The Tone Deaf Decisions Companies Make

Yes, they told us that in 2017 we will no longer have the option to work from home. We used to be able to take one day a week. Their reasoning is that they just opened another office in North Carolina and they will not be offering it there so they are cancelling it across the company in all locations. We all looked at each other and everyone had that look, that we are out of here.

This was one of my holiday conversations with a millennial family member.

Engagement derailer

That bonehead decision is going to cause a brain drain. It reminded me of Charter Communications’ decision to change what was called relaxed work rules at Time-Warner, which it acquired last year.

In a memo to employees at all corporate locations, including the New York City office that used to be Time-Warner’s headquarters, St. Louis-based Charter restricted a series of common practices at the acquired company: No more jeans in the office, no more working from home without high-level approval, and no more early departures on slow summer Fridays. The new memo also banned so-called summer hours which allowed employees to work extra hours so that they could leave early on Fridays.

Yahoo was another company that did the same and banned working from home for most employees. However, research shows working from home enhances productivity.

Approval by an EVP…..Really??

“If you have been or sometimes work from home and you are assigned to work functions in these corporate buildings you should immediately begin to report to your work location every day,” the Charter memo from Paul Marchand, head of human resources, said. “Any formal work from home arrangement must be approved by an EVP and must have time bound criteria.”

The new Charter memo also banned jeans in the workplace without approval from an executive vice president. “We will provide a harmonized workplace dress policy in the coming months, however, unless approved by an EVP for a specific department and location, jeans are not deemed professional attire,” Marchand wrote. “In advance of the policy, if you are in doubt as to whether your attire is appropriate, better to not wear it.”

Tone deaf leaders

I would have expected this back in the 70s and 80s, but we were in 2016 and it hurt me to read this nonsense even now. What were these people thinking? These high-level announcements have absolutely nothing to do with accomplishing objectives. What do jeans have to do with corporate strategy? So, with this thinking if I come into the office in a suit, I will be super productive.

However, if I work from home or, god forbid, wear jeans, I am a slacker and will not produce. I can imagine that the people in the recruiting pipeline then, or maybe had just received an offer from these companies would have done a lot of soul searching as to what their next steps would be.

Results-only work environment

ROWE is not some pipe dream; it is the new workplace of the future. The ROWE concept was developed by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, founders of the consulting firm CultureRx. In a ROWE, you measure team members by their performance, results or output, not by their presence in the office or the hours that they work. You give them complete autonomy over their projects, and you allow them the freedom to choose when and how they will meet their goals.

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Working in one is not the same as having “flexible hours.” The time your team members spend on a task is irrelevant; only their results matter.

In lots of organizations, this will be a leap. But you might as well prepare yourself because it is coming and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. I welcome the change because the current state in a lot of these firms is like going back in time. Their dinosaur antics seem so ancient.

Sullying the brand

When organizations like Charter make these ill-informed decisions, they have no idea how they are smearing their brand. All the silver polish in the world will be needed to buff the shine back in, if ever.

An organization’s goal is to reach its strategic objectives. It has nothing to do what you wear or where you wear it. It has nothing to do with what cubicle or office you share. Most of all, who died and made the EVP the king of the hill of productivity? That line in the memo alone requiring approval from an EVP just shows disconnect.

Any leader involved in these type decisions should be required to go through an immersion session of a “leadership anonymous intervention.” Their leadership compass is broken and misaligned and they need help.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


2 Comments on “The Tone Deaf Decisions Companies Make

  1. Great post! Coincidentally, there’s a LinkedIn group discussion going on right now about dress codes. You can read what I wrote about it here:

    Essentially, it seems like in many cases, it takes only one person with a backward mindset to rise to a position of great influence and then ruin things for an entire workforce. Especially with dress codes, the best code is usually no code.

  2. From a legal perspective, dress codes cut both ways:

    I understand the tough position that no dress code can sometimes put on management. For example, its terrifying to lawsuit shy management when a female employee comes to work everyday dressed like a Victoria Secret model. Its equally worrying when a male employee goes to the gym first, and then shows up to work for the day in a tank top with rippling muscles. Both those scenarios can play out poorly for the company in a lawsuit down the road (claims of sexual harassment or bullying/harassment).

    But dress codes can also backfire on management (in a big way). In my experience, more often than not, management enforces the dress code on underperforming or disliked employees, but not on the over-performing or likable employees. This looks terrible when it comes out in a discrimination lawsuit. I’ve had dozens of employees tell me that the dress code was only enforced on the women, not on the men.

    If my opinion is worth anything, I would rather see employers focus their attention on screening out crazy employees in the hiring process than trying to control them with a dress code. Do three 30 minute interviews over the course of two weeks instead of one 10 minute interview on a Friday afternoon where the busy boss barely looks at the prospective employee during the interview. Spending quality time with a prospective employee will reveal many of the red flags that will identify this problem.

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