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What the Frito-Lay Labor Strike Can Teach Us About the Future of Flexible Work

image with microphone and lead with that podcast episode title, What the Frito-Lay Labor Strike Can Teach Us About the Future of Flexible Work

In this episode of Lead With That, Ren and Allison explore what we can learn about the future of flexible work from the rise in hybrid workplaces and labor shortages and strikes. 

In late July, hundreds of union workers belonging to Local 218 in Topeka, Kansas won a big victory over Frito-Lay and so-called suicide shifts. Their 20-day strike shined a spotlight on a broader upswing in strike activity in the United States. In tandem with perceived labor shortages in certain sectors — or a living wage shortage, depending who you ask — it suggests changing employee expectations about the future of work.

In other industries, hybrid work is becoming increasingly common, as office workers jump to new roles that offer greater flexibility and many employees refuse to return to the office. Employers, executives, and HR leaders are exploring new options for their teams that might alter the value proposition of work in a trend that could dramatically influence a leader’s role within their organization.

In this episode, we explore how a rise in strikes and a perceived labor shortage do and don’t overlap with an increase in flexible workplaces, and what leaders today can do to lead with that in mind.

Listen now or read the full transcript below. 

Listen to the Podcast

In this episode, Ren and Allison explore what we can learn about the future of flexible work from the rise in hybrid workplaces and labor shortages and strikes.

Interview Transcript: 

INTRO:

Welcome back to CCL’s podcast Lead With That. We talk current events and pop culture, we look at where leadership is happening, and what’s happening with leadership.

Ren Washington:

I don’t know if you know this, but there’s a nationwide labor shortage right now. Yeah, that’s right. There’s a fear that we’re going to run out of workers; and unsurprisingly, we hear that, we dig in a little bit, and maybe it has more to do with employers refusing to pay living wages. That might be the primary factor driving perceived labor shortages. The hospitality and food service industries would already rather pay prison labor and work release, than raise their wages. And as COVID wanes in parts of the world, and the hybrid workforce becomes the norm, flexibility is king; but is flexibility even a real concern in most people’s lives? Just this week, at the time of this recording, workers belonging to the Local 218, won a big victory over Frito-Lay and so-called “suicide shifts,” ending a 20-day strike, and shining a spotlight on the phenomenon of overworking those at the lowest levels of organizations, or really overworking those at the lowest levels of our society.

Now, I don’t think flexible scheduling is a conversation these people are having; they’re just starting with a wage increase, barely matching cost of living, and a stop to mandatory overtime. But the COVID thaw is here, or on, if Delta doesn’t get too crazy; and hybrid workforces that offer flexible work life are all the rage.

So it got us thinking, is flexible work really a thing that people are concerned about? And how does the value proposition of flexible work show up for people in a factory and in an office? And what’s leadership’s role in leading and managing and guiding all this from policy to action?

I’m Ren Washington, one of the partners here at the Center, and as usual, I’m joined with Allison Barr, another partner here at CCL. Allison, have you ever worked in fast food?

Allison Barr:

Corporate fast food, no. No.

Ren Washington:

But unincorporated fast food, yes?

Allison Barr:

Yes. One of my very first jobs, I think I was 14; I’m not sure if that’s legal. So anyhow, here we are. I worked at a-

Ren Washington:

Statute of limitations. Statute of limitations.

Allison Barr:

Right. Right. I worked at a restaurant in Pittsburgh, and it was, I would say, non-traditional fast food.

Ren Washington:

Non-traditional fast food. Okay. Like a restaurant where there’s tables and servers, or a restaurant like Chipotle, where you’d walk up and you’d-

Allison Barr:

More similar to, yeah, more similar to that.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Chipotle.

Allison Barr:

Yeah.

Ren Washington:

And what were some of your biggest takeaways working in the non-traditional fast food?

Allison Barr:

Wow. That’s a great question. And it was also my first job, so keep that in mind, too.

Ren Washington:

Sure.

