The war to define what work looks like

Viewed in The Wall Street Journal

“The workplace is in the middle of an unusual collision between what bosses and workers want,” The Wall Street Journal reports. That is quite a statement, but the evidence to support it is compelling.

Employees feeling empowered

The result is that today’s workplace has many battleground traits with employees feeling “…empowered after two years of changing their work habits and leverage gained in a tight labor market,” The Journal reports.

Employers facing pressure

On the other side are employers facing pressure to meet revenue and profitability expectations in an economic climate that includes the dual challenges of recession and inflation, a rare combination not seen in major economies for several decades.


Compounding this tension, executive coach Alisa Cohn says tells The Journal, is the fact that employers and employees see the current workplace through very different lenses. “Leaders always think, you guys should be moving faster and doing more and employees always think, you should be giving me a medal for what I’m doing now,” she says.

Where physically should an employee’s work be done?

One of the core issues of contention between employers and employees is a fairly fundamental question: Where physically will an employee’s work be done? Employees have learned to like much of what they experienced during the work from home conditions that the pandemic mandated; many are reluctant to return to the pre-pandemic office life that they escaped these past two years.

Yet employers are struggling to find the right mix between maintaining a functioning work environment and accommodating employee expectations. At Google, The Wall Street Journal reports, “more than 20,000 employees globally have requested to go fully remote or transfer to a new location, and 85% of those requests have been approved.”

Compensation gap

But the push and pull struggle over remote work is not the only tension between employers and employees in today’s workplace. The other issue may not be a new one, but it is proving an increasingly contentious one: compensation. “In an era of roughly 8% inflation, traditional annual corporate pay raises of 3%-4% can effectively look like a pay cut to workers, some executives and corporate advisors say,” the newspaper reports.

Productivity gap

And if that is not enough, it also appears that employers and employees see productivity very differently. Microsoft Corp. recently surveyed 20,000 employees, finding that 87% of them consider themselves productive. But that’s a big gap from where employers see things, with a mere 12% saying they have confidence in their workers’ productivity.

Managerial challenges           

The great divide between employers and employees on these fundamental issues presents an obvious managerial challenge at both mid and executive-level management, which is demanding that managers at both levels communicate more extensively.

Confronting some new realities

As they do, however, many managers are confronting some new realities. When the chief executive officer of Trane Technologies PLC concluded a recent hour-long description of the company’s values to 350 interns, urging them to view their internships as extended job interviews, one bold intern shot back that “I want you to know that this is a long interview for the company” too. 

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