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Four Freedoms of the Workplace

I highly suggest subscribing to management or leadership publications, especially if you find yourself in a low-trust work environment. For many of us, it is the only hope in our otherwise miserable professional lives. Knowing that a standard is being adapted at other places elsewhere assures our intuition that what we are experiencing is not expected nor acceptable. In this case, freedom is a simple change of scenery.

This morning, I received an email from Harvard Business Review outlining four “freedoms” employees need to thrive. Essentially, ensuring a conducive environment for ourselves and our employees can be boiled down to four basic principles. These freedoms are adapted from the article “Where Does DEI Go from Here?” by Laura Morgan Roberts.

Four Freedoms of the Workplace:
  1. Freedom to be authentic. Employees want to be able to transition from their personal life to their profession without having to adjust who they are. Imposing principles or expectations on minute details, no matter how minor, directly impacts an employee's livelihood. While clearly, there is a standard that employees must meet, controlling particular aspects of their day-to-day activities will drive even the most patient employees crazy - and eventually to other workplaces.

  2. Freedom to become our best selves. We all want to improve from where we were the day before. Holding individuals back, whether by withholding non-vital information on a “need to know” basis or selectively including employees in meetings or projects, causes an employee to feel like growth is impossible. There are two reactions to this, which I find many managers do not realize are counter-productive to the organization's overall performance. First, an employee who is too comfortable will settle for the status quo. What was once a driven individual now goes through the motions without the vigor they once operated with, knowing it makes no difference anymore. The second and more likely reaction is to find somewhere else to work. Be careful - both are contagious to other employees.

  3. Freedom to step back. Especially in aviation, there is this toxic idea that whatever the boss says goes. While this is primarily true, it is easy to see how many managers may seek to exploit this principle. Employees need the freedom to build dialogue between superiors and potentially the team they oversee, ensuring a two-way street of productivity. Sometimes, this may require stepping back to get outside of a problem. We have seen countless times, particularly in air disasters, where a moment of vulnerability results in catastrophe. Progress is not linear; our team should be allowed to step back to breathe or recalibrate. If anything, this is a sign of a mature, highly productive individual.

  4. Freedom to fail. The last one, but the most important. Even in a high-risk industry, employees must be provided the ability to fail. A natural paradox is that employees are destined to make more mistakes without freedom. Failure, including something basic like not having answers to a question, should never be shamed, nor should failure be used as leverage to raise productivity. It does not change the reality, and, like rebellious teenagers, employees will avoid problems to escape the possibility of failing or to spite the manager's poor behavior.

That is it. These are not all-encompassing either - the point is that we should act to promote our team’s or organization’s best interest. At most airports, there is no competitive business factor. Thus, these problems may exist for years, very likely even undetected at a corporate level, since the airport will always be there, whereas a company that is run poorly may not. The same can be said for many other organizations once they reach a specific size, and their services become hard to duplicate. If you are a manager seeking to become a leader, your actions should build off the foundation of the principles outlined above.

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