The demand we all return to the office (so we can all hang out together) seems to come from predominantly men. Why?
They all admit that working at home has not effected the ability of employees to complete their tasks and achieve their goals. Without productivity metrics (something greatly loved pre-Covid) to bolster their argument, these executives are forced to rely upon qualitative and anecdotal reasonings. This is when you’ll hear your c-level overlord wax nostalgic for their pre-Covid Corporate Camelot, how awesome it was, and how this beautiful, perfect culture needs to be proselytize and, if that doesn’t work, brutally enforced.
Corporate culture is a pyramid. There are a few people at the top – literally – on those upper floors, in those big offices with the windows. If you’re really important, the “corner” office with multiple windows. Where are the people holding up the base and sides of the pyramid? Downstairs, in a cube, with the rest of the subjects to be ruled.
I’ve spent 30 years working in some of the biggest corporations at the highest levels, and it has not escaped my attention – nor the attention of labor — that corporate culture is little more than a relic of the Edwardian era. Instead of Dukes, Duchess, Prince and Princesses, we now have Executive VPs, Directors of <stuff>, and assorted lords and ladies of the court who are swept up in the largess of executive coattails.
I’m not down on corporate fat-cats. Being one is kind of sweet. And, what a killer job! What you say goes! No arguments, no need to compromise. Corporate executives are literally surrounded by the fear and trembling of compliant subordinates. When the boss says jump, people jump! Ya know where that doesn’t happen? Every place else on Earth!
There’s a lot to unpack in the WFH debate. Let’s start with the basics:
Men are Lonely.
Men are lonely. They have few friends. They have no women friends. That “culture” they’re bemoaning? It’s an office where they can shoot the shit with the boyz and go to lunch with the gurls. The words “comradery” and “collaboration,” soo important, are thrown into the mix. What that really means is they miss hangin’ with their buddies, and what men really miss is the company of women – women who understand their work, women who laugh at their jokes, women who aren’t their wives. In short: They miss having friends.
Why don’t men have friends? There’s a lot of reasons, but the primary one is that men don’t have friends unless their wives approve of them. This is probably the worst thing about being in a relationship if you’re a guy. Suddenly, every single person in your life must have the nod of your SO. If she doesn’t like ’em, you’re not going to be friends anymore. Female friends? Forget that – they’re toast.
Men aren’t permitted to have female friends unless she’s his sister, and then only with your woman’s approval!
I work in tech. Not surprisingly most of the people I work with are men. My SO works in HR. The majority of his colleagues are women. Should I demand that my man never socialize with his work colleagues? Lunch with the girls? Nope – He should sit in his cube, alone. Happy hour? Not unless I’m there to supervise and approve. What about my work buddies? Am I permitted to have a few beers with the guys after work? What about travel? Should I pass on dinner, and stay in my room and read?
The f-d upness of relationships, love, friendships is a topic for another article, but I think we can all agree that men, in general, lead kind of lonely lives. That needs to change, but making me drive 45-minutes to an office (on my time and dime) so you can feel good about yourself isn’t the way to do it.
Men Derive Their Status from Work.
Our culture associates the value of a man with the job he has. It’s not right, but it is. At work, you’re the VP of this or the director of that. Those titles convey a rank, status. You’re treated with some respect, reverence because of your title. You know where highly-paid and highly-respected C-level men don’t derive status and respect? Having dinner with their 14-year old.
Sheryl Sandberg wants us to lean in, take a seat at the table, and, ultimately sit at the head of the table. Here’s the thing: In the virtual world, there’s no table. Bob Iger is just a little square — like everyone else. In fact, if you’re not talking on your vid, you might not even be on screen. How’s everyone supposed to know that they should be focused on you when you’re not sitting in the power-position at the table, and they’re not in your corner office with your big desk and that killer view of the skyline?
Video calls don’t convey status. You’re a little square – like everyone else.
This is where I see the generation gap the most. Those men who are young in their careers, and guys with young families are not “office-centric,” certainly not in the way men were back in the day. But, if you’re one of those Boomers and Gen Xers whose defined your life and persona by the status you derive from your job, it’s not likely you’re going to give up the trappings of a culture that sees you as a Grand Duke. And I don’t blame you one bit! Doesn’t everyone want be be surrounded by the adoring and obedient?
I Hate My Spouse (and/or Kids)
I think it’s safe to say that there are lots of people who aren’t exactly living the marriage dream. Their attraction to their spouse left years ago. Staying together for the children? Yep. Leading separate lives. You betcha! Grinding it out until <something happens>. Absolutely. What’s a few more years? You’ve been doing it this long, and you’re at work most of the time, right? Except now you’re not…
You can’t avoid your family and its responsibilities when you’re working from home.
When you go to an office, you have a safe place to hang. Getting in early, and staying late is the easiest way to avoid your spouse. If you make a decent amount of cash, there can be travel with your adoring and obedient friends, and team happy hours and dinners where you get to hang with the boyz, pick up the check, and be “the man.” Housework, errands, child care, shopping – so droll! You have people for that! And, besides, you’re at work! You can’t be responsible for honey-do’s if you’re never home. Even better, if you work all the time, you have a solid reason not to do anything but sleep and play video games when you are home. Nirvana.
There’s no doubt that old-school-old-boys want “workers” to return to the office. Why? To support their “culture” – a culture where (mostly white) dudes are happily at the top of the ladder. It’s nice up there. They have windows, and lots of natural light….
It doesn’t matter what your title is; When you’re home, there’s no reason you can’t start the dishwasher …
Lowly cubical dwellers also know that despite the #Elon, #BobIger #JamieDimon edicts and hoopla, demands all workers return to the office are largely ignored by the executive ranks, and riddled with exceptions for other groups and individuals. Executives never really worked in the office anyway. Many travel, work from home whenever they feel like it and, for the most part, they come and go as they please. What bosses do like is to being surrounded by their buddies and loyal subjects when the DO decide to come in. And, what they really don’t like is that the freedom to come and go – the freedom that was conferred upon them by their status and rank – has been inadvertently (and many feel undeservedly) bestowed upon their subjects!
The move away from the office and into virtual work is yet another example of precipitous decline of the white male empire. That decline has been facilitated by Internet and VPN technology, and it is continuing with the slow but steady elimination of the symbols of corporate hierarchy and status: The corner office, the assistant, the private conference room, the preferred parking, the jet. These have been replaced with an avatar and a disembodied voice, which forces everyone to focus on what is said and done – not the rank, title, height, weight, clothing, desk or any other distraction.
May be it’s not such a bad thing.
Copyright 2023 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.