People can do more (if they want to)

May 26, 2024

 

Employees who decide to disengage and shift out completely do so at their own peril.

Last week, my article in The Zweig Letter focused on those people who regularly fully disconnect from work at 5 p.m. on Friday and don’t look at anything or check in until the following Monday morning. The same applies to those who do this every night. I want engagement. I want commitment. I want to see interest in the job and the business. Those who fully disengage are not doing themselves any favors if they want to get ahead.

I knew this article would draw ire from someone and sure enough, a woman on LinkedIn posted this in response: “What a privileged take. Especially given that all of the likes and supportive comments on this post are largely men in leadership positions. I’d be curious to know how much support you all have behind the scenes in order to commit this much of yourselves to work outside of family needs.”

“Privileged take?” Because I was and still am fully-engaged and don’t completely disconnect? No. Sorry. I have commitment. I have intensity. I have determination to keep being better and doing things better and to make any business I am part of more successful. I don’t expect big rewards by doing the least amount I have to every day. Is that privilege, or just a different orientation that makes me more responsive to current and potential clients and customers, fellow workers, business partners, suppliers and subconsultants, readers, and students, and more productive in a highly competitive world?

And as far as “support behind the scenes,” I do have that from my wife – wife number three. She owned and ran businesses herself and came from a family that did the same. Was that always the case for me? Absolutely not. My first wife of nearly 20 years had a complete meltdown from alcohol and drugs and mental illness. I was a single parent filling both roles for my two oldest daughters for years. I still stayed connected and involved with my business, and was also a decent parent, as my girls will attest.

Oh yeah – one more thing. I started my business (this business nearly 36 years ago) with $1,000 when I was unemployed and had an 11-month-old and a spouse who did not work outside of the home. It wasn’t like I had a big nest egg sitting there and could do it at my leisure. I didn’t golf. I didn’t go on weekend vacations with my buddies. We had rent to pay and utility bills and needed to eat. Survival and the desire to transcend our current circumstances motivated me to do more than most people were willing to do.

My point is this. Is it wrong to try to build a team of other highly motivated people who don’t shut down like factory workers punching a time clock at the end of every day, and instead show interest and enthusiasm for the business we are trying to build together? Should we be rewarding those who won’t do that the same as those who do? How does that make any sense when we are trying to build something, and if we are successful, they will be the beneficiaries of that success?

There is no doubt that we live in an era of declining expectations – expectations for excellence and commitment. We want four-day workweeks. We want to be able to work from home. We want every evening and weekend completely free from work. Work is just a means to be able to do other things versus something pleasurable and rewarding in itself. We don’t mind if a client or customer has a problem we don’t respond to. We have AI doing our writing for us (I saw several student papers this semester clearly written by ChatGPT). What we are willing to ask our people to do is reducing, and what we expect from them is less and less. At the same time, it takes more than ever to have a decent standard of living when starter homes in many places cost $600,000 or more, a decent new car costs $50,000, and it costs $750 a week to put your kid in daycare. How can one expect to afford that or better with minimal effort and commitment?

So my message is clear. Shift out completely if you want. Don’t participate in the phone, text, and email banter with your managers and fellow workers at night and on weekends. Don’t respond to the client who has a question or just wants to talk. But do so at your own peril. You are missing out. You know you aren’t always parenting or doing something essential every night and weekend. You know taking five minutes to check your email on your phone isn’t impossible. You are making the choice to take yourself out of the game.

Meanwhile, for every business I am part of – and for every class I teach – I am going to keep looking for those people who will do more. Unapologetically. Because I hate squandering opportunity. And I hate failure even more. And I know if I am responsible for those people, I will take my responsibility seriously and reward those who are fully engaged. 

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.