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Absentee Leaders in The Experiential Business Arena

There is an abundance of opinions touting the benefits of a remote workforce: increased productivity, decreased burn-out, less commute stress, positive environmental and sustainability impact, and even things like increased monetary savings and inclusivity, but not all businesses are solely office-based. When working for an organization that operates in a tactile guest experiential realm, most of the people who are necessary to make such an endeavor successful must show up onsite – every day. We call these folks the 'engine room' or the 'heart' of the organization – for good reason.

According to Michael Zweig, the 'manual working class,' defined as those who do not manage others but are subject to the control of management, makes up as much as 62% of the economically active population. This implies that literally millions of workers fall into this category in any of the associated economically active fields. There are expectations on the part of every organization that these team members will perform their assigned tasks in compliance with a certain standard, they will maintain a certain level of performance excellence, and that the 'attraction' will continue to prosper. That these team members, the vast majority of whom are not in supervisory or lead positions, will continue to do so while often making slightly more than a living wage.

I wonder if many Senior Leaders are genuinely attuned to the overall impact on their entire organization (and ultimately their bottom line) that their absence from the office while working remotely truly has?

People need to feel valued, and they need to feel supported, this is a universal human necessity. In the workplace, this sense of value and support may come in many forms. It may come in the form of feedback from a guest, customer, or manager. It may come when others solicit feedback or advice. It may come when individuals are invested with a sense of purpose and satisfaction that they are providing an essential contribution toward the achievement of a common goal.

It does come from connection, it does come from trust, it does come from gratitude and acknowledgment, and it does come from positive regard (emotional support and acceptance, within reason).

We have all heard that work is a part of the exchange economy: the employer's money for the employee's time and skills. It's essential for the Senior Leadership team member to recall and mull over this prima facie recitation periodically, as this facet of the exchange economy is a core attribute of what is known as the psychological contract: the intangible relationship between employers and workers that influences how people behave from day to day, built on how each respective party interprets the everyday statements and actions of the other. It goes both ways.

Once the employee feels this contract has been violated in any way, trust deteriorates, the employee becomes disengaged, caring goes out the window, and the positive feedback loop is disrupted. The employee then takes on more of the persona of individualism that Alfred Adler describes in his Theory Of Individual Psychology and is captured so well in Koga's The Courage to Be Disliked. They rebel!

Absentee – or 'Remote Work' – leaders may believe they adequately support their teams. Still, if you look a little closer, you'll find that, in many cases, purposeful gratitude is received more as a platitude. The sense of investment and satisfaction one derives from one's contribution to a shared vision has been turned inward toward oneself. Positive feedback and recognition are internalized more as if third-hand hearsay and indifference.

More so, the psychological sense of connection disappears. It may erode slowly over time, but it disappears! Trust, which forms the foundation of any business relationship, is fractured, instability ensues, and any offer of positive regard feels disingenuous, even if it's not intended to be.

Yes, all this can occur simply due to the Leader's lack of physical presence, first-hand connection, and perceived sense of engagement.

For a Senior Leader to believe their organization's operational workforce should 'understand and accept' the importance of their contribution to the company, and therefore their 'right' to work remotely, is an arrogant, ignorant, and archaic way of business thinking. The fact that any Senior Leader might think in such an overtly selfish way may sound ridiculous to the reader. Still, whether it be via the prevalence of overwhelmingly one-sided and exclusionary debate that captures the media headlines or by the misguided but well-intended untruths we tell ourselves to justify our behavior, consciously or subconsciously, this is precisely the way that too many Senior Leaders think today.

The old way of doing business was to look upon the employee as a cog in the machine, "What resources and opportunities does the company's success provide for the employee who works here, and how do THEY benefit?"

The new way of doing business seeks to determine the individual employee's personal and unique values, strengths, and attributes and how they may contribute to the overall and ongoing success of the organization. "How do WE benefit from the unique contributions of this individual, and how can we further encourage and grow this?"

Employees increasingly seek value and purpose at work and don't easily forget if they've ever felt undervalued or sold short.

Which type of organization do you work for? What type of Senior Leader are you? I encourage you to take a long, hard, honest look at your organization's 'remote work' policies and the possible direct or indirect impacts they may have. Whether your organization is large or small, thousands of workers or tens of workers – or everywhere in between – if you truly are being honest, don't be surprised if some policy revision is warranted.

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