Allison Barr:

Sense of urgency, serving the customer, providing excellent guest experience for the customer. I hesitate saying, “The customer’s always right,” because that’s not necessarily a frame that we had, but it was sense of urgency, and providing a level of service for the customer, so that they leave happy, at all costs.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. There you go. See, I love it. You’re such an optimist. You hear that, everyone? Allison is like, “This is what I learned. I learned about how to be a better person.” I never worked in fast food, but I did spend some decent time of my career in food service. And I think we’ve talked about this before on the podcast. And I think as it relates to this conversation, something that I learned was that people in that industry, and like industries, are really at the mercy of a lot of different factors. Sense of urgency was something that I prided myself on. I even wonder, can you teach it?

And then I worked in a restaurant where we had a tip pool, where you checked in, you and the other servers and the bartender, you’re all in the same tip pool. And so that means that at the end of the night, you would split your tips evenly. So if I worked harder than you did, Allison, I wouldn’t see it in my tips.

Allison Barr:

Yep.

Ren Washington:

And so that was a decision made by the manager. So when I start thinking about, “Well, why are we talking about this?” I think about all of the factors that impact flexibility, or really that impact people who are in work like food service or manufacturing or retail floors.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. And I’m sorry, you just got me flashing back to all these times that I was waiting tables and pooling tips; and it’s a hard job. I waited tables in college, as well. And then after college, when I was trying to figure out what my next steps were, and… It brings up a lot; it’s really hard work. You have to have a sense of urgency in most cases. And can you teach that? I think the answer is yes. However, I also think, in some respects, it’s enforced, and that is why there’s so much turnover in those industries.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. And turnover in those industries is no joke these days.

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

The idea that we’re running out of workers, you’ve maybe seen it in the fast food strikes recently, in some of your cities. I was just talking to a colleague of mine, lives in Colorado Springs; the kids love Tokyo Joe’s. You ever had Tokyo Joe’s?

Allison Barr:

Yes, I have.

Ren Washington:

Yes. Well, you’re not eating it right now, because the workers there are on strike. And that’s a pattern all over America right now, that workers are leaving their places of employment. And there’s a whole bunch of language out there, “Well, it’s easier to collect unemployment than work.” And I think statistically, the research shows us that people actually want to add value. What they’re being faced with, is the idea that their environments, the value proposition, doesn’t work.

Allison Barr:

Hmm. That’s interesting. I did not know that Tokyo Joe’s was on strike. We just ate there last week. So it must be recent. However, did you know that strikes are up 257%? 257%.

Ren Washington:

In just food service, or in general?

Allison Barr:

In general. In the United States.

Ren Washington:

In general. Yeah.

Allison Barr:

And that’s from 2017. So I want to be clear about that; but that’s still, from 2017 to now, a monumental number, 257%. I think a lot of people are rethinking what work means to them, and starting to look at whether or not the company is seeing their employees as a value-add. And so, for… The Frito-Lay story is an extreme, and I hope that most of our listeners are not in that kind of environment. However, employees are not feeling valued right now, and it’s causing them to look elsewhere.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. And for those who maybe don’t know all about the Frito-Lay; there is a manufacturing factory in Kansas, and the workers… The spotlight was shown on that area, because people were striking these miserable conditions, and these really crazy shifts that people were working, and all the things that are intertwined with that. And so, underpaid, working in hundred-degree factories with no A/C; and then two, having to work these turnaround shifts, where you’d have eight hours between your shifts.

And these things are, I think, Alison, like you’re highlighting, are starting to impact the conversation. While maybe some of our audience may not necessarily be in those positions, there’s a good chance that you know someone. I was reading this crazy stat that Amazon, right. One of the biggest employers in America; and they say, “We drive innovation.” And, “We drive business.” At the beginning of 2019, they had something like 650,000 people there. Over the course of the year, they hired another 770,000 hourly workers. And so this basically equates to the entirety of Amazon’s workforce leaving, and being replaced in the span of a year. Now, maybe not all of the 650 left, but a big amount of them left. And there’s this concern in Amazon, in McDonald’s, at Pepsi Co, that are we burning through people?

