The news is full of headlines about the so-called bathroom law in North Carolina. We remember when this topic arose in NH several years back, so we know it is really about discrimination and ignorance, and has precious little to do with bathrooms or the workplace. There is, however a real challenge in the workplace that has to do with bathrooms and it ties directly into job satisfaction, turnover, engagement, accountability and productivity. The bathroom problem employers have is that their employees have been over-potty-trained. That’s right, I said over-potty-trained. Allow me to explain.
I have many nephews, each of whom, I call my favorite. One in particular though, is special not only because he carries my name, but he carries the attitude I had through my childhood and youth. Michael the 2nd, (whom we call Version 2.0), has always declared that “school is stupid” until he left school and entered the work force. Now he declares that “work is stupid”. He is in pretty good company, including most of his generation and many of his uncles. More importantly, he may have a point. Could his point be made more eloquently? Of course. Let us not miss his point, however, lest we tick off the generation that will be taking care of us when we are in the nursing home. Version 2.0 woke me up to the reality of just how “stupid” school is and how ill-prepared students can be when they enter the work force, or adulthood in general.
At age 19, Version 2.0 explained it this way. ”I just finished school, how do you expect me to make big decisions that affect the rest of my life, when yesterday I had to raise my hand if I had to pee?!” I take his point to mean quite literally, we control every little behavior of children and expect them to take responsibility seriously. They are over-potty-trained to the point of having to ask for permission to go to the bathroom! We do the same at work. Even if you don’t literally tell your employees when they can pee, do you tell them when they can think, what they can think and with whom they can share their thinking? The more we micromanage, the less we can expect accountability. Thanks to extensive research on the subject, we now know that employees value autonomy. Our antiquated education system, designed for the industrial revolution, prepares students to go to work in factories where thinking is discouraged. Our more modern workplaces require critical thinking skills, mastery, independence and commitment. This should be a match made in heaven, since the top three motivators that employees value most are mastery, autonomy and purpose. The problem might be that we older policy makers are still thinking old-school. We need to maintain control. Version 2.0 has a point about that, too. “Work is stupid” he would say, and he’s right because work is about control. Control kills creativity and violates the motivators of autonomy, mastery and purpose. We were taught that control is everything, without control we would have chaos, right? Well sort of, yes. Chaos invites creative problem solving. To keep the chaos focused on the goals and to have it converge in agreement and forward movement, we have structure. Structure means people can have freedom to think, violate previously sacred cows, question everything and go to the bathroom whenever they want. They also live with a self-regulating system of agreements on how they work together that encourages full participation and engagement that has a sense of purpose.
Talk to your younger workers. The younger generations are not so different from us. What they are demanding is what we would have demanded if we thought we could get away with it. Thank them for making it ok to demand respect and engagement. We talk about the youth not having respect, but what they really lack is blind, fake respect. They have respect for people who recognize their value and voice. We older generations really were only faking respect for anyone in authority even if they did not deserve it. Those days are gone. Let us see what we can do, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said “to earn the respect of intelligent people and the affection of Children”. In my travels everywhere, amongst progressive leaders, I see a hunger for structures that allow for creative and cohesive chaos and risk taking. There is a yearning for leadership methodologies that create engaging, meaningful and respectful, safe spaces where amazing work gets done. It is the future of successful organizations. I think we need to decide if we would rather lead through the movement, or let our new 24 year old boss lead us through it.
Michael Kline is a Certified RIM Facilitator and Certified Canfield Success Trainer for personal and group transformation. You can reach him through his website www.intus.life, or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.