Workplace Demographics: Managing the Office from A Distance

Too many people have talked about the problems of managing telecommuting employees (are the people I can’t see really working?) but here’s an aspect few have addressed.  What happens when it’s the boss who’s in the office three days a week?  An HR type shared a recent survey her company had run on employee satisfaction with management. The number one complaint was that if your boss wasn’t in the office most of the time you were being grossly mismanaged!

“My boss telecommutes two days a week.  If we have a problem we have to call or email.  I am looking for a job with an on-the-scene boss.”  There were many more comments in the same vein — especially about the lack of mentoring.  The Boomers who were telecommuting were amazed at the extreme negative tone of the remarks — not to mention the vehemence.

telecommuting management

They shouldn’t have been.  The millennials are not flexible.  If they were told they’d be reporting to Mr. Smith, he’d better be there or they won’t be.  If they were promised a mentor, one must be forthcoming.  A boss who telecommutes isn’t fulfilling his part of the bargain.  The fact that this boss had a chronically ill child meant nothing.  When had that become part of the bargain?

It’s interesting that Boomers, who were so anxious that employees meet their unspoken, as well as articulated, expectations were unaware of subordinate expectations.  In this instance the number of telecommuting managers was about evenly divided between men and women.  HR had expected respondents to be harder on women than men.  They weren’t.  The manager’s gender made no difference.

Did the company forbid managers from telecommuting?  No.  It monitored results and compared them to departments whose managers were on site.  Turnover did not rise substantially despite millennial dissatisfaction.  What HR wonders now is whether an improving economy will cause more people to leave.

If you attempt to apply logic to employee attitudes you’ll hurt yourself.  When Boomers complained they would say, “Everybody is unhappy ….”  Millennials don’t complain and many won’t answer surveys.  If things are bad they leave, sometimes without another job.  So many in the cohort aren’t married and their only financial obligations are school loans.

Managers of many twentysomethings should weigh whether telecommuting is worth the discontent it causes and work to change expectations.  Focus groups with employees could yield more useful information than surveys, especially when it’s easy not to answer web-based surveys.  Turnover has to be part of economic recovery so thinking about the problem now makes sense.

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