Allison Barr:

Are they concerned? Do we know that?

Ren Washington:

Yeah.

Allison Barr:

I ask, because all those companies you mentioned are well exceeding profits, well exceeding them. And there’s a message there: it’s, “You’re replaceable.” I think that’s what people are hearing. I’m not so convinced that they are concerned.

Ren Washington:

I think you’re probably right. I think people are concerned that eventually they will just run out of a faceless resource. So I don’t think that anyone’s concerned that they’re running out of workers, morally, or that they’re concerned… They just… Eventually, is the pool going to run dry? And like you’re saying, Frito-Lay is an interesting example. Pepsi-Co and Frito; Frito-Lay as one of the biggest parts of Pepsi, and they had a banger year last year, and yet we’re still facing these things.

And so there’s a lot of this conversation of, “Well, if we’re performing at such a high level, can’t we just find someone? You’re replaceable.” And it brings up the tension I think we’re talking about with flexible work, and the liberty, the opportunity, the privilege, that maybe knowledge work, people who work in an office, are able to say, “Look, if you don’t offer me flexible work, I’m going to go somewhere else.” Whereas, someone in a factory doesn’t really have the luxury of saying where I get to go. However, I wonder, looking at the fast food strike, maybe this is the push, where people are saying, “Look, you better change your MO, because we’re just not going to be here anymore.”

Allison Barr:

Yeah. There’s several news stories about the great, I’m air quoting, the “Great Resignation.” And to your point, I think it’s proved that perhaps we have some rethinking to do for our teams and our workplaces. Let’s start it out; as mostly service workers, as you just mentioned, leaving their industry, that’s spread to most industries. It really has. It’s an employee’s market right now, and that’s spread to most industries in the US. And so, there’s a lot of different perspectives, I think you and I could take on that today. I fear we’d be recording for the next six days if we took all of them.

But where a lot of my thoughts went were to, “Okay. So is there a disconnect between leadership and what we might call the frontline?” And I think there is. And what role does the middle manager play in that? Have you ever managed people, Ren?

Ren Washington:

Thankfully, no.

Allison Barr:

Thankfully, no. Not your thing. Is that not?

Ren Washington:

Yeah.

Allison Barr:

Okay.

Ren Washington:

Yes. That’s my answer. That’s my answer.

Allison Barr:

Well, when I think about Frito-Lay, and all of these other companies who are losing their employees, I cannot help but think the middle managers saw this coming, right? Because the middle managers have information coming on all sides. And I know you know this, Ren, because we have a lot of really amazing programs in which we talk about middle managers, and how they function in a system, when they literally are in the middle. And so I just often wonder about, were they stuck between a rock and a hard place? And, were they in a position to speak to upper management? And is that their place?

And so, I do want to acknowledge that middle managers, I think, have one of the most difficult jobs at the workplace. They have to manage up, they have to manage down, they have to produce results. They have to further a direction, when they might not have all of that context. And I think they’re probably tasked with having a lot of really tough conversations, and not just with those they manage, but with those who are in senior leadership roles, and sometimes even with their clients. What do you think?

Ren Washington:

I think that you’re absolutely right. The tension of the mid-level manager, or the manager of other managers, or the person who’s stuck between maybe the top and the bottom; they have an extra burden on their shoulders. And so, when I think about what we’re faced with here, around flexible work, or the value proposition, part of the conversation, I think, for a solution to all of this is, “How can I meet people where they’re at?” And a middle manager has a unique ability to do that, because they get to see a lot of the organization; they can communicate with the top, they can see some of the strategy. They have a direct eyeline on that frontline experience, and the things that it actually takes to take vision into strategy. And so, maybe as a manager in this space, when we think about flexibility in the workplace, a way to soften the pain is to just really ask people what they need.

