Bosses need to accept that employees choose what the future of work looks like


Not a day goes by without some indication that the dynamic of work has shifted–perhaps for good.

Whether it’s the phenomenon of “quiet quitting” or stories of employees outsourcing their jobs, everything suggests that the pandemic may have helped workers feel empowered to expect and ask for more because they’ve experienced flexibility firsthand and found ways, to do things differently–in some cases very, very differently.

These are the sorts of stories that, on some level, irritate CEOs and other leaders. If you’re an old-school executive, there’s little about these trends that feels good. Yet I’m here to say that employee empowerment is the best thing that can happen to your workforce.

Start by thinking of work along the lines of what, where, when, and how.

My generation of leaders has always been clear about what needs to be done. What has always been non-negotiable. And where and when were already taken care of: Prior to COVID, it was expected and accepted that workers came into an office or traveled to another job location, traditionally from nine to five, but typically more.

The how was largely up to employees. The greatest leaders are those who empower their people. They don’t micromanage and that means not messing with how your top people get their best work done. Today, the how is very different compared to just a couple of years ago.

In our era of flexible, hybrid work, companies of all kinds are scrambling to find ways to get their employees back into the office. We are focused on the when and where of work, even though the what and how remain most vital.

Unexpectedly, recent survey data shows Gen Z and other young generations actually express more interest in coming into the workplace than older colleagues–but that makes sense if you give it some thought.

Post-college social lives used to be dependent largely on where you worked and whom you worked with. Younger employees want things that some older employees have given up trying to get out of work or found in other aspects of their lives, like guidance, belonging, and camaraderie. Yet instead of carrots, too many companies seem to want to leverage sticks that focus on prior ways of getting things done.

Finding the right managerial balance in the post-pandemic, rapidly evolving age of work is tough. Leaders don’t want to be too prescriptive because that will be unempowering–but they don’t want complete chaos. These fine lines undoubtedly become tougher to navigate when not everyone is required to be in the same place at the same time, in any given week.

While where and when may garner all the headlines, let’s face it: what and how are more important–a constant that should be reassuring for any leader, as long as they’re willing to do their part by empowering the new flexible workforce.

Anne Chow is lead director on FranklinCovey’s Board of Directors and co-author of the best-selling book, “The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias.” Chow is the former CEO of AT&T Business and was twice featured as one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business.

The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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