Get back to the office, or get forgotten … or choose something else

An article from the Australian Financial Review has popped up a few times this week on my Twitter feed and in a few Reddit forums I follow. I felt it deserved a longer response than I cared to make in either of those forums.

Please have a read before continuing with my response. If you hit a paywall, try a 12-foot ladder.

There are some interesting observations in the introduction and first paragraph, but it isn’t backed up later and the article quickly goes off the rails.

The Gender Pay Gap

The author would like us to believe that the gender pay gap is caused by remote work. The so-called “greedy jobs” are predominantly held by men. These jobs are back in their sky palaces where the author wants them. 

But people who don’t want jobs where “work-life balance is almost non-existent” …

Many of these more commoditised jobs can be undertaken anywhere

I assume the author is making a leap here, implying that they can be done in locations with lower costs. Otherwise this sentence is an own-goal.

… it is only logical that all the genuine advances over the last few years in closing the gender pay gap are being eroded, at an alarming pace.

To summarise, the hustlers and the thieves are earning more. They are predominately men. They’re back in the office. So the gender pay gap is caused by .. real estate. This is a ridiculous leap.

So where is this coming from?

Ahhhh … this article is beginning to make contextual sense. Let’s continue.

Career Growth

You don’t learn a thing about your job or advance your career sitting in a one-bedroom flat. You can’t get promoted if no-one knows who or where you are. 

This feels like a problem of management rather than location. The warning seems, to me, to be that management processes that require physical presence are broken. 

Pre-covid, job-theatrics were already a problem. Lazy managers would see people who made the appearance of working hardest, who socialised with the right people, and who put in unpaid hours fixing problems (that they’d often created). These were the promoted people. The man who pushed the “Go” button, not the woman who wired it up.

One of the reasons men are promoted more often than women is due to “glue work”. The work that makes the team tick but doesn’t get you promoted. Things like documentation, answering questions on Slack, introducing people with problems to people with solutions. And even things like cleaning the kitchen and making sure the meeting room is ready for visitors. Glue work most often has fallen to women, and thus has contributed to slower “career growth”. Again, this is a management problem.

So even if we’re in the office, you can’t get promoted if no-one knows who you are because you’re too busy making sure the project is a success and not spending enough time being the project poster-boy.

Let’s fix career growth as it’s own problem, not just return to the old days where we lazily promote the people who are most obvious. And certainly let’s not try blaming it, again, on physically being in an office.

The “Forgotten Generation”

But let’s get back to his introduction where I think there’s some merit.

The generation of 35-50 year olds is fast becoming the forgotten generation. They seem to have convinced themselves that their careers still have potential while working from home.

Forgive me for mixing in a little “me” here, but I’m who he’s talking about. I’m not sure we’re “forgotten”, but I’m going to presume the author means a “career” with “potential” is one where there are internal promotions and advancement at your current company. 

So let’s explore that first …

I’m lucky to be working at a company that does a good job of career growth. We regularly promote folk through recognised advancement stages. Our Juniors becomes Mids, then Seniors and Principals. We recognise leadership and invite appropriate people onto our leadership team. We coach and mentor … and we’ve successfully done this throughout Covid, and across state lines.

But this isn’t true in most workplaces. For most people, the only way to advance your career and get promoted is to find a new job at a new company. I’m thrilled every time I see a LinkedIn post from someone I employed right out of Uni start a new job with a bigger job title. But in almost every case, those promotions are at new organisations.

So again, there is management failure here. But setting that aside, people who work “sitting in a one-bedroom flat” are getting promoted and are advancing their careers. They’re doing it by shifting companies. And this has been the case long before Covid and remote work became a thing.

But I want to finish on another thought with the “forgotten generation” angle.

In my experience, by the time you’re 35 you probably have a good idea who you are. You’re well into your career, and you’ve been promoted a few times. By 50 (if you haven’t switched careers completely) you’re in a senior role. There are further places to go, but far fewer too.

In many cases, you’ve also thought about what you want out of life. And maybe, just maybe, it isn’t focused on your job. And many, including me, the brake-pedal of Covid gave us a moment to think and step off the treadmill of an incessant focus on work as being the chief barometer by which we measure ourselves. 

So yeah, maybe I miss out on an opportunity here or there. But I’ve never been happier with how my work integrates into my life from my (two) bedroom flat.