I think a lot of organizations that are succeeding right now in this space are saying, “Hey, we’re thinking about coming back to work. Here are some options. What do you want? And we just want to start standardizing some process, but we want to give people some autonomy.” And I think that’s something I’m proud of CCL for doing; some options where it’s like, “You can come back, you can do hybrid, or you can work from home.” But let’s just start to say, “What would you choose, if you had to, so we can start to organize our efforts.” And so I think a middle manager, not only is the burden on their shoulders really heavy, but like Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility. And I think middle managers have a lot of agency and power too, with all the burden.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. Sometimes. It’s about balancing that structural or strategy side with the people side that all managers have to do, but especially that middle manager. And a lot of times, those two things can be at odds with one another, so it’s tough. And I think really right now, businesses are having to re-earn the trust of the employee. And it’s really complicated; and the flexible work option can prove to be supportive.

And sometimes we cannot appeal to what everybody needs, and so that’s where it becomes really, really hard. And a lot of times that middle-level manager is the note passer, right? Like, “Here’s what was decided,” when those things were maybe decided at a much higher level. And I am proud that CCL is offering that flexible option. And I’ve told you before, I work much better at the office. I can’t wait to get back to the office. And for some people they don’t. And at the end of the day, it is about us doing our jobs, in the best way that we can. So how can we have that flexible work option, appease the masses, and also earn trust at the same time?

Ren Washington:

Trust is something that’s so huge here, or having to earn back the trust of the workforce, I think is, is you’re spot on. And when I think, too, around the middle manager, like you’re saying; sometimes they’re just a note passer, and they don’t have the option to maybe say, “Well, here. I can communicate what requires flexibility.” I mean, Frito-Lay is an example; there’s no option of flexible, hit the gym in the afternoon and take your kids to soccer camp. They have manufacturing targets, that they understand what the hours are, of bodies on the floor. They know that part of the reason these mandatory overtime shifts existed was because they had too much product and not enough people. And so, then it transitions, for me, “Well then if you can’t give me that kind of conversation, we’re just passing notes. Hey leadership, what does it look like to give me a slice of the pie? How can you hook it up?”

Maybe it doesn’t show up in bonuses. I was reading this, another crazy stat, around some of the information that some organizations might bonus-out their employees in manufacturing, something like $200, $300 in a year, after having one of their most successful years. And look, I understand. If you have 700,000 people working, a $300 check for each one of them is $23 million. So yes, I just did that off the top of my head. I ran some numbers looking at it, just curious; and I understand there’s some serious implications of that. But then, if it’s not a matter of getting me a piece of the pie, then how can you change the conversation? Is there a value in adding some new pieces to the value proposition?

Allison Barr:

Yeah. I just saw that Walmart has, for the first time, decided that they will, correct me if I’m wrong here, but I think they’re doing it. They’re either doing a tuition reimbursement, or they’re offering free Master’s degrees to their people. And Walmart is another example of just trying to do something, right? However, at the end of the day, from some of the research that I’ve done, most people want a pay raise. And I hear you; it’s complicated. It is complicated, because a lot of organizations might have to change their financial structuring. There are certain things that will take work, in order to do that. However, offering free tuition is a lot of money. Can you just reinvest that, and pay your people more? That’s what they want. So when you say, “a piece of the pie,” I wonder what you mean by that.

Ren Washington:

I did not know about Walmart, and thanks for sharing that. And I think that’s an example of some of it. That’s sort of some profit sharing, “Hey, look, we’re doing successful. If you work for us, we can reinvest in you, and we’ll reinvest in you long-term, by giving you an opportunity to go to school.” I think one example, we were reading this article around this owner of a pizza shop in Findlay, Ohio. I don’t know where Findlay Ohio is. I know it’s in Ohio.

Allison Barr:

I know where that is. Isn’t that near-

Ren Washington:

You know where Findlay, Ohio is?

Allison Barr:

I do.

Ren Washington:

Where is Findlay, Ohio?

Allison Barr:

So it’s sort of, it’s sort of in the center of the state, near Columbus-ish.

