Memo To Bosses: Stop Treating Employees Like Children

productive employees work from homeFor more than a decade now, I've struggled to define what fuels the most sustainably productive work environment -- not just on behalf of the large corporate clients we serve, but also for my own employees at The Energy Project. Perhaps nothing I've uncovered is as important as trust.

As much as employers understandably hunger for one-size-fits-all policies and practices, what motivates human beings remains stubbornly complex, opaque and difficult to unravel. Perhaps that's why I felt so viscerally the shortsightedness and futility of Marissa Mayer's decision to order Yahoo employees who had been working from home to move back to the office, and Hubert Joly's to do the same at Best Buy.

Here's the problem: Employees who want to game the system are going to do so inside or outside the office. Supervising them more closely is costly, enervating, and it's ultimately a losing game. As for highly motivated employees who've been working from home, all they're likely to feel about being called back to the office is resentful -- and more inclined to look for new jobs.

At its heart, the problem for Mayer and Joly is lack of trust. For whatever reasons, they've lost trust that their employees can make responsible adult decisions for themselves about how to best get their work done and add value to the company. Distrust begets distrust in return. It kills motivation rather than sparking it. Treat employees like children and you increase the odds they'll act like children. You reap what you sow -- for better and for worse.

More: Does Working From Home Ruin Your Career?

As an employer, I stay focused on one primary question about each employee: What is going to free, fuel and inspire this person to bring the best of him or herself to work every day, most sustainably? My goal is to meet those needs in the best ways I can, without undue expense to others.

In the end, I'm much less concerned with where people do their work than with the value they're able create wherever they happen to do it. The value exchange here is autonomy (ground in trust) for accountability.

Working from home can make people more productive. As CEO, I myself work from home for an hour or two in the mornings most days because it's quiet and free of distractions. I find it's the best way for me to get writing and other high-focus activities accomplished, and I know that's true for many other business leaders.

One of the senior members of our team is a 35-year-old woman with three children under the age of 9. She lives 90 minutes from work. I'd love to have her at our offices every day, because I enjoy being able to interact with her around issues as they arise. I also just like having her around as a colleague.

But to make that possible she'd have to invest three withering hours commuting each day -- a huge cost, not just in time, but also in energy, for work and for her family. Demanding that she make that trip every day would only prompt progressive fatigue, resentment and impaired performance.

Instead, we settled from the start on having her come to the office two days a week, which is when we schedule our key meetings. Those days also provide time for spontaneous brainstorming of ideas across the team.

More: What Telecommuters Need To Learn From Yahoo's Ban On Work-From-Home Jobs

Having time with family matters. Another one of our team members, a woman with two teenage kids, travels frequently in her role. When she gets back from trips, she typically works from home the next day -- both to recover, and to have more time for her family.

Two of our other staffers -- one male and one female -- work mostly at the office out of personal preference, but also have young kids and work from home on some days when their kids are on vacation, or get sick.

Two younger, married team members recently requested permission to move to Amsterdam for eight months -- for no other reason than they wanted to experience another culture. For a moment, I bridled. But since technology makes it possible for them to do their jobs from anywhere, we were able to make it happen. They agreed to work during our regular office hours, and to visit our office for a week every two months. So far it seems to be working seamlessly.

Do I ever wish our team members were in the office more? Yes, I do have those moments and at times, I even find myself wondering what they're doing when I haven't heard from them. When those feelings arise, I take a deep breath and remind myself that my colleagues are adults, capable of making their own decisions about how best to get their work done, and that all good relationships involve some compromise.

It gets back to trust. Give it, and you get it back. In over a decade, no employee has ever chosen to leave our company. The better you meet people's needs, the better they'll meet yours.

Is Yahoo's Work From Home Ban A Bad Move?

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Great article. What sucks though is in reality... most companies absolutely refuse and discourage working from home (and even flex time) for everyone EXCLUDING the executives. Go figure.

I think it comes down to being more about the power to say "No. You are NOT working from home no matter what because that type of privilege is reserved for me, the executive" versus companies not thinking outside the box. Working from home, flex time, and telecommuting a couple of days a week is not a new idea. Which only further gives my fist sentence in this paragraph more weight...

