We all must deal with constraints on our choices — in our personal lives, at work, and in our communities. How well we deal with constraints can profoundly affect our happiness, the happiness of those we lead, and the happiness of those closest to us. One way of categorizing our fundamental choices is the title of this post. We can comply with the constraint, doing whatever the constraint seems to be encouraging us to do. Or we can resist the constraint, circumventing it or even undermining it, by whatever means we feel are appropriate or necessary. And then there is the third category: we can exploit the constraint, using the constraint itself to empower us and advance us towards our own objectives.
What follows are two examples of exploiting a constraint to achieve an objective. By coincidence, and for timeliness, both examples pertain to exiting situations related to the Covid-19 pandemic. One is ethical and one is not. I've included an unethical strategy not to endorse its use, but to provide an example for people who might be targets of organizational ruthlessness.
Never go back to the office again
The Covid-19 pandemic has constrained both employers and employees. And some have learned to exploit that constraint. During the pandemic, many organizations deployed a work-from-home policy for those employees who could work from home. Some of these organizations are modifying their policies by requiring a return to on-premises work. These new policies require on-premises work either full time, or on specific days, or for a specified minimum number of days per week or per month. Some employees aren't prepared to return, either because of fear of continued contagion, or because of irreconcilable demands for their presence at home, or for other reasons. Some are determined never to go back to the office again, even if refusal leads to termination.
There is an alternative. How well we deal with obstacles
can profoundly affect our happiness, the
happiness of those we lead, and the
happiness of those closest to usSome organizations have successfully transformed themselves to support virtual work for many roles. They expect virtual work to provide significant benefits, including increased employee satisfaction, reduced need for office space, and insulation from disruption caused by future pandemics. An employee who prefers virtual work is a perfect match for such organizations.
People who are concerned that they might be required to return to on-premises work can consider searching for positions that are 100% virtual, or nearly so. Compared to previous job searches that were strongly location oriented, a search for a virtual position offers a wider array of employers and roles. This shift is so prevalent that job search sites now offer services aimed at virtual searches, and some career coaches offer services specific to virtual job search.
Use pandemic policy to accelerate workforce attrition
Another pandemic exploit strategy is, in my view, less ethical. Some employers have a need to reduce the size of their workforces, either globally or at specific locations. Reasons vary. The pandemic might have caused disruptions in the supply chain, or business volume has contracted, or market entry has been delayed — any number of reasons.
There are numerous conventional means of reducing workforce size, but one strategy for controlling the cost of workforce reduction involves various methods for accelerating voluntary termination. The "buyout" is perhaps the most popular among these, perhaps because the payments to employees help to minimize friction and hard feelings. But if the employer is willing to accept some of those negatives, mandating a return to on-premises work can be even lower cost than buyouts.
Some employers who require return to on-premises work do so as a means of enhancing workforce attrition. They are projecting that employees who cannot return to on-premises work, or who have strong preferences against doing so, will resign, reducing the overall cost of workforce reduction. They have thereby exploited the pandemic constraint to achieve a possibly unrelated goal of workforce reduction at what they believe will be low cost.
Although short-term costs might be lower for this tactic, the long-term costs can be substantial. Long-term costs appear in the form of possible loss of capability in the workforce that remains after the reduction. The attrition that takes place is driven by the mandated return to on-premises work, which might not be correlated with the skills profile the organization requires. The people who have options, with the more desirable skills, are the people the organization most wants to retain, and they are also the people most likely to depart.
These are but two examples of exploiting obstacles to advance to one's objectives. Both of these examples involved using an obstacle that was directly affecting the ability to achieve that objective. But sometimes we can use an obstacle to achieve an objective unrelated to the obstacle. Perhaps the most familiar example is the learning experience. Learning experiences occur when we encounter an obstacle that teaches us a lesson that's widely applicable. Example: "Why didn't I pay attention to all those red flags?" Another example: "What makes me think this is the last pandemic of my lifetime?" Top Next Issue
Love the work but not the job? Bad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? This ebook looks at what we can do to get more out of life at work. It helps you get moving again! Read Go For It! Sometimes It's Easier If You Run, filled with tips and techniques for putting zing into your work life. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
- Poverty of Choice by Choice
- Sometimes our own desire not to have choices prevents us from finding creative solutions. Life
can be simpler (if less rich) when we have no choices to make. Why do we accept the same tired solutions,
and how can we tell when we're doing it?
- Problem-Solving Ambassadors
- In dispersed teams, we often hold meetings to which we send delegations to work out issues of mutual
interest. These working sessions are a mix of problem solving and negotiation. People who are masters
of both are problem-solving ambassadors, and they're especially valuable to dispersed or global teams.
- Playing at Work
- Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and
text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize,
to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean.
- Thirty Useful Questions
- Whether solving technical problems, creating plans, or puzzling through political tangles, asking the
right questions can be the key to finding useful approaches. An example: What questions would I like
to know the answers to?
- Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem-solving sessions, when we can't come to agreement, we often attribute the
difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes."
Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties have too little
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
- Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
- And on March 13: On Anticipating Consequences
- Much of what goes wrong when we change systems to improve them falls into a category we call unanticipated consequences. Even when we lack models that can project these results accurately, morphological analysis that can help us avoid much misery. Available here and by RSS on March 13.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info