Ren Washington:

Oh. Well, I was going to say “Go Blue” anyway, but since it’s near Columbus, I’m going to say, “Go Blue” again. So if you’re listening out there, “Go Blue.” If you live in Findlay, “Go Blue.” But what a cool thing about Findlay that I read, was that there was this owner of a pizza shop, and he said, “I wanted to give my employees a sense of my appreciation.” And so he said, “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to give the employee the entire day’s profit, to thank them for their hard work and loyalty.”

Allison Barr:

I saw that.

Ren Washington:

The shop. Yeah, right? The shop had 220 orders, with $6,300 in sales, and $1,200 in tips. And so he said that total of $7,500 bucks, man equaled out to $78 an hour for his employees that day.

Allison Barr:

Did you say $78 an hour?

Ren Washington:

$78 an hour for his employees that day.

Allison Barr:

Yeah, that’s fantastic.

Ren Washington:

Now I’m not sitting here telling me, or any of my clients, believe me, clients, take it easy. I’m not telling anyone to say, “Look. Turn all of your profit over to your employees one day.” But it’s an interesting example of… And the owner reflected on this. It’s an interesting example of how much money that we make off the backs of people, that maybe don’t get some of the visibility. And so I understand there’s not a lot of flexibility maybe in retail or manufacturing, or where we have these hard hours that we’ve got to meet.

But I do think this conversation of the impact, the value, of flexible work, is, while people may want more pay, I think the real conversation that leaders get to ask is, “Well, why do you want more pay? What does it get you? What do you value in more pay?” Well, maybe it’s more time with family. Maybe it’s the ability to have access to nicer things. Maybe it just has a little bit more of a comfort, in case I have a rough time. Well, if more time with my family can be met with flexible work schedules. If more management for my health, means that I don’t have to take paid PTO, but I had sick days built into my benefits plan. If I want nicer things, well, maybe if I have the flexibility to work, where I could work more, than maybe I’m able to earn more. I think that’s some of the forefront of the conversation.

Allison Barr:

Yes. And I’m curious why we can’t have both. And perhaps some of those smaller businesses, I do want to acknowledge that there are some smaller businesses that are not making profits that are in the billions with a B, by the way, billions. And it’s harder for them to pay more; however, the flexible work option, every article that you see from 2020 until now, has said that employees are productive still. So why aren’t we offering the flexible work option across the board?

And again, that’s probably a complicated question. Some people will say that collaboration in person is absolutely a non-negotiable, and why? Why? I think it was Apple who said that, and then they eventually pulled back on that, and gave their employees a flexible work option. So I think it’s trending in the direction that you’re talking about. And we give people an opportunity to live their lives and take care of themselves in a different way, when we offer them a flexible work option.

Ren Washington:

So what do you think it is? I mean, even Apple; I was surprised to hear Apple saying, “Well, look. The collaboration in person is required. Don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain that’s been doing it for a year virtually.”

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

“But, no, nevermind. Let’s go back.” I mean, why? Why? Where do you think that comes from? What was this compulsion to mandate the in-person?

Allison Barr:

I do think there are probably some people who really do believe that, that we can progress further in-person. And I’m not sure that’s true; I’ve never seen any research to back that up. But I do think there are some people who are more productive in-person. And that’s a fact, right? It’s a preference, though. It doesn’t mean that it can’t happen, not in-person, because we already know that. And some of them who own the buildings get a tax break from the city. And if they’re not used, they’re not going to get… I think it comes down to semantics; not for every organization course, but I do think that’s part of it.

Yeah. I work with a client, and they have a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful space; and it’s been sitting empty for some time. And so I can totally empathize with an organization that says, “We developed this space to foster community in our organization, to enable collaboration. We’d really like to maximize it.” Yeah.

