Home Commercial Return-to-Work Policies Shift Workplace Hierarchy

Return-to-Work Policies Shift Workplace Hierarchy

Return to work, Commercial real estate, Workplace Hierarchy
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By The Registry Staff

In the aftermath of the pandemic, CEOs find themselves grappling with a profound question: What does it mean to be a leader in a world where the traditional hierarchy has been eroded? The rise of hybrid work has further undermined the authority that once came with the corner office. Mandates and directives no longer hold the same sway they once did, according to a recent report in the New York Times. As executives seek to navigate this new landscape, they must confront a critical challenge—the redefinition of their post-pandemic identity.

Some leaders have responded by attempting to reestablish a degree of traditional control. JPMorgan Chase, for instance, issued a staff memo mandating managing directors to be in the office five days a week, emphasizing the need to set an example. However, this approach has faced criticism from employees, who have grown accustomed to newfound independence and flexibility. The power dynamics have shifted, and blind adherence to authority is no longer guaranteed.

Laura Empson, a professor at Bayes Business School, suggests that colleagues have relished their taste of independence, making it clear that unquestioning authority may no longer be accepted. Leaders must recognize that they need to earn trust and loyalty through different means. This moment can be likened to the paradigm shift that followed World War II, where leaders had to adapt to a world where deference and obedience were no longer assumed.

In this evolving environment, leaders who demand physical presence risk breeding presenteeism rather than fostering better results. The risk of sycophantic behavior and favoritism also looms large. Instead, leaders must become adept at understanding the pulse of their teams, acting as coaches on the sidelines rather than players on the field. They must excel at storytelling to create a strong culture and inspire loyalty. After all, employees have proven their trustworthiness in extreme situations, so why not trust them now?

While some leaders still believe in the effectiveness of physical presence, the key lies in striking the right tone and delivering the appropriate message. Too much informality can undermine authority, potentially jeopardizing productivity. Leaders must strike a delicate balance between likability and the ability to inspire and motivate their teams.

Even in a world where employees value autonomy and flexibility, Kevin Ellis, chair and senior partner at PWC, emphasizes the importance of leaders establishing clear guardrails. These guardrails not only guide employees but also enable leaders to act consistently and confidently. Roger Steare, a corporate executive advisor, cautions against an obsession with authority, highlighting the significance of strong human relationships in the workplace. Leadership is a collaborative effort, and imposing authority is not the path to success. Talented individuals will choose to follow leaders based on their merits, and organizations that fail to foster such an environment risk losing valuable employees.

Stephen Carter, CEO of Informa, takes a more hands-off approach, recognizing that mandating employees’ presence in the office is counterproductive. Instead, he encourages employees to exercise autonomy and make decisions that work best for themselves and their teams. Carter acknowledges that Informa is not a “presence” culture, understanding that effective leadership goes beyond physical proximity.

In the end, leadership authority is not granted by decree but earned through willing followership. As Terri Kelly, former CEO of WL Gore, aptly stated, if no one shows up to a meeting called by a leader, it is a clear sign that leadership is lacking. Leaders must adapt to the changing landscape, embrace collaboration, and foster an environment where employees willingly choose to follow. By doing so, they will navigate the complexities of the post-pandemic world and lead their organizations to success.