No. You Can’t Leave Early Today. (a.k.a. “Don’t be a soulless Jack-O-Lantern”)

No. You Can’t Leave Early Today. (a.k.a. “Don’t be a soulless Jack-O-Lantern”)

I once had a front row seat to witness when a coworker approached his boss and requested to leave work 30 minutes early to enjoy his first trick-or-treat at his family’s newly purchased home. My colleague’s manager smirked, raised one eyebrow, and said “Really? How old are you?” The employee was crushed.

I’ve witnessed this scenario play out countless ways with different fact patterns over the years when employees desire something that organizations don’t want to accommodate. And in tone-deaf organizations, the message to the employee is always the same: “What you value is unimportant, and I can’t believe you wasted my time with this meaningless question.” 

Similarly, tone-deaf organizations love to bash the idea of “excessive” employee perks. (Think ping-pong tables, catered lunches, unlimited PTO, and other silicone-valley-type benefits). These gripes are typically followed by a smug smile and a statement to the effect of “We don’t do that—it would never work here.“  This always makes me want to ask, “So what does work here?

To make sense of this whole situation (and to appreciate why it’s everyone’s problem), you need to understand one concept:

Outdated management ideas are being passed from generation to generation allowing them to take root with younger generations because those managers haven’t had proper management training.

Here are three key facts to know about this toxic cycle:

  • Paternalistic, command-and-control management philosophies that view employees as cogs that should be grateful and honored to work for you underpin the above behavioral examples.
  • The days when paternalistic mindsets were the norm, rather than the exception, are not far behind us. This “legacy institutional knowledge” continues to be passed along.
  • According to research, the average age of first-time managers is 30 years old, while the average age of those in leadership training is 42.

In summary, bad ideas are getting to your young managers before you are.

So, what can be done?

Here are a few things you can start on immediately:

  • Get clear about your culture and your values. If there’s a void or a lack of follow-through, it will be filled with legacy institutional knowledge.
  • Building on the first principle, encourage autonomy and empathy throughout your organization. Start with your leadership team and push this through every level—especially your middle and line level management.
  • Create clear expectations and accountability, but don’t be afraid to show your humanity. If you want your people to go above and beyond for your customers, then they must embrace their own humanity—and you must do the same for your employees.

No leader will ever regale you with stories of small unkindnesses and inflexibility within their workplace. It’s always easier to instead focus on “unreasonable” employee requests and expectations.

Your challenge is to turn the mirror inward and be honest about the impact that legacy institutional knowledge has upon your leaders—especially if that legacy knowledge springs from outside your organization. Then, take action so that the next time someone wants to leave a little early to receive trick-or-treaters they receive a smile that says, “Yes. Have a great time. That sounds like fun!

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