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Time to call it a day on the Ideal Worker model?

Updated: Oct 29, 2018

We all know an 'ideal worker', someone who works long hours, always answers an e-mail within five minutes no matter the time of day, who will re-arrange their 'life' to accommodate all work requirements and inevitably has a family that they never see. Evaluating the productivity of such a worker is easy because they are always present, always working. The risks in hiring an ideal worker are relatively minimal and the rewards are potentially endless - they will work till they drop.

Individuals are increasingly resisting the concept of the ideal worker, wanting a better work-life balance and are looking for overall job satisfaction. Colleagues who break from the ideal worker mould can face discrimination, direct or unconscious. At the same time companies are realizing that there is significant value in diversity, mainly in creating innovation, reducing group think and lowering staff turnover. So how does a company widen their employee pool when colleagues are faced with a choice between a narrow definition of the ideal worker or opting out ?

Companies first and foremost need to face up to their fears around moving from the ideal worker model, in particular around;

1. Trust: An ideal worker shows he can be trusted to be productive by always being present and available.

2. Risk: Many companies that focus on hiring and promoting ideal workers may also be risk adverse.

Even if hiring an ideal worker does not work out each and every time, most of the time it does and that seems to work.

In a company focused on the ideal worker there may be limited experience of managing anyone who works in a more agile manner. Consequently any move to broaden the ideal worker definition creates a risk - how can they be trusted to do their best work if they are not physically in the office, how do I know I'm getting their best work if they are not always available, how do I manage the additional burden of a flexible worker? Companies need to be willing to ask themselves these and others questions is an honest and objective way and work through the issues that arise as a consequence.

This fear of the unknown and a risk adverse culture is constraining the choices available to those who would like to pursue a career in the corporate services sector. Colleagues are no longer willing to adapt to the ideal worker model to succeed and companies are increasingly seeing the value in diversity and more importantly inclusion. We need a corporate culture that is willing to take a risk on a new type of worker knowing that while they might not answer the e-mail within five minutes they are creating innovative and exciting ideas that will better meet the needs of our customers.

If you liked this post please check out my post on how to normalize a common culture around flexible working through inclusive agility.

All opinions are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.


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