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The Trouble with Senior Executive Assumptions

In our quest to steer away from the pervasive topic of Covid-19’s effects on people and work, we found ourselves again drawn into a discussion that raises a significant concern: How out of touch are some senior executives with the workforce they oversee?

It’s not uncommon to hear statements from wealthy executives that leave many of us, non-billionaires, scratching our heads. Consider the remarks made by Stephen Schwarzman, the billionaire CEO of the Blackstone Group, during a high-profile conference in Saudi Arabia. Schwarzman boldly claimed that individuals who worked remotely during the pandemic “didn’t work as hard – regardless of what they told you.” This statement raises questions about how well the ultra-wealthy truly understand the lives and struggles of everyday people.

Then there’s Amazon’s CEO, Andy Jassy, who recently delivered a stern message to Amazon employees regarding the company’s return-to-work policy. He made it clear that failing to comply with this policy could lead to job loss. While we acknowledge a company’s right to establish and modify its policies, we can’t help but wonder about the effectiveness of such threats. In fact, the threat wasn’t empty; Amazon employees received emails indicating that the company was well aware of whether they were adhering to the office attendance requirements. It appears that threats and surveillance have become the progressive leadership approach at Amazon.  It’s as if  leaders like this view their employees as disposable.

Contrast this with leaders who harbor positive assumptions about their workforce, demonstrating trust while addressing the smaller percentage of employees who may attempt to take advantage. The comments made by senior executives like Schwarzman and Jassy reflect a different perspective, one that is rooted in negative assumptions, managed through attendance monitoring, productivity tracking, and the threat of discharge.

The growing chasm between senior executives and the average worker is a cause for concern. This gap creates room for assumptions to flourish, preventing a true understanding of the values, motivations, and current pressures experienced by the countless working Americans. As the labor market for talented employees continues to be fiercely competitive, the use of threats and demeaning comments may significantly impact a company’s ability to attract and retain top talent. Although this might not have a substantial financial impact on billionaires, it can have far-reaching consequences for their organizations.

In conclusion, the disconnect between senior executives and the workforce is an issue that needs addressing.  Trust, understanding, and empathy should be the cornerstones of effective leadership, rather than threats and negative assumptions. Bridging this gap is crucial for creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace where everyone’s contributions are valued and acknowledged.

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