What a Doomsday Prepper Video Teaches About Employee Autonomy
A sign of the times
I suppose it is a sign of the times that a doomsday prepper interview would find its way to my Youtube newsfeed. It certainly couldn't be a topic more opposed to who I am as a person. Physically, I am bent towards minimalism, downsizing five years ago from a sprawling 2400sf house to a perfectly sized 1100sf home. Should the Apocalypse happen, my closet can barely hold all my shoes, much less a 30-day supply of food and toilet paper. Additionally, my innovative mind is too busy dreaming up the best possible vision for the future to focus on such worst-case scenarios. And spiritually, I believe that each moment holds within it everything I need if I will only exercise a lot of awareness and a little faith.
Despite all that, my curiosity got the best of me. What on earth would a celebrity turned meditation teacher be doing interviewing a doomsday prepper? It was a 10-minute clip of a more extended podcast interview, so I said what the heck and pressed play. ▶️ While I anticipated a few laughs and perhaps more than a few absurdities, what I didn't expect was a blog post. A post that provides leaders new insights on the pushback of employees around returning to work and desire for more autonomy. But before we get to that, let's look at the highlights of this unlikely source of business insights.
A strange desire for disaster and even stranger connection to hope
Before you see the surprising correlation between preppers and their bunkers and the forced but now more desired "work from home" employee scenario, I'll share the portion of the interview that provided the revelation. The following is from the interviewee - Bradley Garrett. Who technically, according to his website, isn't a prepper but a social geographer, explorer, photographer, and writer for The Atlantic, Vox, GQ, the Daily Beast, and The Guardian. (Sorry Bradley, I didn't know 🤷♀️)
In some sense, they (preppers) were looking forward to disaster. Because it ruptures, the illusion. The bunker, whether you think about that, as a physical space or a kind of metaphor, is a space for recreation. It's a space of rebirth, essentially, right? I mean, if you don't emerge from the bunker, it's a tomb. So, the bunker is a space of rebirth, but it's also a space of control. And because so many aspects of our lives now are not within our control, I think that that's something that people seek. They want to create a space where they know they can control the parameters of their existence. And that moment, of being in the bunker, surrounded by the things that you've put together, self-sufficient...it's a moment of radical confrontation with our existence, where the veneer has been stripped away. And we're back to the basics. And I think a lot of us crave that. On some level also, society and civilization, originally, was built upon premises of mutual understanding of cooperation, of human connection, connection with the natural world, right. And that now has been occluded by economic and political structures that are, are fundamentally unsatisfying on some level. And so what many of the preppers told me was that the disaster is a moment for rebirth, for recreation, for reconnection. And so, strangely, there is anxiety there underlying things, but there's also a hopefulness that when the disaster comes, it's a moment for us to confront ourselves and potentially to rebuild the world.
Likely, the correlations between what Bradley learned about preppers and what we have experienced in our time in our pandemic imposed "work from home" bunker is becoming apparent. While embracing the disaster of the pandemic as a hopeful event was unlikely for most of us in the beginning. Yet the illusion bubble bursting, radical confrontation with who we are, our return to basics, and our desire to recreate our world that happened or is happening is undeniable.
Prepping for more autonomy in the workplace
With our illusions burst over the last eighteen months and forced to confront who we are but, more importantly, whom we want to be. Our return to the basics and the threat of our life with the pandemic has helped us understand the importance of every day of this precious life we have been given. We know what matters to us and how much time, money, and effort we previously wasted on things that didn't matter. Fortunately, the facades have fallen off, and no one is ready to put them back on and obediently trek back into the office.
All Bradley discussed in the short clip has become true for most employees, with the sad exception of rebuilding the world. Specifically, rebuilding the world of work. Primarily (up to 40% is the estimate), employees haven't been allowed to rebuild their work world with co-workers and leaders. So they're digging in their heels, understanding more fully their power to choose. They're choosing to demand "work from home" or choosing a workplace that holds the promise of rebuilding the work environment they desire. Yet, according to Gartner Research, performance increases by 18% by delivering feelings of autonomy which they label radical flexibility. So why aren't organizations willing to deliver a more autonomous workplace?
The unexplored territory of workplace autonomy
Notably, three things come to mind as to why humans by nature don't pursue things we have evidence to believe are good for us:
Lack of vision. Leaders lack a clear vision or even an example of what autonomy looks like and how it can work inside their organization.
Lack of process. Perhaps leaders are optimistic that what works for others will work for them. But they lack the process, the "how" of getting to the vision.
Fear. Fear of the unknown, fear that they are giving away their power, fear that employee productivity will run amuck (even though it's proven over and over again that it won't), and dozen of other worries. Probably most keenly is the fear of failure
Yet rebuilding life outside the bunker, employees and employers have an excellent opportunity to explore this new frontier of workplace autonomy. The process is quite simple in design thinking. What I have coined leading by design and what I believe is the future of leadership. The pandemic is just one example of why that is. It's a process where we can cast the vision together, together discuss our needs and how they are not mutually exclusive but often mutually aligned, and create together the workplace in which we want to live and thrive. And our explorations can take place by returning to some of the desirable basics outlined in the interview.
How might we keep as many of the autonomous and authentic ways of working while residing in the work space?
How might we facilitate mutual cooperation?
How might we increase human connection?
How might we improve our connection to natural world as we work?
Going forward as leaders, how do we not make decisions for our employees but instead make them with our employees?