I’m tired – I’m tired of the constant dialogue across media outlets about whether or not having employees back in the office will make them more productive.
It’s a misinformed conversation being driven by out of touch CEOs and exhausted employees arguing about the wrong thing.
The drop in productivity has nothing to do with whether someone is in the office or not.
Instead, it has everything to do with safety.
Lets explore the real reason why employee productivity has declined by the sharpest rate on record going back to 1945. And more importantly, what we can collectively do to fix it.
The War On Safety
In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown writes about the importance of safety that will help start our discussion:
“The world has never been an easy place, but the past decade has been traumatic for so many people that it’s made changes in our culture.
From 9/11, multiple wars and the recession, to catastrophic natural disasters and the increase in random violence and school shootings…
We’ve survived and are surviving events that have torn at our sense of safety with such force we’ve experienced them as trauma even if we weren’t directly involved.”
She wrote this back in 2012.
Over a decade later and the intensity and frequency of these external stressors have only increased. From a global pandemic, a climate crisis, economic uncertainty, inflation and layoffs…
There is a lot of sh*t happening that is making us feel unsafe.
Even our most basic needs – food and shelter – can feel threatened by expensive grocery bills and shrinking access to affordable housing.
This is a problem because as Brene writes:
“Scarcity and feeling unsafe is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when we’ve been through too much, too quickly and rather than coming together to heal, we’re angry and at each others throats.”
Unfortunately, this war on safety is going to continue as we trend towards a more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous future.
Though this may feel a little doom and gloomy – I promise, there is a massive opportunity for leaders and companies who lean in.
Wrong Messaging And Approach
At the start of this article I described how the Mark Zuckerberg’s and Elon Musk’s of the world are out of touch.
That’s because all of them are neglecting what this constant war on safety is doing to our mental health and productivity. (Not to mention, they all have the financial means to buffer threats to their own safety.)
You can see this in their messaging with quotes like:
“Employees who work in person get more done.” – Mark Zuckerberg
“Employees do better if they’re in office.” – Marc Benioff.
“Remote workers are living in La La land.” – Elon Musk
This is the wrong message and the wrong approach.
It’s not about productivity and the vast majority of employees are so burnt out, that most are doing just enough to not get fired.
Leaders have to realize what they’re truly asking employees to give up.
They’re asking employees experiencing post-traumatic stress from intense societal change to spend less time in what feels like their last safe haven (i.e. their home).
And to trade this safety with a historically unsafe environment (i.e. the workplace).
A trade most employees are unwilling to make, because in the great words of Maya Angelou:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Three years into this massive work from home experiment and every employee still remembers what it feels like to spend hours commuting to work, only to be bullied and micromanaged in a toxic work environment.
The Incredible Opportunity Companies Have
When CEO’s and leaders realize that low performance isn’t about low productivity, it’s about low safety – everything becomes clear.
Every company on the planet has an opportunity to use their office to create safety and bring people together to heal. An additional safe space that someone can access which extends beyond their 600 square foot apartment.
A place where an employee can feel supported, can be vulnerable with others and can escape the onslaught of external societal threats to focus on meaningful work.
It’s within these types environments where performance thrives.
Low performance is no longer a conversation about “laziness” and “remote hires not working”. It’s a conversation about what is actually impacting performance like fear, stress and burnout.
Conversations that lead to cultures built on foundations of curiosity, connection, empathy, compassion and psychological safety.
In time, leader’s no longer have to “force” employees back into the office. Instead, employees go back because they want to.
If you found this article helpful, consider exploring our programs below. Sales Health Alliance is dedicated to helping sales team thrive under pressure and win the mental game in sales.
About The Author
Jeff Riseley is currently the Founder of the Sales Health Alliance and Mental Health Advocate. With over a decade of sales experience – Jeff understands the importance of Mental Health in achieving peak sales performance.
Jeff combines his sales and Mental Health expertise to improve sales performance through mental health best practices. His strategies have helped sales teams become more motivated, resilient and better equipped to tackle stressful events within sales.