ROWE Would Have Been a No-Go with My Former Employer

Ron Alsop's book, The Trophy Kids Grow Up, continues to provide a mother lode of new and informative stuff about Millennials in the workplace.

The book shares the angst of Millennials, their parents, teachers and employers as we all try to adapt to the trophy kids' unique work ethic. Unlike their predecessors, for example, Millennials work to live, and not vice versa. Most see their jobs as a means to an end and not their meaning for living. If "driven" was the best word to describe Generation X, hints Alsop, then "self-absorbed" probably best defines their successors.

Many employers are balking at Millennials' perceived sense of entitlement, especially in the aftermath of the market meltdown. Others, though, seem to have adopted a mentality that says, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Organizations such as Best Buy, IBM and Capital One have implemented "Results-Only Work Environments," or ROWEs (btw, what's up with all the acronyms in business? It seems to get worse with each passing year. Look for an upcoming blog on work acronyms I'd love to see.).

Anyway, Millennials working in ROWE units can come and go as they please, as long as they accomplish their assigned tasks. It's not about working hard, but workingFrisbee smart. The trophy kids love it and, says Alsop, will often organize frisbee golf matches and other types of recreational breaks before, during and after their team assignment.

ROWE would have derided at my former employer, a division of J. Walter
Thompson, that was run by a true, old-school Martinet. He not only had us sign-in each and every morning at the reception desk, but would also receive a list of absent or tardy employees from the receptionist every morning at 9:30. It didn't matter if those who were seated at their desks were working in smart, creative ways (they mostly weren't, btw). What mattered was 100 percent attendance. Needless to say, his approach did little for morale and the agency slowly, but surely, sunk into a morass of anonymity.

I'm not a big fan of most Millennials and their casual work ethics (especially when it affects quality). But, I must say I like ROWE and see how it makes sense. We adopted flex-time long ago. And, it seems to me, we could benefit from a frisbee golf tournament every now and then. Of course, the Park Avenue South cabbies and bike messengers might make the course a tad difficult but, hey, we Boomers are always up for a challenge. So, who feels like playing the back nine this afternoon? We'll designate Cosi's as the sand trap.

4 thoughts on “ROWE Would Have Been a No-Go with My Former Employer

  1. Thanks for the academic perspective, Brian. That’s really interesting. We’ve always focused on producing quality, creative work. It makes no difference whether the employees producing it are on-site or telecommuting from their Westchester County homes. The bottom-line is the bottom-line. That’s why I’ve never understood the “punch-in, punch-out” mentality. Face time is important to be sure. But, for me, results will always trump the old J. Walter Thompson/Woody Allen “90 percent of life is showing up” mindset.

  2. Thanks for the post, Buster. I wasn’t familiar with ROWE before reading Alsop’s book. He made it sound like the ultimate win-win for corporations and Millennials. Your experience would indicate otherwise. Happy T’giving to you as well.

  3. For all practical purposes, universities adopted ROWE decades ago, which explains why they so often attract highly creative non-conformists. Every research university in the country has faculty in labs at 1:30 in the morning. As a department chair, I know I’ll have immediate e-mail responses from faculty if I send out an e-mail message after midnight, because several of them work at all hours.
    Faculty have to produce, or they’ll be penalized. Good university administrators don’t care when or how faculty produce; we administrative types just want to help them get their work done. Whether ROWE will work for less highly motivated employees in corporate settings is an interesting question.
    Enjoy the holiday, Steve.

  4. Being a “Trophy Kid” myself I completely agree that we work to live. The ad agency I work for uses ROWE and it is effective but can lower quality. It’s all about meeting deadlines not about putting in the time.
    Happy Thanksgiving Steve.