work remotely, because we believe we can't rely on our work to speak for us. When you say, "I need you in the office," here's what we hear: "I don't trust you to do your job unless I'm literally watching you work."
I'm not going to lie. That's hurtful.
Just for the sake of argument, let's assume I'm right. It invites the question: Why do your under-30 workers want flexible hours and work-from-home policies? What a great question. You should ask them. Out loud. With words.
Maybe they work second jobs to help pay off their student loans. Maybe their commute sucks--a 2018 study from HR consulting firm Robert Half found that 23 percent of workers have quit a job because of their commute.
Or, maybe they're just trying to get a little more sleep--which would make them more productive, not less. A 2018 study published in the journal Sleep, for example, found that sleeping five to six hours a night cuts your productivity the next day by 19 percent, compared with a baseline of seven to eight hours per night. Nineteen percent!
When you learn the reasons behind their request, you'll have a much stronger idea of how the added flexibility might benefit them--and you. That'll help you make an educated decision. And don't forget: You can always implement these policies on a limited basis, especially as a way of testing the waters. Designate a single work-from-home day each week, or try it on a month-by-month basis. See what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised.
To submit a question for Ask a 20-Something, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Your query could be featured in a future installment.
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