People Leaders, Beware the One Ring of Power

The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it. – Galadriel, The Lord of the Rings

Something is indeed in the water. It is in the earth, the air. Something was lost, and people in power do remember it and are trying to get it back.

Is it the One Ring of Power? One ring to rule all employees? Kind of.

What a lot of employers seem to want back is their illusion of control – where people work, how people work. They care more about these artificial things than what actually matters – the work results themself!

This is conjecture. I haven’t done any deep dive studies. I just notice things. I pay attention. There just seems to be a attitude of “when we all get back to the office….” Hell, even the President of the United States stated something to this effect during his State of the Union!

But those folks are wrong, as is the President. Returning to the office is about calming an ego. It is not about “culture” or “symbiosis” or any other word thrown out there. Return to the office is about control and about ego.

That’s it. That’s the tea, that’s the tweet, as some may say.

I recently shared a post on LinkedIn about work from home. It went viral!

See original post here.

Over half a million views, almost 11,000 reactions, almost 1,200 shares, and over 200 comments (and counting) – obviously, it struck a chord with folks.

And why is that? Overwhelmingly, the comments and reaction has been SUPPORTIVE of allowing folks the work flexibility they’ve adapted to. Ultimately, if the work is being done and at an acceptable level, then what’s the issue with continuing down the path of work flexibility?

“Love this! When did we lose sight of paying employees for results instead of their time?”

“Am I the only one who finds it odd that results weren’t the measurement of success to begin with?”

“I was discussing this concept with a colleague late last year and they weren’t grasping the concept at all. I couldn’t think of an easier way to explain it. People are so focused on, ‘But what if they finish all their work in less than 40 hours? I should give them extra work! That is how people eventually get promotions!!!’ But that isn’t, is it? That is how people get overworked, and taken advantage of for years with no advancement because they’ll do more work for the same pay as their peers.”

“One more time for those in the back! Focus on results, not the clock – such an important point!!”

“I’m also convinced Managers don’t like people working from home because they fear they are going to have to manage differently. They can’t just look up and see that they are at their desk. They may have to engage more directly and make individual contact to see how people are going, what they need to succeed, etc.”

These were some of the comments. Not all were supportive. Some comments were sarcastic strawmen arguments against allowing work from home and flex scheduling. Thus is the internets, so spoke Zarathustra. Regardless, the overwhelming majority supported the idea of allowing employee choice.

I am an optimist. I never used to be, but I trained myself to be one over time. I do believe in people. What I don’t trust is ego and power. Both corrupt. So, this optimist hates to think it, but Laurie Ruettimann is right. Work is broken. It’s beyond repair if people leaders cannot figure out how to get work done in new ways, only to try reverting back to the old paradigm the moment an opportunity presents itself.

Like Russia invading Ukraine, old world people leaders are trying to hold onto a past that no longer exists. They are trying to force THEIR world views on a world that doesn’t want that outdated view, nor can support it.

And we wonder why people don’t want to go back? Who wants to be around a system that is broken? Much like the KGB of old, these misguided at best (and failed at worst) leaders want to force breadlines, bank runs, and obtuse morals on their people against their will for no other reason other than it satisfies an ego that cannot be controlled.

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Why many Black employees don’t want to return to the office

Why Managers Matter

Why forcing employees to return to work can be a bad idea

This isn’t necessarily new. It has been simmering for decades. The Pandemic just brought this environment to the consciousness of employees. And guess what? Employees are no longer taking this abuse laying down.

No More Working for Jerks!

Starbucks union campaign pushes on, with at least 16 stores now organized.

Restaurant workers find greener pastures in coding, hairstyling and auto manufacturing

A Two-Year, 50-Million-Person Experiment in Changing How We Work

And worst of all, there’s a seemingly larger than should be contingency of people leaders covering their eyes, plugging their ears going “Nah nah nah nah nah! I can’t hear you! Nah nah nah nah nah!”

Fed-up managers declare WFH is over, as 77% say they’d fire you or cut your pay for not coming back to the office

This self-imposed childish ignorance is laughable – if it wasn’t such a threat to the overall wellbeing of workers. It’s fact, not fiction, that flexible work provides people with health and wellbeing that the old ways of working could not, so long as it’s done right. But then again, work is broken. If workplace leaders are truly concerned about the health of the employee, then flexible work schedules, work from home, hybrid scheduling, all of it, would not be under attack.

Forcing folks to come back to an office is not about the work. It never has been. It’s about control! It’s about ego! It’s about power dynamics. It’s about managers that don’t know how, nor care to know how, to manage a dispersed, empowered team.

Ultimately, yes, the employer needs to ensure that work is being done, that it’s being done well, and it is bringing value to an organization. I am not saying that those things should be ignored. No! I am saying that those things can be enhanced when an employee is allowed freedom, control, and creativity! This comes from the aforementioned work arrangements.

And honestly, good managers can get good work from their staff under any circumstance – in office or at home. The workplace matters not. It’s about results. Manage the person where they are, not where you want them to be – both physically and metaphysically speaking.

When organizational leaders refuse to entertain different ways of doing things simply because it’s easier to revert to old habits, then they take the risk of destroying their organization. People will leave. And those that don’t leave will not be motivated to provide the best quality of work.

Organizational leaders need to challenge themselves to think beyond what they know. They need to embrace the difficult. Let go of the ego, or it will convince you to jump into Mount Doom after a One Ring of Power that has been cast into the  volcanic fires – forever destroyed, yet foolishly held onto as one melts away clutching a Precious that never was.

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Published by Paul LaLonde

Husband. Father. Passionate about HR, helping people, and doing the right thing. Also, heavy metal, craft beer, and general nerd things! #SHRM19Blogger. Find me on Twitter at @HRPaul49 and LinkedIn. Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

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