Remember elementary school? You had to be there at, say, 8:10—not a minute later or you’d be marked “tardy” (does anyone other than teachers actually use that word?). You couldn’t leave, of course, until the final bell. In between, your every move was tracked—you had to raise your hand to go to the bathroom or sharpen a pencil. You probably had an assigned seat (in my case, I seem to remember girls on one side and boys on the other, in alphabetical order. Yikes!). Chances are, you were rewarded as much for following these rules, and punished as much for breaking them, as you were for your actual schoolwork.
Middle school or junior high signified greater freedom. You still had to be on the school grounds for the same precise six-hours-and-fifty-two-minutes-a-day as everyone else, but now perhaps you no longer had to sit in an assigned seat. Maybe you had an elective or two to choose among. By high school, there were more electives, and the freedom to walk between classes on your own.
College was nothing short of liberation. You could study what you wanted to study, choosing many of your courses—maybe all of them. If you wanted, you could select them based on scheduling, too, avoiding early morning ones or maybe leaving Fridays free for 3-day weekends with your boyfriend. You could miss class without bringing a note, and arrive late or leave early if you needed to. Chances are, no one cared about any of these choices. In most any college in the U.S., your grades would have been based entirely on your academic performance.
Then what? Well, then, my friend, no matter how far your education took you, you eventually probably landed in a full-time job. And guess what? You were told when to arrive, where to sit and how much time to take for lunch. While you might not have been forced to ask a supervisor when you needed to go to the bathroom (although in some jobs you’d be encouraged to wait until the official break time for that), you did need to ask when you needed to leave a little early, or take a bit of time to run an errand. If you broke any of these rules, you probably heard about it. In fact, the amount of time you spent sitting dutifully in your cubby probably counted for much of your performance rating.
If you felt like you were right back in first grade—well, you weren’t alone.
Why do so many employers treat grown adults like small children? No wonder some kids use college as a chance to go wild. It’s the first time in their life they have that kind of freedom, and on some level they know full well it’s also the last.
What’s particularly ironic is that most schools are at pains to explain that they teach so much more than just academics. They teach good citizenship and leadership. They teach critical thinking and creativity. Sometimes they even grade us on these things.
Then, when we reach the world of work, it is assumed we can’t be trusted to do our jobs without all kinds of external rules and restrictions. That we aren’t likely to be good citizens or leaders all on our own, and that we should exercise critical thinking and creativity only within tight boundaries.
No wonder so many employees are frustrated, dissatisfied and disengaged.
Work flexibility is about treating people like the adults they are: Respecting their right to control their own time and make smart choices. Judging their work based on the jobs they were hired to do, not on the way they choose to go about doing them. Assuming, until shown otherwise, that by now they have learned how to be good citizens and play well with others.
By any logic, the natural next step in the progression from Kindergarten to office park should be one of increased freedom and responsibility. How is it that so many of our workplaces fly in the face of this logic, tumbling so many workers off the ladder back down to the rung of first grade?
Work flexibility is not a fringe, futuristic idea—it’s just common sense. Let’s take the next step. Join us and be part of the 1 Million for Work Flexibility to help us all move forward together.
photo credit: thinkstockphotos.com