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How to Teach Your Employees to Set Boundaries Instead of Always Being 'On' Always being available, responding right away to emails and saying "yes" to everything have been long-time behaviors cherished in corporate America, yet these behaviors are not helpful for the overwhelming majority of today's workforce — especially for those that are caregivers, those with disabilities or those who are underrepresented in organizations. Here are three strategies to reward actual work over responsiveness, leading to higher engagement and retention.

By Julie Kratz Edited by Kara McIntyre

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The concept of the ideal worker can be problematic in today's workforce, especially for caregivers, individuals with disabilities and those who are underrepresented in organizations due to the inherent biases and assumptions it carries. The ideal worker stereotype refers to a set of traditional and often unrealistic expectations that prioritize certain characteristics and behaviors in an employee.

This stereotype tends to value qualities such as long hours, constant availability and responding to emails right away with an unwavering commitment to work above all else. Here's why it can be problematic for these specific groups:

  • Caregivers: Caregivers, often disproportionately women, are expected to balance their professional responsibilities with caregiving roles at home. The ideal worker norm can put caregivers who may need flexible work arrangements or time off to care for children, elderly family members or individuals with disabilities at a disadvantage. The ideal worker standard may lead to biases against caregivers, assuming they are less committed or less productive if they can't adhere to rigid work schedules.
  • Individuals with disabilities: The ideal worker norm can create barriers for individuals with disabilities who may need accommodations to perform their jobs effectively. It assumes a one-size-fits-all approach to work that may not take into account diverse needs. Individuals with disabilities may face challenges in meeting the physical or temporal demands set by the ideal worker stereotype, even though they can contribute effectively in other ways.
  • Underrepresented groups: The ideal worker model often aligns with dominant cultural norms and may exclude individuals from underrepresented groups who have different cultural backgrounds, experiences and ways of working. This stereotype can perpetuate bias and discrimination, as individuals who don't fit the mold may face barriers to advancement or recognition.

Today's workforce values flexibility and does not embrace the ideal worker as much as past generations. Addressing these challenges requires a shift in organizational culture and practices away from responsiveness to a more holistic approach to management. Given tight labor shortages and changing employee demographics, embracing a more inclusive and flexible approach to work can create an environment where all employees, especially caregivers, individuals with disabilities and underrepresented groups are valued for their unique contributions.

Related: You Have to Give Your Employees Freedom to See Excellence — Here's How to Do It.

Reward actual work over responsiveness

One way to shift culture away from the ideal worker mentality is to measure outputs, not inputs. Given hybrid and flexible work schedules, increasingly managers need to measure task completion, results or other measurable data to accurately assess employee performance. It's less about being visible and being in the office and more about getting your work done.

Some examples of measurable performance indicators include:

  • Sales dollars
  • Market share
  • Return on investment (ROI)
  • Cost savings
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Gather 360-degree feedback

Another way to engage a broader array of employees is to gather feedback from their peers, direct reports, clients and managers and provide a holistic view of their performance based on the perceptions of the people they work the most closely with. When done properly, it paints an accurate picture of not just what work is getting done, but how the work is being done. For example, someone could be a top performer on sales but exhibit really non-inclusive behavior that's harmful to the organization — 360-degree feedback helps calibrate performance and gives helpful feedback to grow as well rather than one-off subjective opinions.

Related: 5 Reasons You Should Ask Your Clients for a Performance Review

Calibrate performance across the organization

Too often, toxic top performers are not held accountable for their non-inclusive behavior because they are thought to be irreplaceable. Calibrating performance can help hold people equally accountable beyond the results to the behaviors they demonstrate to get those results. Having a diverse group of leaders weigh in on their performance with metrics, perception data and key behaviors that are expected at the organization can help shift to a more holistic evaluation system that isn't as reliant on the ideal worker mentality.

There are various behaviors to gauge performance:

  • Inclusivity
  • Humility
  • Empathy
  • Vulnerability
  • Trust building

These behaviors are critical to engaging diverse perspectives. When you calibrate performance across the organization, you gain different perspectives. Rather than defaulting to top performers based solely on outputs, this puts the ownership on all people to be creating an inclusive culture as well as producing results.

The concept of the ideal worker stereotype, characterized by long hours, constant availability and unwavering commitment to work, creates challenges for today's workforce — especially underrepresented individuals who may not fit the dominant cultural norm, leading to bias and discrimination. Shifting organizational culture and practices is crucial. To move away from the ideal worker model, organizations can measure outputs instead of inputs, focusing on task completion and results. Gathering 360-degree feedback offers a holistic view of performance and behavior, aiding growth and inclusivity. Calibration of performance across the organization ensures accountability for both results and behavior.

While it is tempting and easier to manage employee performance-based availability, the changing landscape of employee values requires us to pivot to a less responsive model and cherish inclusion rather than only results.

Julie Kratz

Chief Engagement Officer

Julie Kratz is a highly-acclaimed TEDx speaker and inclusive leadership trainer who led teams and produced results in corporate America. Promoting diversity, inclusion and allyship in the workplace, Julie helps organizations foster more inclusive environments. Meet Julie at NextPivotPoint.com.

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