Sometime during the movement from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy I think we have collectively mixed this concept up, and so it merits the question today. Work used to be about what you could produce. When we moved into offices and cubicles, and started shuffling information back and forth that concept was lost. We started to refer to work as somewhere you go, and this changed how work was measured; workers were paid and rewarded for time and not always results.

Work is what you do – not just a place where you go. In a recent article published in the Harvard Business review, Tamara J. Erickson discusses this very issue in terms of what Gen Y’ers expect from work. In essence the task and not time is what matters to them.

I hope that this concept is not only for Gen Y but for everyone in the workforce, irrespective of age. According to recent research from our thought leader partners Jim Ware and Charlie Grantham at the Future of Work, people today divide their working time almost equally between the office, home or somewhere in between. I am, for instance, writing this blog on a plane to Europe to speak at a strategic talent management conference in Stockholm – well I guess that is work though I’m not technically in the office.

This is of course pretty straightforward as a concept but nonetheless difficult to change in some organizations. The solution, may I suggest, comes from a managerial change in attitude and behavior. If we get away from the face time and office hour concept and instead focus on the expected results and goals that need to be achieved, productivity will improve. People naturally want to do great work and be rewarded for the results. It also allows people to focus on managing their energy, in addition to managing their time. Maybe you are more productive, alert and energized at 8pm after a long run on the treadmill at the gym than you are at 10am in the morning. Why not get some work done then? If your employer measures your contribution, not your time on the clock, go for it! It maximizes your productivity, benefiting you and your employer.

Maybe we could learn from the US Marine Corps and their usage of mission based orders. An order is given with the goal that needs to be accomplished, along with an explanation as to why that goal is important. It is then up to the officer in charge and closest to the action to deal with how to get it done and to do it. That is goal orientation instead of time orientation. So focus on output and results instead of time. Semper Fi!

3 Responses to Is work a place or something you do?

  • You are right that change in this direction must come from organizational leadership. Too many times, though, organizations do not have clear direction identified for the enterprise as a whole. Fuzzy definitions about what performance needs to looks like for the organization make it impossible for lower level leaders to set performance goals for their employees. So, the default measurement becomes about hours rather than accomplishments. Not exactly the recipe for true organizational success, let alone for employees to become really engaged in their work. Our experience is that these constructs hold true for employees of all ages, but they will certainly become more important as the shrinking workforce is made up more and more of Gen Y.

  • I know my manager could learn a little bit about giving orders that make sense. Many times I’m lost at to why we are doing things. I know that he knows within his own mind, I just wish he would share it with me.

  • Erik – great post. Organizational cultures that place importance on face time and just being there are ones that get exactly that from their employees – just being there. These individuals are far less likely and are likely to punch out the minute the click strikes five. It is unlikely these individuals will be willing to put in any extra effort than is absolutley required. Why? Because the culture they belong to has emphasized that they need to be there from time A to time B.

    Your comments about Marine Corp missions reminded me of a great quote from General George Patton:

    “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results”

    I think this is a great way to approach management – set goals and expectations and let your team accomplish them on their their terms and you will be surprised with the results.

    If a manager needs a task accomplished it shouldn’t matter if the work takes place as you say at 8pm after getting pumped up at the gym or at three in the morning while one is staying up with a sick child.

    Maybe there is hope with Generation Y… if management can get away from their notion of face-time and the typical 8-5 routine maybe this generation can lead a revolution to be more mission/outcome based rather than putting in one’s time and collecting a paycheck twice a month.

    -Chris Young
    The Rainmaker Group

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Mike Ettling

President: HR Line of Business

Jenny Dearborn

Chief Learning Officer

Steven Hunt

Sr Director,
Business Execution Practices