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Pew Research on Working During COVID19

Lots of interesting stuff in this article about what Pew has found when it comes to how we are working now, and what it might look like in the future.

How the Coronavirus Outbreak Has – and Hasn’t – Changed the Way Americans Work

Obviously, there’s a lot of information about remote working. Generally, they found that people have adjusted to it, and want to continue working from home, at least part of the time, even after this is all over. But, not all groups felt so strongly about it. The noted specifically that parents were struggling to get work done in this environment, and younger workers were struggling with motivation.

The struggle of parents didn’t surprise me. I believe I was talking about this way back in the Spring, that for parents this isn’t a true work from home experience, rather this is a work full time while also teaching and raising your kids a full 24 hours per day. No one is going to want to continue doing that after this is over. But, as I mentioned then, and have many other times, if you’re a parent, wait until your kids are back in school, and them see how you feel about working from home instead of going to the office all of the time. That will be a better test to determine how much you may like it.

What was a little surprising was how much younger workers were struggling. I had assumed younger workers would especially appreciate the flexibility, and freedom, but maybe I’ve not considered some other factors.

I think it’s too easy to simply say that younger workers are just not as self-motivated and therefore struggle without having a boss watching them, but I don’t really believe that explains it.One, because I know lots of older workers who aren’t that self-motivated either, and two because it’s not like most bosses who would have been looking over your shoulder to make sure you were working, sudden;y stopped paying any attention. We all still have work, and that work needs to get done on time. That hasn’t changed for those of us who’ve been working remotely. So what has changed for these younger workers?

I believe there are two possibilities, but I’m happy to read any ideas you may have on the topic.

  1. Lack of insight into how their work matters. All workers want to know their work matters. I do feel like the more entry level the job is, and let’s face it when we statistically talk about younger workers, that’s going to be higher percentage of entry-level positions, the less likely we are to see a straight line from our work, to the company’s bottom line and purpose. That, by itself, is demotivating, to do work that doesn’t seem to serve a clear purpose. But, in the WFH environment, I suspect that disconnect between the work we are being asked to do, and the purpose of that work, is even easier to lose sight of. Which makes me wonder, if some of these folks would have struggled for this reason even before COVID, why has it gotten worse for them? What changed? I think that is #2.
  2. Loss of the team. In addition to wanting to do work that matters, the other thing we know about younger workers, again speaking in statistical generalities, not for every individual, is that they enjoy collaborative work. I think this loss is the one that is making the disconnect worse. When we don’t see the direct connection between our work, and the success of the organization, we often will replace that with the next best thing. We may not know how getting this report done matters in the grand scheme of the organization, but we know that it matters to a teammate who reads it, and that becomes our motivation. Not getting our work done impacts the people that we work side by side with everyday. But, maybe we aren’t working so side-by-side with those folks anymore. Maybe that motivation has also become something that many are getting disconnected from?

As you might guess, while I don’t condone not getting work done, I can also see where this struggle is a function of some poor management. Think about it, if your direct doesn’t see a connection between their work, and the success of the organization, you’ve not done a great job of making it clear to your team. You’ve not appreciated the work enough, and you’ve not done a very good job of communicating the vision and purpose of the organization, and your team’s efforts toward that.

If they likewise don’t seem to have that same motivation to get work done to the benefit of their other team members, than we may be looking at a manger who’s not done a good job of keeping the team together and focused on working together during this time. Maybe you’ve always just relied on proximity as the thing that keeps your team working together, and that went away. Yes, it did, but there are plenty of teams working remotely, who are never in the same place, who manage to work well as a team and have this level of commitment to each other. It can be done. (I work on a number of team projects myself, with different people who I’ve never even met in person before. We manage to do it.)

So, if you have some younger workers struggling with motivation, before you write them off, at least consider these two things, and how you might actually be contributing to it as a manager, and at least make an effort to see if you can fix this first.

It’s a lot easier to make some efforts here than  it is to keep finding new workers.

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