“Work sucks,” began Jody Thompson, founder of Culturerx, during Sunday’s opening keynote address at the 2013 Benefits Forum and Expo, in New Orleans. She told an audience of over 800 benefits professionals and advisers that employees hate work because they feel like they don’t have control over their lives.

Her proof? Thompson argued that workforces still operate under an outdated structure where employees need to ask managers for permission over their schedule.

“It’s 2013 and we’re still operating like it’s 1952,” she said. “You have to drive [to the office] and sit in a cube. You have to be suffering to be working.”

In recent years, many employers have introduced flexible work practices to help employees manage their work/life balance, although Thompson said she believes that “standard flexible work programs are holding us hostage.”

Employers could do more, she noted, because “a flexible schedule is an oxymoron. There’s nothing flexible about it; once you have a flexible schedule then you have to ask for permission for everything around it.”

This paternalistic model still requires employees ask managers if they want to switch the day they work from home, for example, and those scheduling requests have bogged down managers. Thus, “it’s really not flexible, it’s limiting,” Thompson said.

Further, labeling different arrangements and workers, such as full-time or part-time teleworkers, generates workplace jealousy and whining.

“Why do we have to label people? It’s work,” Thompson explained. And defining employees as “the haves and have-nots make a hostile work environment.” Further, employees believe presenteeism wins promotions, not necessarily generating great work product. “It’s all about perception, not about results,” she added.

The whole system, she argued, continues to be bogged in an archaic mindset. Managers often ask: “How will I know my people are working if I can’t see them?” To which Thompson responds: “How do you know they’re working now?”

Employers must clearly express their expectations around measurable results to have employees achieve those goals. However, the classic 9-5 office workday model has been etched in workers’ brains so “even if you’re not punching a clock, it’s in our DNA,” Thompson said.

She argued that the workforce needs to break out of that antiquated mold with a new Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) strategy, which determines whether the employee is getting their work done.

ROWE establishes a new definition of work: “Each person is free to do whatever they want whenever they want as long as the work gets done.” By offering employees 100% autonomy and 100% accountability, they can achieve optimum results for the company while self-managing.

Managing should be based on measurable results, she advocated, so that employees know up front that if they don’t achieve the expected result, they will be out of a job, not simply lose the privilege of flexibility. No result means no job. Period.

At the same time, managers should “manage work, not people. People need to start managing themselves,” Thompson explained. For example, setting deadlines with firm dates and times ensures the work gets done and everyone knows when to expect it. So instead of asking for a result to be completed in a nebulous timeframe (“ASAP” or “soon” or “sometime next week”), managers should set a specific deadline, like Thursday at noon, so there’s no confusion or excuses.

This platform “levels the playing field,” said Thompson. “It’s an inclusion strategy,” where age and tenure don’t matter and all employees are on the same platform. And managing an empowered workforce becomes easier because the supervisor can become a work coach, not a micro-managing scheduler.

“Stop managing adults. They can manage themselves. Hold them accountable for what we hired them to do and they will step up to the plate,” Thompson said. Managers must shift “from the 20th century hall monitor to a 21st century results coach who is always talking about the work.”

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