Don't Bribe Them to Come Back--Tell Them to Stick It
If our workplaces are safe--and they seem to be-- then startups have to stop coddling employees who don't want to be part of the team. And we're talking about you, millennials.
Maybe you were building a new business and well on your way to new heights and great things before COVID-19 -- growing like crazy and hiring folks left and right. Now you're faced with the new post-pandemic reality that bringing your people back to the office, or finding suitable replacements, isn't going to be as quick and easy as you thought.
I've got some advice for you: If you want to build a sustainable, long-term and committed workforce, which is the foundation for every successful startup, please don't beg or bribe your people, or any new people, to return to work or join the team.
Startups are hard enough when everyone's fully on board, pulling in the same direction, and excited about the journey. Getting good players isn't difficult; getting them to play well together is the whole ball game. If people are going to be asked to give it their all, then it is important that they share in, and are connected to, the vision - the dream - and shown a credible path to get there together. Dreams don't work unless everyone does.
Half-hearted helpers, people just phoning it in for a paycheck until something better comes along, or lip service sycophants whose actions don't live up to their words are exactly the ones your company doesn't need. You want the ones who are going to work with you, not for you, and most definitely not operating behind your back.
If people are too wonderful in their own minds, too worried about their titles and perks or too woke to get back to the daily grind (because that's what it's almost certainly going to be for a while), forget them. Because regardless of their skills, you and your company will be far better off without them. In the real world, the right attitude and a solid commitment are a lot more important than any particular talent.
The very last thing you want or need at this critical juncture is to bend over backwards and plead with people to return. This is a double-edged sword. The folks who showed up quickly and willingly (or maybe never even left) and were excited to jump right into the battle are going to be very unhappy to see the divas and poseurs eventually waltz in. And those entitled assholes who think they're doing you a big favor to drag themselves back into the office are going to be absolute poison for your company culture, which no new business can afford.
I hear too many people saying (not that I understand what it means) that "millies bring their whole selves to work" and that, somehow, it's on us as makers, managers and leaders to meet and accommodate all of their needs - physical, emotional and psychological. I'm convinced that those happy and perk-filled days of old are pretty much gone, except maybe in the Valley.
Even there, companies like Apple are trying without much success to figure out how to please a bunch of unhappy and deluded employees who resist returning to 1 Infinite Loop. These are people whose ideas of what "work" means now - the concept of showing up, for example, as, when and if they please - are mainly fantasies. This isn't a time when people get to make things up as they go along. You may eventually earn the right to do things "your" own way, but only after you've paid years of dues and heard plenty of "don'ts".
I guess my old-fashioned answer to all these folks is that (a) this isn't camp or checkers - there are tough times ahead; (b) startups are like families in many ways, but we're a team, not a family, and I'm not your mom or dad, so get over it; and (c) it's not really my job to make anyone's life simpler or easier. Easy is getting harder by the day and our focus is on making things better, not necessarily easier.
The tough work today is about trying to build something lasting, meaningful, and important to people besides ourselves and to undertake that challenging task with respect for our employees and our customers; with honesty and integrity; and with a new seriousness of purpose that hopefully this horrific pandemic has instilled in all of us. Working on the right things right now is even more important than simply working hard because, if you're headed in the wrong direction or chasing the wrong rabbits, your diligence, effort, and speed don't matter.
Too many people all across the world have suffered unimaginable pain and loss, millions of friends and loved ones have died, and additional millions are likely to be unemployed for years. We all need some time and a great deal of patience to hear, help and heal those around us, but honestly, I have no patience whatever for the arrogant and privileged prima donnas who seem to feel that the world owes them a living. A living which, as far as I can see, they've done nothing yet to earn or deserve.
Do yourself and your business a big favor. Just do without them.