When I look at the overarching picture of the “working world” today from a leadership perspective, I see a lot of very wealthy and influential individuals opining about topics from “embracing your whole self” to the “radical post-pandemic transformation of the workplace” to the “new normal”—a lot of clichés, and a lot of nonsense put forth by businesspeople trying to become influencers.  Here’s what we need to openly acknowledge: the “working world” is a mess, there’s no easy fix, and change starts at the top if we’re going to move forward.  But, with some notable exceptions, the “top” is awash with out-of-touch leaders who are reactionary, clinging on to the world they wished existed instead of crafting the one they want – one that would be better for workers, leaders, and everyone in between.

Let’s start with where you work.  As an initial matter, the debate over “going into the office” is socio-economically biased and ignores the tens of millions of people who make our country function, from grocery store clerks to retail salespeople to gas station attendants to factory workers.  Not one of them is “working from home” anytime soon if you want your daily cup of coffee from Starbucks.  Second, while numerous studies cite increases in productivity as the result of people who can work from home indeed doing so, show me a study and I’ll show you a study where the results can be manipulated to say whatever you want.  Whatever definition of “productivity increases” you’re using, drop it.  While not everyone needs to be in the office every day, being around other people, learning by immersion, and building social interactions is an essential parts of who we are as a people and a fundamental root of American success.  We are a social nation, one of relationships and creativity.  Except for a rare savant, sitting by yourself alone in a room does not foster creativity.  Scheduling 15-minute Zooms every minute of every day does not foster creativity.  It is the thousands of daily informal conversations, interactions, and observations that build humans through healthy conflict, character enrichment, and innovation.  People need to be around each other – that’s not changing just because of a pandemic, and the sooner we stop catering to the notion otherwise, the sooner we can move forward without being bothered by wannabe influencers peddling snake oil theories about never going back to the office.

Now, let’s turn to how we work.  For the longest time, workers were simply cogs in a machine.  We tolerated abuse, bias, racism, and name any other in a long list of societal ills.  We’ve started course correcting for this, encouraging people to be themselves, empowering them to do so, and creating entire divisions of companies dedicated to this premise.  But at the same time, we’ve swung so far in the opposite direction that we’ve created a tyranny of emotions, irresponsibility, and unprofessionalism. Legions of staff have gone from being empowered to entitled; many people think that every feeling they have must be expressed and that any negative feeling they have is the result of a “microaggression” aimed at some aspect of their persona.  While companies previously never thought of their workers’ well-being, now the reverse is true, with workers forgetting that they have agreed to a societal contract to further the aims of the leaders and companies they work for – and that contract requires showing up and doing your job, as best you can, and helping others do the same.  The relationship has to go both ways.  And in the process, conflict can be healthy, when done right; you can learn from others, and teach them, too.  The “anything goes” emotional attitudes so pervasive today are not okay.  We all need to act like grownups and indeed, dare I say it, professionals.

Working From Home: The New Normal(Opens in a new browser tab)

So where did it all get so messy?  And more importantly, how do we fix it?  We have dehumanized each other, created massive corporate financial shell games, paid lip service to change instead of instituting real change, and done it all because, to be honest, the world is short on real leadership.  Many CEOs at the front and center of conversations today are more interested in their Instagram following and personal “brand” than that of their company.  Is it any wonder their staff are following in pursuit, mimicking the ridiculousness of that premise?  And those who are not, are just clinging on for dear life, hoping they make it to retirement before getting canceled.  I’ve heard it from dozens of them myself: it’s “too much work” to drive real change; just “ride it out” until the next generation takes over; or at its worst, the self-delusion that performative policy is, in fact, real change.

It’s time for us to insist on better.  It’s time for corporate accountability by the press.  It’s time we stopped listening to or promoting CEO influencers, and looked instead to the quiet leaders who inspire and empower those around them.  Whether you’re a Jamie Dimon or a Jason Peterson, it’s these types of CEOs who are focused on being a good person first that we need to emulate.  There is, however, no easy fix.  Corporate boards, recruiters, HR executives, and staff up and down the food chain have to take individual responsibility for making our “working world” a better place.  And while none of us individually have the power, collectively, we do.  Let’s start taking it back.

Business is changing; Remote Work is a flexible and lucrative answer(Opens in a new browser tab)

Craig Greiwe is a business executive and former Chief Strategy Officer for one of America’s largest culture and marketing firms, Rogers & Cowan PMK, as well as a former 2022 Los Angeles mayoral candidate—but success didn’t happen overnight. He grew up in poverty in rural Indiana, before being abandoned as a teenager. He worked hard, relied on the blessings of others, and built a life from virtually nothing. Now, he’s known for finding solutions to seemingly impossible problems and developing groundbreaking strategies for America’s most trusted businesses, all while making sure that every friend has a drink in their hand, a warm shoulder to cry on, and a “chin-up” perspective. He has a relentlessly optimistic yet practical outlook on life—the kind you can only develop by having hit rock bottom and dusting yourself off to try again as chronicled in his debut memoir “Chasing Normal: Growing Up, Letting Go, and Finding Joy in Being Different” (available Oct. 18 via Post Hill Press). 

By Craig Greiwe

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