What Corporations Could Learn from Chandler Bing

Those who know me know that Friends reigns supreme as my favorite TV show of all time. No matter how many reruns I watch, it never gets old. It also brings me back to a simpler time before our devices took over our lives…

Perhaps you’ve seen the episode “The One with the Cuffs,” but if not, let me get you up to speed before you watch the clip below.

In this episode, Chandler is fooling around with Rachel’s boss, Joanna, in her office. She thinks it would be a bit kinky to lock him in handcuffs in her chair before she heads off to a meeting. Joanna expects she will only be gone for a short time, but she gets caught up for a while as Chandler is held captive.

Desperate to break free from the handcuffs, Chandler manages to call Rachel, whose desk is outside Joanna’s office. He shows Rachel where Joanna left the key so she can unlock him. She frees Chandler from the handcuffs only to realize that she’d get fired once Joanna found out. Fearing for her job, Rachel scuffles with Chandler until she chains him to the filing cabinet. The video below begins with Rachel bribing and begging Chandler to go back in the office chair until Joanna gets back.

Watch this before reading on (sorry for the subtitles!):

After watching this scene, I realized how relatable Chandler’s situation is for most people working in the corporate world. And no, I’m not suggesting that most of us have engaged in a little S&M at the office (although what you do behind closed doors is none of my business!).

Chandler no longer wants to be chained to a desk. No matter what Rachel offers him in exchange for him to stay in Joanna’s office, he insists that he wants nothing but his freedom.

Like Chandler, employees today don’t want to be locked down at the office, and they don’t feel fulfilled by empty perks or material things. At the end of the day, employees want freedom.

This Fortune article by Gary Hemel, Polly Labarre, Carol Rozwell, and Michelle Zanini says it best:

“To build an organization that is adaptable, innovative, and engaging, individuals need freedom. They must be able to pursue their passions, experiment with new ideas, ignore the hierarchy, make small bets, challenge conventional thinking, choose their work, and maybe even elect their own leaders.”

The article suggests that there is more to a fostering a strong company culture than opting for an open floor plan and a foosball table. Above all the environmental perks and free coffee, employees want autonomy. They want freedom to work on terms that allow them to perform at their best, which also helps them feel the impact of their contributions.

According to Entrepreneur, workers who are free to make more choices are happier, more committed to their jobs, productive and less likely to leave. A workplace survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review produced similar findings about the positive impact autonomy has on both employees and companies.

With millennials entering the workforce in droves, and generation Z not too far behind, the idea of a rigid 9 to 5 (but really, isn’t is 9 to 6 these days?!) is seeming more and more archaic. These generations are accustomed to the power of technology and how to use it to enhance their productivity. They can do anything remotely or virtually (which is also a cost-savings for companies). They can’t justify a long commute to the office, only to be welcomed by endless distractions and a fixed schedule that hampers their output.

A FlexJobs survey reported that 62% of respondents have left or considered leaving a job because it did not have work flexibility. Many organizations are adapting to meet the needs of the workforce to attract and retain top-tier talent. Some of the latest company benefits that foster freedom in the workplace include flexible schedules, work-from-home options, and results-only-work-environments (ROWE). ROWEs allow employees to work whenever and wherever they want, as long as the work gets done.

Autonomy in the workplace can be a win-win. If managed correctly, freedom and flexibility will result in happier, more productive employees. If you empower your teams with project ownership, leadership opportunities, and a voice for input, they will feel more valued. Pair that with the ability to adjust their schedules to suit their needs and your employees will achieve the work-life balance that most companies champion. You’ll then have a team of people who are so appreciative and fulfilled that they will want to remain loyal to the company.

The biggest thing for managers and teams to understand is this type of working relationship is based on trust. If managers don’t trust their employees to get the job done, they cannot thrive. And if employees don’t hold themselves accountable and deliver, they will lose their managers’ trust and maybe even their jobs, (in which case, they’d have all the newfound freedom in the world!).

It’s 2018, and employees are demanding more balance. It’s time to unlock the handcuffs.

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