As Amazon gets aggressive with its back-to-the-office policies - telling managers that they should feel free to confront and fire employees unwilling to return to the office at least three days a week - a Bloomberg analysis suggest that the company's priorities are misplaced.
Managers should "manage more" and "take attendance less," the analysis suggests.
Instructing managers to focus on attendance, the story says, "puts middle managers at Amazon, long known for its 'churn and burn' approach to managing its workforce, in an impossible position. Sack people who aren’t coming in — but who might be doing a very good job from home and could be difficult to replace — or risk their own futures if they don’t boost attendance rates.
"Amazon is making a mistake with this approach. If there’s anything the last three years have shown us, it’s that we shouldn’t need to have eyes on each other to do good work."
This isn't just an Amazon issue. The fact is that there is broad disagreement in the workplace about attendance and productivity issues.
Bloomberg writes that 86% of workers "claim they’re equally or more productive at home, compared with only 14% who said they were less productive, according to a recent survey led by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom.
"Many HR managers and senior leaders see it differently. In a recent survey conducted by McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.org, 83% of remote employees said WFH made them more efficient and productive; but just 52% of HR leaders agreed … The bottom line is that many senior leaders believe employees perform better in person - even if those employees don’t realize it."
Bloomberg writes that "companies like Amazon should stop obsessing over RTO and focus instead on RTM - return to managing. Regular one-on-ones with employees, weekly team meetings where staff share updates, systems for tracking employee output - none of these require adjacent cubicles. Yet at too many companies, there seems to be an assumption that they can’t start managing until they get those attendance rates up … Amazon’s approach will only make their jobs harder. And it will do absolutely nothing to convince employees that they’re more productive in the office."
- KC's View:
I am reminded here of something my wife used to talk about while she was teaching. She came to the job after a decade as a banker/stockbroker, and then another decade at home raising the kids. That breadth of experience informed her approach to the classroom: "You teach the kid," she used to say. "Not the subject." In other words, ignoring the fact that different kids learn differently was a path to frustration for the student, the parents and the teacher.
I am sympathetic to Amazon's desire to get people back in the office if it truly believes that collaboration is key to productivity and innovation. But I also think it is important to manage the employee, not the job, and recognize that different people achieve productivity in different ways.
It is complex in the workplace, especially one as large and multifaceted as Amazon's. Some of its statements seem counter-productive and not particularly collaborative, but this is a hard one.
In general, though, I agree with the Bloomberg commentary, and think it should apply to the vast majority of businesses. Manage more. Manage better. And manage different people differently. (It also means that leaders have to nurture their managers, not just throw them into the deep end of the pool and expect them to swim.)