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Playing To The Cheap Seats
But the audience won't be fooled for long.
Quote of the Moment
As humans, we're evolutionarily wired to prioritize short-term gain. Hunter gatherers had no use for five-year plans, and those instincts are still within us. Combine that with our current economic system, ad-driven business models, and algorithmic social media platforms, all of which visibly reward cynical short-term games, and you've got the perfect recipe to get lots of people prioritizing what's easy, quick, and shallow. There's so much opportunity waiting for the people who do deep, meaningful work, and who play long games. But our wiring and our current environment make it very difficult to see those possibilities, and trust them.
| Rob Hardy, The Ungated Manifesto
The world of work is a large part of our lives, and a stage on which to posture, leading to choices that are easy, quick, and shallow. Words that sound great when spoken but may have little behind them. New research suggests our business leaders are shortcutting their espoused efforts toward social aims, looking for the quick buzz and not the long haul.
Talking the Talk, Not Walking the Walk
In a time when employers need to do as much as possible to retain disengaged and distrustful employees, perhaps it’s unsurprising that companies are instituting policies that could lead to higher employee retention and attraction. But it seems that many are making claims about innovative policies without following through.
For example, Adele Peter reports (paywall)on a new Harris survey of 1,491 executives that showed sustainability was a priority among CEOs and other C-level leaders:
But 58% also admitted that their companies were guilty of greenwashing; among leaders in the U.S., that figure rose to 68%. And two-thirds of executives globally questioned whether their company’s sustainability efforts were genuine.
65% said that while they wanted to make progress on sustainability efforts, they didn’t actually know how to do that.
Peters looked into zero emissions aims in a related study:
The NewClimate Institute, a nonprofit, recently assessed 25 large companies with goals to reach net zero emissions, and found that they were exaggerating their progress and on track to reduce their emissions by only 40%, not 100%. (Some of the companies argue that the report’s methodology was flawed.)
Companies need to be transparent in the progress — or shortfalls — toward climate goals and should allocate resources to back up their claims. They aren’t fooling the rank-and-file: they will simply fuel disengagement in anything but the short term.
Likewise, making claims about diversity programs can backfire. In Most workers think their companies' diversity policies are BS, Gwen Moran digs into a Catalyst report, Words Aren’t Enough: The Risks of Performative Policies, and finds that ‘performative policies’ do more harm than good:
“It’s a wake-up call for leaders that you can’t just make a statement and step into the movement,” says Tara Van Bommel, coauthor of the report and director and statistician in the research department at Catalyst, a global nonprofit that focuses on workplace inclusion. “It’s not just making the statement and then saying, ‘Okay, I’ve checked the box.’ Employees are savvy. They want to see action behind it.”
Catalyst’s findings about aligning words with actions are more general than just diversity:
Be ready to have tough conversations — Anticipate the need to have difficult conversations, listen to feedback about the policy’s application in the workplace, and how to change to move ahead.
Create a culture where people can speak out — If people feel that speaking out isn’t safe they won’t. But recent research suggests ‘less that 10% of employees are comfortable voicing their DEI concerns to senior management’, for example.
Other recommendations: demand—and support—leadership commitment, engage in consistent and transparent communication, and tie goals to compensation. These may seem obvious, but they are the sort of down-in-the-trenches actions that should be in alignment with high-level policy goals and which often lag the big flowery pronouncements.
The key takeaway is that rhetoric may be inspiring, but policies have to be made real, down at the operational and interpersonal level, if they will really move the needle in engagement.
30/70 is the New Baseline
In a recent Twitter thread (@I_Am_NickBloom), economist Nicholas Bloom lays out the new realities of work in the U.S. [emphasis mine]:
The shift to WFH is the largest shock to labor markets in decades. Pre-pandemic WFH was trending towards 5% of days by 2022. Now WFH is now stabilizing at 30%, a 6-fold jump.
In America alone this is saving about 200 million hours and 6 billion miles of commuting a week.
Some questions on how to see this is stabilizing - this comes from higher frequency data. For example:
A) The monthly plot (below)
B) Kastle weekly office occupancy data
So, we are settling toward a baseline of knowledge workers spending more 30 percent of their working week out of the office, on average, and the degree of stabilization suggests we ain’t swinging back.
I am consistently angry that the health, ecological, and climate impacts of commuting aren’t treated as major aspects of the back-into-the-office/work-from-home tug of war. In Commuting Is Evil, I reported ‘commuting accounts for approximately 16% of US emissions. We can’t stop retail and other workers from commuting to their jobs, but 100 million knowledge workers could stay home.’
It would be much better if we could flip to 70/30.