Ren Washington:

I think there is something there, and whether it’s ill or good intention or not, I think too, maybe it has to do with just a weird fear or disbelief in sustaining the habits that we’ve been able to cultivate. I think, kind of like you were saying, some people just work better in-person. I think I work better in-person. I prefer to get up to go. I had to find ways to integrate that kind of patterning into my virtual life. And I know that the flexible experience that I’ve had over the past year, despite everything that’s been going on, has been a benefit to myself and my family. And so I guess it circles me all the way back down, to “How can we meet people where they are?” And, “How can we compromise, in the true sense of ‘Bending a little is better than breaking completely.'” And, “How do we find the middle path?” Or maybe the middle manager, how do they find the middle path?

Allison Barr:

Yeah. I agree with you. And I think we can all agree that we are in a disrupted time, and we have been for over a year and a half now. Have you seen the Wheel of Paradox model? You just are making me think of that.

Ren Washington:

Yes. But tell us about it.

Allison Barr:

Okay. So, the Wheel of Paradox; if you can picture a literal wheel, it shows leaders how to build trust in times of disruption; when you are navigating contradictions, that you have to have both, you have to have both of those things. For example, you have to have empathy in the workplace right now, and we still need to drive for results. You have to empathize for people, while also catalyzing change. You have to support your people as they cope with change, but you also have to move forward at the same time. And the gosh, the very specialized skillset in doing that is critical in keeping trust amongst a team or an organization. Have you found yourself struggling with any of those polarities, like sense of urgency, but also wanting to slow down, or needing to at the same time?

Ren Washington:

Yeah, that one, especially, I think when we were doing our digital transformation. I think we were all pushing, and recognizing that we were at red line, and eventually we would have to pare down. I don’t know if it was the most sustainable. And I think, we’re kind of built for those short bursts.

Allison Barr:

Yeah.

Ren Washington:

What I love about the wheel, and the exploration of people, and looking at how they cultivate trust; there’s certain spokes on that wheel that people have a natural inclination for, or really comfortable with, and good at. And then you can kind of map really quickly where you’re overemphasizing certain things, and where you’re under-utilizing some other things. And when I think about that, it’s like a flexible model for a flexible time, where we start to identify where we are alike, and where we need to be a little bit more flexible for people’s desires. And it’s something that we say in the work that we do around the golden rule versus the platinum rule. Do you know what the golden rule is, Allison?

Allison Barr:

Yes. If that’s “Treat each other how you want to be treated.” Right?

Ren Washington:

Yes. Do unto others. And if you’ve ever taken a program with me, you may have heard me say before that I like the platinum rule in leadership, which is, “Treat people the way they want to be treated.” Because I know some people who use that excuse, “Well, I don’t need much, so I’m not going to give you much.” Right? “I’m treating you the way that I want to be treated.” Maybe that’s an exaggeration, although I’ve seen it, believe me. But I think ultimately, this, “How can I treat you the way you want to be treated, in this space, in this flexible idea; whether it be the Wheel of Paradox, or whether it be trying to create a hybrid workforce where people feel welcomed, belonging, where they feel like they can contribute. I think that’s the sweet spot. And maybe then, I think too, how does a middle manager, to go back to your earlier prompt, whether it be in a factory or in a knowledge economy, how do those people help identify those things, and start to help the organization follow the platinum rule?

Allison Barr:

Yeah, I think for some organizations, not all, but for some, that’s a culture change. And hopefully, not for many, because I-

Ren Washington:

Wait. What part is the culture change?

Allison Barr:

Treating people how they want to be treated.

Ren Washington:

Oh, okay.

Allison Barr:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ren Washington:

Yeah, okay.

Allison Barr:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I love it. You’re reminding me of that first job that I talked about earlier, where I remember my boss. I can’t remember her name, but I can see her face clear as day. And she said to me, “If you ever have to say no to a customer, you can say, “I can’t do that, but here’s what I can do.” And I do think that’s a good perspective to have as a manager. Sometimes you’re going to have to say no. A lot of times you’re going to have to say no.

