The following is a transcript of an interview with author Daniel Pink that aired Sunday, June 20, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
JOHN DICKERSON: This summer, American companies and their employees are thinking about and making plans to return to the office. To help us understand what that process might look like, we’re joined by a best-selling author, Daniel Pink, who writes about business and human behavior. Good morning.
DANIEL PINK: Good morning, JOHN.
JOHN DICKERSON: Dan, I want to start with- it feels like there is kind of a blank sheet of paper that business and employees have after this pandemic. So what do you think employers and employees should be thinking about, about the new work world as we come out of the pandemic?
PINK: Well, I think the paper is somewhat blank, JOHN, but I think we have some initial scribblings on it. If you think about this, for years, companies said we can’t have widespread remote work. Why? Because the technology won’t work and people will shirk. And then in about four days, tens of millions of people converted that- to that way of working and proved that they could be trusted. Productivity went up. And so I think that what we’re going to see coming out of this is not a return to 2019, but actually a fundamentally new configuration of work, even a new configuration of what an office looks like.
JOHN DICKERSON: What did we learn about remote work that we were wrong about or that people were wrong about when they previously thought people couldn’t handle it?
PINK: We were completely wrong about- about productivity and about trust. It turns out that most people in the workforce you can trust and I think that’s an enduring lesson of this. And if we go back, as some CEOs are saying- saying, you know what, it’s been a fun little experiment, everybody, but you better be back in the office or else- or else you’re going to get fired,I think that is- is tone deaf and a massive misreading of both the moment and the market. So we learned about trust. We also learned that- that some face to face interaction is essential, but not all face to face interaction is necessary every single day. And I think what we’re going to end up with on the other side of this is an enduring form of hybrid work.
JOHN DICKERSON: You mentioned what some CEOs are saying. At Morgan Stanley, the CEO said, “If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office and we want you in the office.” So does that- is that going to stick or might some people who could work at Morgan Stanley say, you know, I’m going to go somewhere else?
PINK: You know, I think that, JOHN, that kind of comment from the CEO of Morgan Stanley, I think, in honor of Father’s Day is going to earn him a massive eye-roll throughout the workplace. First of all, people can be trusted. You have to default to autonomy so that people can configure the work the way they want to. It’s also, especially for a finance CEO, a massive misreading of the market. What we have now is we have 5.8% unemployment rate, 3% unemployment rate for college educated workers. As your earlier package said, we’ve got the highest quit rate in this entire century. And so when I think- when a lot of talented workers hear that kind of comment, they’re going to say, OK, boomer, I’m going to go work for Citi, I’m going to go work for some other bank.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Dan, thank you. Hold on just a second. We’re going to take a commercial and we will be right back, boomer, with Dan Pink. Stay with us.
JOHN DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION and our conversation with author Daniel Pink. So, Dan, we were talking about what was discovered about work during the pandemic for those who could work at home. What- what’s your read on the essential workers who couldn’t work at home, who had to go into the office?
PINK: Yeah, I mean, I think we have to really as a country, both as- as consumers, as businesses and as leaders pay off on that word essential. We pay lip service to it. But I think that one of the most important things we can do coming out of this pandemic is to really focus on the dignity of- of work. And dignity means decent wages. Dignity means safe conditions. Dignity means an opportunity to grow. And I feel like among the enduring lessons of that- of this pandemic is that we have a two-tier workplace. And that’s not going- that’s morally indefensible and it’s also economically unsustainable.
JOHN DICKERSON: And in whose hands do you think that moral obligation rests? I mean, we see so much of what’s happening in Washington, but do you see any businesses and is it in their interest to answer some of those issues you say have been raised by the pandemic?
PINK: I think that there are some. I think there’s- I think it’s I think it’s a collective issue, JOHN. I don’t think it’s like it’s the job of any single institution or any single person. I mean, I think part of it comes to us as consumers and as, for instance, simply treating essential workers well, saying thank you, respecting their work, honoring their work. But that’s not enough. And you have some companies now moving toward higher wages, in part because of labor market pressures. You have some companies, not a lot, moving toward subsidized day care because one of the other legacies of the pandemic is that 4 million American women dropped out of the workplace. We only have about half of them back in the workplace right now. So one of the- one of the interesting things about this moment, and I think we should consider it a moment, is that it reflects the turning of the page of this country. And when we turn the page, we have an opportunity to write the story afresh. And the most important story that we can write in the US workforce is ensuring truly that every job has dignity, decent wages, safe conditions and an opportunity to grow
JOHN DICKERSON: To the extent that workers are moving around. And we hear stories about people just saying, look, I want a better quality of life, do–
JOHN DICKERSON: –American workers have to become more entrepreneurial in selling themselves because they’re, you know, going to be going into this new workforce?
PINK: I think that’s a very good point. I- I think that at some level, a lot of the risk and a lot of the responsibility, especially in the last 50 years, has- has gone from organizations to individuals. We’re now responsible for navigating our careers. We’re increasingly responsible for managing our education and training. Certainly the world of retirement savings has put more of an onus on people. And so- and so, yes, I do think that it’s smart for most workers to consider themselves. to think of themselves as entrepreneurs, as navigators of their own career. Now, that’s easier for some people, harder for other people, which is why we need to give everybody a platform where they can- where they can flourish.
JOHN DICKERSON: When you and I last spoke your book, WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing had come out, and it felt like to me during this pandemic, with so many people working at home, where every day felt like Tuesday, that- that figuring out by the time you spend during the day was a challenge for all of us. Did you learn anything about timing during this pandemic?
PINK: Yeah, I mean, I think that- I think there are two important lessons there. One of them is- is that structure can be liberating. It sounds like a zen koan, but it ends up being true that when we have a lot of autonomy and freedom to configure our schedules. It actually helps to have some amount of structure, that structure can liberate us. The other thing, which I think is really urgent, when you look at some of the numbers about burnout, even some of the numbers about depression and anxiety are the importance of breaks. JOHN, we have a huge amount of evidence that- that breaks should be part of our performance rather than a deviation from our performance. And so if we start- if we start encouraging people to take more breaks, I think people will be happier and more productive.
JOHN DICKERSON: And Dan, we got to take a break now. Thanks so much for being with us. And we’ll be right back.