How to Get Old-Fashioned Leaders to Embrace Modern Workplace Values

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The entertainment industry is chock full of traditional bosses: the clumsy but beloved Michael Scott from The Office, the demanding Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, and the formidable Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock.

What makes these bosses so traditional? Well, just imagine telling any of them that you’re going to go ahead and work from home today. Or that you need to ask time off for a month (under the company’s unlimited PTO policy, of course), so you can road trip across New Zealand.

These examples are extreme, of course. But they point to an interesting leadership phenomenon happening around the world as more companies update their policies to attract younger employees with new incentives: what do you do when traditional leaders aren’t on board with modern workplace values?

Let us be clear — “old-fashioned” is not codeword for “old.” We use this term to refer to 20th century-style workplaces and values that opt out of integrating Internet-based technology into their processes and assume that productivity in the workplace requires discomfort and inconvenience. Traditional workplaces are ones that place a premium on face time and overtime, often at the cost of quality of life or work-life balance for their employees.

In reality every age group has embraced varying degrees of modernism depending on how an individual was raised, where and when they received training for their job, and who they look up to as role models. Traditional employees can come from any age group, or even have a hybrid of traditional and modern values. The challenge, then, is not for HR managers to shepherd older employees into a new era of agile and ergonomic offices, but rather inviting employees of every background to understand and engage with modern workplace values.

Here are three ways you can do just that:  

Highlight Both Sides of the Stereotype Coin

Let’s be honest. Young Millennial and Gen Y workers get a lot of flack for being entitled, lazy, and all-around self-obsessed (and sometimes for good reason). It should be no surprise when more seasoned workers look upon both young new hires and the values they bring into the workplace with skepticism. However, this stereotype has two sides: the pros and the cons. As much as your workforce has been educated about the potential cons of modern workplace values, you need to provide the pros.

Don’t assume your leaders know the reasoning behind modern workplace values. Instead, actively educate them on the dangers of “old school” overwork, which include burnout, anxiety, and increased turnover. Explain in detail why stress is such a threat to company performance, and how modern workplace values such as flex hours and more time off can combat its effects to make your company more productive. And most important of all, emphasize that modern workplace values aren’t all about indulgent perks — in fact, they can actually help leaders coach out more innovation, creativity, and performance from employees.

Re-Train for Individualized Productivity

No matter how traditional they might be, every leader wants to be the most productive and effective version of themselves. The challenge is that we have all learned how to be productive according to the popular values that existed when we entered the workforce. For example, for employees that came of age in the workplace before email and Skype were invented, phone and in-person meetings may truly be the most effective way for them to communicate. And just because the rest of the working world has moved on and now considers electronic mediums to be “more effective,” that doesn’t make it true for these old fashioned workers… yet.

Genuine productivity isn’t one-size-fits-all. It depends on an individual’s comfort level with different kinds of technology. The only way to adjust those levels is to work with employees one-on-one. Instead of pushing your leadership team to suddenly adopt new workplace values, try to re-condition their perspective of what makes them more productive. For some employees, that might look like extra training sessions on computers, tablets, or mobile phones so they can catch up with employees who have been wired since birth. For other employees, that might look like extra practice time on the phone to get familiar with an old-fashioned but irreplaceable form of client relationship-building.

Redefine Emotional Intelligence as Tangible

The traditional workplace encourages employees to check emotions at the door. And while there’s some wisdom in this policy — after all, work should be a no drama zone —  it’s clear emotional intelligence is a key 21st century leadership skill. How a leader registers and responds to emotions in the workplace, and how she registers and controls her own emotions, is a very important factor in being effective. Unfortunately, old-fashioned employees can fall into the habit of paying lip service to this trait only dismiss it as a soft intangible that will sort itself out.

Interpersonal relationships drive business. So, don’t let emotional intelligence — or other soft skills, such as communication, mediation, or interpersonal skills — fall to the wayside of your leadership team’s more obvious responsibilities. Show your leaders that empathy and communication are directly linked to financial performance and make these so-called intangible values tangible.

The modern workplace is a hard-working workplace. But without explicit education about how modern workplace values work and provide value, traditional leaders may hesitate to embrace the new way of doing business. Use these tips to help everyone within your organization understand how their approach to work can change for the better with modern workplace values.

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