You mentioned asking people what they need. Yes, do that. It sort of goes back to that Wheel of Paradox; definitely ask people what they need. And you might have to say no, but don’t close the door. Right? If you’re asking to work from home, five times a week; maybe that’s not a possibility. “But three is, and can you meet me in the middle?” Is better than saying, “No, I cannot do that. You’re replaceable. I’ll just hire somebody else.” Because it costs money to do that, by the way, too; a lot of money. Turnover costs a lot.

Ren Washington:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right. Money, time. It does. It’s not cheap, to say, “You’re replaceable.” I think… And it may be a drop in the bucket if you’re making billions of dollars a year, but that’s besides the point. But yeah, I love what you’re saying there around the… That is the paradox, where you say, “Ask people what they need, and then be aware of what you can provide.”

And yes, we used to say, “Never say that we sold out of an item.” Or, “Never say we ran out of an item, but we sold out an item.”

Allison Barr:

Yes.

Ren Washington:

But I love those little service tricks, right? And never say, “No,” but, “What can I do for you instead?” And so maybe that’s the sweet spot in a factory. And that’s kind of what I was saying earlier. “Come in. Hey, I understand you’re not going to be able to give me flexible work, but can you do something for me?”

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

“If I’m going to put in a 64 hour week for you, working in a factory that’s hotter than it is outside, where can we come closer together?” And, “Does it really hurt that much to the help me out, here?”

Allison Barr:

Right. And that’s where the trust part of… Where trust comes in, is having those transparent conversations. And again, that’s also a polarity, because sometimes I might not be able to tell people certain things, but I’m going to tell them enough so they can understand context. And sometimes that’s all they need. “Here’s why I can’t do that.” And, “Let me think about your request, and see if I can find another way.” And, “Right now I don’t have the answer.” So building trust is complex, and that’s one of the ways to do it.

I also think the key to navigating all of this is to know what your tendencies are. We talk about this a lot. It’s like, where do you go under stress? I go to drive. I go like full pedal-to-the-metal. That’s the phrase, right? Pedal-to-the-metal? Because, I don’t know why, but I’m aware of that.

And so, you have to know that if you’re a manager or a leader, people are watching you, and they are looking up to you, and they might even start to mimic their behavior after yours. And so it’s really important to know what kind of leadership you’re putting out there, knowing that everybody gets under stress at some point in life; to know where you might need to come back into balance. So, if you’re really great at driving your team towards results, perhaps you can also allow for empathy and optimism, and a slow down, so that people can take care of themselves.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Providing the space for just to recognize who we are, and how that shows up. And I think that starts too, with some self-awareness. And now I’m thinking too, well, we could just crack into another part of this conversation, as it relates to how we are triggered in-person, hybrid, and all the complexities of doing that. But I think just circling down to what we can control; and there might be people listening saying, “Well, Ren and Allison, thanks for the conversation, but I am in a place where I don’t get to make the decision.”

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

“And if the top leaders aren’t listening to this, then does it really matter? And I am stuck passing notes back and forth.” And so, I think one of the few things we’re able to do in this space is to learn more about each other, to maybe ease the condition that we’re in.

And the truth of the matter is that, I think we’re in a watershed moment of changing the way things are done. And for a while, the Union 218 in Kansas, they’re going to be under it for a while, still.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. Yes.

Ren Washington:

They didn’t win huge concessions; end of mandatory overtime, 4% wage increase over four years. And so, small concessions, but I think it’s this tidal wave of movement. That maybe part of the conversation is, “Now in the knowledge economy, people have a recognition that they have more flexibility than they ever have before. And the demanding flexibility for their real life.”

And I think too, the manufacturing and the building economy and the development, maybe too, there’s going to be a recognition by someone that there’s ways for us not to burn through people, but to work together, to accomplish bigger goals. To provide better service, to have even more robust bottom lines, and then maybe not have to hire an entire new workforce, which costs money and time. But instead, build the workforce, maybe develop that workforce by offering them degrees, so they come back and make us more money. And I think there’s ways for us to win together.

That’s something food service taught me also. “Don’t be mean to your servers, because if you’re mean to your servers, you’re not going to win.”