August 26 2013 at 2:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

employees need to stop acting like children if they don't want to be treated that way...complaining, infighting,whining...I actually put a sign up in my office that says "your mother doesn't work here" and when any kindergarten minded employee comes to me with nonsense I just point to it and send them back to work

March 19 2013 at 9:33 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

"Memo To Bosses: Stop Treating Employees Like Children"

Yeah, you're right, go sit in the corner and quietly play with your iPhone. Boss man
will finish up for you.


March 18 2013 at 5:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One of my friends worked at WalMart and had to do all these ridiculous cheers before starting work in the morning. Another worked at Menards and had to go to these "team building" porgrams every now and then (no pay) and they would run relay races and play other goofy kid's games. How degrading. It's bad enough to work for less than $10 an hour, why does the company treat you like you are in 3rd grade? My friends were in their 40's with good work ethics and were super reliable. It was stupid especially as the managers were 1/2 their ages.

March 18 2013 at 5:03 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

You cannot make someone be dependable, conscientious, or trustworthy. trying to micro manage someone is a losing proposition. making a better choice when hiring someone is the best cure.

March 18 2013 at 4:44 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

So lost in the clouds! The number of jobs that can be done at home are not that many compared to the number of labor and service jobs, and the number of self-starters are much fewer. We have become a lazy nation and expect everything and not to have to do anything in return!

March 18 2013 at 3:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kd485's comment

Or are addicted to driving, or like clocking in and mentally clocking out. Most home workers I've known put in 12-14 hour days, I've done that for long periods when I had a shop right out back of the house. It jangles the nerves a little until you get used to it but I got a lot more done and still prefer that to a straight 8 job.

March 18 2013 at 6:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Excellent article and so very true, Mr. Schwartz! Unfortunately too many employers do not think outside the box and insist that workers subscribe to an 8-5 mentality that doesn't necessarily work for everyone anymore, as evidenced by so many work-from-home employees in today's workplace. Compromise and flexibility are the keys in this respect, unfortunately most corporations follow the "do as I say, not as I do" credo. Just because there's some who don't honor their part of he bargain doesn't mean they ALL fall into that category, so in essence, Ms. Mayer is punishing all of her work-from-home staffers for the behavior of a few. If they were more diligent in their reporting systems, or used their technology to verify their off-site employees were working and not playing around, they might be better able to ferret out the gamers and replace them with honest, hard working employees who don't game their employers. I suspect Ms. Mayer was inconvenienced by a couple work-from-home staffer whose hours differed from hers and instead of addressing it on a case-by-case basis, she chose to change the work-from-home policies of all of her employees. Yet, I'd bet my last dollar bill that she often works from home herself. Thank you for pointing out the relevance of trust and compromise.

March 18 2013 at 1:27 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to RJM's comment

Found a few typos here. Meant to type "part of THE bargain", "a couple work-from-home STAFFERS".

March 18 2013 at 1:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Maybe those two put their money into oil futures or producers.

March 18 2013 at 6:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

the thing about "old sayings" is they come from a place of truth..lets take "give em an inch and they will take a mile " and furthermore every one on the side of supporting the work from home argument seems to work on a cpu as their only responsibility far different world for the rest of us

March 18 2013 at 1:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to timkinetron's comment

I ran an appliance business from a building behind my house, I don't see a lot of difference. If your job is entirely the production of digital items, I see no point, it's wasted time, energy and materials just for the sake of convention.

March 18 2013 at 6:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Maybe we need to know why these employers lost trust, if that's what happened. If everyone was doing everything they were suppose to do, why would they have them stop working at home? I don't consider this treating them like children. I consider it a boss, or company owner, trying to get control of a situation that seemed to them to be less than in control.

March 18 2013 at 12:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Being an employer is so much like parenting. This article is way off base. Very few people can accept responsibilty and act like adults. There is in-fighting and inter-personal relationships that foster and grow and left unchecked can blow up in your face. Dealing with all that and trying to run a business is exactly like day care where the kiddies don't play well. This author is simply too naive and clearly hasn't been an employer for too long if at all. If there is anything I have learned in 45 years of business it's that they are all children and need to be coddled, praised and soothed.

March 18 2013 at 11:39 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to daxcess2's comment

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