2 Emerging Themes in the Changing Workplace


October 4, 2010

I love to watch themes emerge.  As I reflect back on my experience at the HR Technology conference, two themes seemed to be recurrent in almost every session I attended and in many of the conversations I participated in.  From the opening keynote with Tamara Erickson, the social learning session, the blogger insight panel, and the closing keynote with Mark Effron, the messages were:
  • Treat employees like adults
  • Simplify
Today, Web 2.0 technologies are radically changing how we interact and make decisions in the workplace.  It’s changing the way we innovate by improving the way we generate, capture, and share knowledge with colleagues.  And, although personal use of technology seems to be where the most growth is occurring, we will begin to see use in the workplace more and more.  We’ll also be hearing more and more people challenge the traditional model of work.  I recently read ‘Rework‘ by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson and they challenge this notion by breaking all the “rules”.  As a conference keynote, Tamara Erickson had a similar message.
Tamara talked about challenging the long-held assumptions at work.  She specifically started with the following four:
  1. Break down the silos by moving from a paternalistic relationship with work/ boss to a collaborative relationship. Employees, “should not display loyalty, but discretionary effort and relevant skill for the work at hand”, said Erickson.  By focusing work on projects, offering options on the time and place work can be done, and specifying principles, you’ll be treating employees like adults and fostering collaborative relationships.
  2. It is the individual’s responsibility to do a good job.  This outdated look must be challenged.  Responsibility also lies on the manager and the organization as a whole.  If they are not providing an environment to facilitate optimal work performance, who is really at fault if the job is not done well?  I personally believe that 90% falls to the individual, but there has to be some accountability by the manager and organization.
  3. If you can see your employees working, they’re working. This is an unrealistic view as a manager unless all your employees are making widgets and you can monitor each one made.  With more and more employees working in a matrix reporting relationship and with work being done predominantly via computer, it is nearly impossible to walk by an employee and really be able to tell if they are being productive and really working.  If you, as the employer, focus on results, then it shouldn’t matter if the employee adjusts their work schedule or location for positions where this can work.
  4. The org chart tells a story.  It shouldn’t.  What are the horizontal ties?  Make them more visible. Give employees access to opportunities to make change and determine how to connect different groups.

Be sure to check out Tamara’s new book ‘What’s Next Gen X’ for more information on how this generation will shape the workplace as the emerging leaders.  And, I’ll talk more about simplification in an upcoming post.  What are your thoughts about truly treating employees like adults and changing that paternalistic relationship?  Can it be done?  Should it be done?  Chime in with a comment.


  • The salon I worked in for ten years had a boss who did not treat her minions like adults, and ultimately it led to her having regular turnover in her workforce. When she went into micormanagement/parent and child mode as far as I was concerned, she lost me.

    The worst part of it? Not only was she taking the role of “boss”, but then she would act like she was one of the “gang” in her little clicque she had. It was the weirdest dynamic I had ever witnessed…

    It does become difficult to transition from a paternal figure to a peer who has power, especially when the supervisor was the mentor for a good portion of the employee/supervisor relationship. I could say easily it’s easier said than done.

  • I absolutely believe you must treat employees like adults !! I don’t understand why people continue to not do this. Employees who are valued give freely, are creative and tend to support the Company far more than they ever tear things down. In fact, their critical eye usually helps identify a gap that needs to be filled.

    HR people who allow employees to be treated in any other way probably hate their job. It makes effective HR nearly impossible if you don’t practice the “golden rule” with others and model how you treat others, you’re just honestly missing out !!

    Great reminder Trish !!

  • Steve- you absolutely hit the bull’s eye on hating your job when the supervisor doesn’t let the workers be adults!!!

    Again Trish- great stuff!!!

  • People will behave how they are treated, just as sports teams sometimes play down to the level of their competition. I suppose that’s what’s at the heart of the vaunted “engagement” metric, but when coupled with the mandate of simplicity, it drives some eye opening results.

    If you are listening, that is.

  • We at HireBetter have embraced #3 and it is part of how we all work. Being that we all work remotely we have to focus on results. It would be impossible to be watched throughout our work day. As long as the work is getting done in the reasonable amount of time set forth- then we are free to enjoy the rest of our time doing what makes us happy. The expectations are clear ahead of time.

  • Good post.

    I do quibble a bit with one of your statements. I believe Dr. Deming was right it putting 95+% of performance issues with the system not the individual. This does not mean people are not accountable. People are. What it means is that we often fail to look to root causes by instead blaming people. You will almost always find much more effective solutions by asking why a few more times if you come to the conclusion that Dilbert just needs to try harder.

    What is needed is managing our systems to allow people to do a good job and take pride in their work, instead of expecting people to be more responsible. I find very often the managers complaining about people working for them, have done very little to provide an environment where people can flourish.

    • @John- You make a great point. Just this week I was talking with someone about how we (as leaders) tend to treat situations and not the root cause. It feels like we try to “solve” things so quickly that much like doctors, we sometimes treat the single symptom and not the disease as a whole. I think the best course of action is to take time to step back and reflect on the cause before jumping to conclusions and just expecting the employee to be more responsible. Thanks so much for sharing your insight.

Comments are closed.

Screen Shot 2019-12-01 at 17.20.39

About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


Play Video


Play Video

Related posts

3 Reasons To Reveal Your Vulnerabilities

As I sat onstage at UNLEASH World 2022 in Paris last week, I had an epiphany. I need to be […]

Read More

Adult Learners, Chopin, & Experiential Learning

I heard a piece of music that made me cry. It may be because my hormones are diminishing as the […]

Read More

Partner with me


Get in touch today to find out more about how I can help your organization leverage HR and HCM technology to attract, onboard, retain and manage top talent.