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

And your server’s not going to win, because it sucks when people are mean to you when you’re serving. And don’t be mean to people who touch your food. It’s just common sense. Bad idea.

Allison Barr:

I have said for a long time, and I stand by this; everybody should wait tables, at least for just one week even, just one week, wait tables, because you learn how to navigate conversations. You really do. If it’s coming from the customer, or coming from the kitchen, or the management needs you to turn a table faster, you really do learn how to navigate some difficult conversations. So I know that’s not what we’re talking about in this podcast. We could maybe revisit that some other time.

Ren Washington:

That’s a new episode.

Allison Barr:

Your new episode: Everybody Should Wait Tables. However, yeah. I think you’re right. And that flexible workforce that we seem to be entering, can allow for leaders, workers, managers, all levels of the organization, to navigate the disrupted time that we are in, that’s disrupting every single part of our life. We talk at CCL a lot about bringing your whole self to work. And that’s very hard for people in general, and it’s especially hard for people in a disrupted environment. So, “How can we support you in doing that? Okay. You would like to work from home on Tuesdays. We can make that happen.” For example, right? Again, factory workers, like we talked about with Frito-Lay, you can’t do that, but, “Where can we meet you in the middle? Here’s what we can do. And here’s what we can’t do.”

Ren Washington:

Absolutely. I think trying to sum up the complexities here, like you said, we could just keep talking. And I’m game. I mean, do you have a meeting? I’m just kidding. I know we’ve got to go. But, I said it earlier, and I’ll come back to it. I think my major, major thoughts are, two options here. One, when you have the opportunity, leadership, leaders, people who are managing teams, meet people where they’re at. Ask your teams what they need, have a conversation, say, “Okay, what does the work look like now? How can we help? This is what you need. And this is what I’m able to give. Let’s find the solution.”

And for places where it can’t be offered, then cut me in, man. If you’re not going to share the profit, then add to my value proposition.

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

If I can’t be brought in by that kind of flexible work, or some kind of bonus structure, then help me out, do something for me in the structure. And so I think for me, that’s the summation: meet people where they’re at, and if you can’t, cut me in on something else.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. And I think when I zoom out, we’re in a time in the United States, where employees are re-thinking what work means to them. And it is a privilege to be able to do that. However, regardless, organizational leaders are really needing to rebuild trust across the board. So I like what you’re saying. I think it feeds directly into my point, which is, leaders can modify their style or approach to leadership in response to an unpredictable circumstance like we’re in right now. We don’t know what’s going to happen this fall. Right? We really don’t. It’s not predictable. And so, it’s really about flexibility in your offerings, but also flexibility in your actual leadership; not getting too attached to your strengths, knowing when to step back, knowing how to read the room, so to speak, knowing when it’s time to listen, and when it’s time to be highly directive. And again, you’re right. It is very complicated and very complex. We could talk about it for days.

Ren Washington:

Yeah.

Allison Barr:

So-

Ren Washington:

But maybe, have that flexibility, and leave it at that.

Allison Barr:

Right. So yeah, and I think there’s a lot that could be said here. And if you are a manager who is listening, really think about where you go in times of stress, and how you might need to pull back, and do the opposite of what you’re doing, as counter-intuitive as it might feel. And Ren, thanks for the conversation.

Ren Washington:

Yeah, thanks, Allison. It was good to see you.

Allison Barr:

And thanks for our listeners for tuning in. You can find all of our podcast episodes and show notes on ccl.org. And don’t forget to subscribe while you’re there.

Ren Washington:

That’s right.

Allison Barr:

We’re on Spotify, we’re on Apple, we’re at Podbean, and-

Ren Washington:

Leave a review. Five stars.

Allison Barr:

Five stars. And again, I want to thank Ryan for his hard work behind the scenes.

Ren Washington:

Yes.

Allison Barr:

And we look forward to catching you next time, folks.

Ren Washington:

That’s right. We’ll see you next time.

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