Treating adults like adults in the workplace

There’s a growing narrative at conferences, on blogs, in tweets and in LinkedIn posts about the need to modernise organisations and enable adults to behave like adults. Primarily, and mostly, this has happened because technology is allowing for these practises to become more commonplace because there are numerous ways in which you might hear variations on these messages. What kind of things are people talking about?

Agile ways of working

The agile way of working is a specific mindset and approach to developing a product. It involves short bursts of intense work (often 3-4 weeks of development activity), at the end of which you have a prototype. You test/review/break it and learn fast before you move on to the next ‘sprint’ and create the iteration of the product. The aim is that you create a product that works/is marketable/meets client needs in a fairly short period of time.

It’s an adult approach to working, because you’re relying on people to be their best. You’re not managing their workload, it’s a collective effort to get something produced, and it often means that if you have the skills, you’re the right person for the job. It works on the premise that failure happens, that iterations are important, and that you learn as you work. There’s little in the way of command and control, and respect amongst team members is paramount.

Facilitation techniques like Open Space

Open Space is a specific facilitation technique where you encourage people to create the agenda they want to focus on, seek for people to lead discussions that they feel they can, give permission for people to be part of the conversation they want to participate in, and allow for people people to develop their own insights based on the conversations they’re taking part in.

It’s an adult way of facilitating conversations because you’re saying to people – you’re the ones with the knowledge, insights and experience to make this a rich and valuable conversation. No one is directing you to listen to something, no one is instructing you to behave in a certain way. The decision of participation is yours, how you contribute is your choice, and what you learn from it is yours to know.

Abandoning concepts like annual leave

Not completely abandoning annual leave, but allowing for people to take the leave they want, when they want, for how long they want. Often as part of a benefits package for recruitment and retention purposes, we say to people (and you get 25 days leave plus bank holidays). Which is fine and dandy except people in the modern age have all sorts of things going on and they either will use every day available, or hardly any of it.

What’s more useful is to say to people, you’re responsible for the leave you take. How long, when and impact on colleagues is discussion for you to have with your team and colleagues, because that’s what adults do. As your employer, if we notice you haven’t had a break from work in a considerable amount of time, we’ll check in to make sure your wellbeing isn’t affected, but otherwise that decision is yours. You won’t be restricted on which holidays you choose to take because of days available or not.

Using social media for work purposes

The speed of information available to everyone is amazing in the modern age. No longer do we have to wait for publications or trade press or news bulletins or newspapers to hear the news. Now we can access anything we want to know on any topic in a plethora of ways. And yet there are organisations who want to control how you access that information. Since when did access to information become a security threat?

Being adults at work means having the responsibility to know how to use social media for work purposes. How to create connections via Twitter and seek out like minded professionals on what they’re saying about the profession. How to search YouTube for the learning you need to support the job you’re doing. How to become familiar with the internet as an information archive as well as watching cat videos.

Inviting people to be in a project team

Change fails in organisations because it’s often mandated what needs to happen, by when, by whom, and in what way. It means processes are created, systems are devised, bureaucracy becomes necessary and all at the expense of actually getting things done.

Change is successful when you lay out: this is what we need to achieve, here are some considerations, who can help and who wants to be apart of the project?

Adults step up and complete work successfully when they’re invested in the work they do. If they’re mandated to do things, they’ll do the minimum required. When they’re part of something because it’s important to them, they’ll do everything they can to make it a success. When people collaborate and achieve things together is when organisations are great places to work.

These are just some examples of how adults are treated like adults in the workplace. We can do this better now than ever before. I’m sharing these examples because I don’t think we can talk about these things enough. There are still far too many organisations who are holding on to old ways of working, and insisting on command and control approaches to the workplace. They’ll continue to persist, but what we’re finding, in abundance, is that the new ways of working are the ones disrupting the old ways of working.

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Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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