Leveraging Technology

“Want to Work Less?” All Hands Go Up. “But, You’ll Make Less Money” Most Hands Go Down

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Suddenly, it seems everywhere you look another billionaire is promoting a reduced workweek.  I recently appeared on WSJ Live to share my thoughts on the trend (scroll down to view the clip–I make my main points at 3:35).

While I believe their motivations are valid, these moguls need to understand that it will not be easy to make their vision a reality.  Some major hurdles stand in their way.

First, who is saying what?

Latin American telecom tycoon, Carlos Slim, is extolling the virtues of the three-day workweek, while the founders of Google are discussing the benefits of splitting one full-time job into many part-time jobs.

Why?  They have identified real challenges that could, in theory, be addressed through the collective reduction in the amount of time we work each week.

For Slim, the challenge is how to help people stay healthy so they can extend the number of years they are able to remain in the paid workforce.

For the founders of Google, the challenge is how to address the potential mass-displacement of workers by technology (e.g driverless cars, etc.), a not-so-distant reality recently described in an oped by respected Silicon Valley insider, Vivek Wadhwa.

Sounds good…but not that simple

Translating what may sound good on paper into action is not going to be easy for the following reasons:

People can’t afford to make less money.  If you ask a room full of people if they’d like to work fewer hours a week, almost every hand will go up.  However, if you add, “…but you will make less money” most hands will go down.

Bottom line: most people can’t afford to work less.  Therefore, any discussion of a reduced workweek must address financial reality, especially since individuals are being asked to shoulder more of the expense and risk of retirement and health care.

Workplace legislation and management infrastructure are based on a 35-to-40 hour workweek.  Any change in the standard workweek would require major legislative, HR policy and accounting regulation updates and overhauls.

For example, today overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act is calculated based on a 40 hour workweek. Would that change or stay the same?

In most organizations, compensation and benefits, such as health care, retirement contributions, and vacation are calculated based on a 35 or 40-hour full-time workweek.

In terms of accounting, internal head count cost allocations in most organizations are also based upon a full-time, 40-hour workweek.  That means if an employee works part-time the system still charges the business unit overhead for a full-time worker. It’s not prorated. If you hire another part-time worker, that’s another full head count.

How do you deploy more people working fewer days/hours and remain responsive and competitive in a global economy?  This won’t be as big an issue for less human capital intensive, or highly localized industries, but for service industries with customers in many time zones, a reduced workweek will require more complex coordination and communication across people, teams and shifts.  Managers will have to break their addiction to management by face-time.

Carlos Slim and the founders of Google have identified very real challenges.  They should be applauded for starting an important conversation.  But any wholesale reduction or reconfiguration of the workweek will require new approaches to compensation, updated employment legislation, and revised team management processes, benefits calculations and internal cost accounting rules to succeed.  That will be a heavy lift.

What do you think about the growing interest in reducing the workweek on a broader scale?  Does it have merit?  Could it really work?

It’s 10 P.M., Do You Know Where Your Employees Are? 4 Steps to Set After-Hours Work Expectations

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The other day I sat with three senior leaders from three different industries. One was the CEO of an international PR and communications firm. One was a partner of a professional services firm, and the other the president of a national not-for-profit. As it often does, our discussion about work and life turned to technology. I asked them how they used their smartphones and laptops to stay connected to work after traditional business hours:

”I keep my phone on 24/7, but I don’t respond to everything, all the time.”–CEO of the PR and communications firm.

“I sometimes send emails at 4 a.m., and on the weekends just to get a jump-start on my day and week.”–president of the national not-for-profit.

“My phone goes in my briefcase when I get home and I don’t look at it again until the next morning.”–partner of a professional services firm.

Three leaders, with three very different uses of technology. So I asked them, “How many of you have sat down with all of your direct reports and explained how you prefer to connect with work, and specified what you expect of them?”

All three shook their heads and said some variation of the following statement, “No, I haven’t done that, but they all know that I don’t expect them to do what I do.” My response was, “I’ll bet that isn’t true,” and I shared what I see too often in many organizations:

Leaders fail to clarify their personal preferences for staying connected to work with technology, and don’t share their expectations of the responsiveness with their direct reports. This leads to misguided assumptions that can wreak havoc on the work/life balance of their employees. And most leaders have no idea any of this is happening.

Here’s my advice:

Recognize that you have to initiate the conversation with your direct reports. They won’t because they don’t want you to misinterpret their questions as, “I don’t want to work hard.” For example, I worked with a senior leader who always caught the 5:00 a.m. bus to the office. On his ride, he did all of his emails and was so pleased that his team were “morning people, too–they get right back to me!” Imagine his surprise when I told him, “Actually, many are setting alarms for 5 a.m. to be awake and reply to you.” “What?!” he responded, “Why didn’t they say anything?” To the person, they all told me they were afraid he would question their commitment if they did.

Decide what you really expect in terms of response and connection. Part of the problem is that leaders are so busy using technology to manage their own work/life balance that they haven’t thought about what they actually expect from their team. The leader who emailed from the bus at 5:00 a.m. told everyone that if he really needed them he’d call their mobile phones. If an email was priority, he’d identify it. Otherwise feel free to respond whenever they can.

Have a meeting, state the parameters clearly, and then be consistent. People watch the behavior of leaders like a hawk. If there’s even a whiff of inconsistency between what you told them and how you actually behave, they will go back to assuming they need to follow your technology schedule. So if you state, “You don’t need to respond to emails at night, I’ll call you if anything is urgent,” don’t penalize someone who missed an important issue because they didn’t answer an email, but were never called.

Finally, keep the lines of communication open and encourage ongoing clarification. Assumptions people make about their manager’s expectations are rarely accurate, especially when it comes to connection and access to work via technology. Set the record straight. It’s an easy way to offer your people more control and consistency over the way work fits into their lives–something we all need.

If you’re a manager, have you clarified your expectations of access and connectedness with your direct reports? If you haven’t, why not? If you did, what did you learn? What difference did it make?

(This post originally appeared in Fast Company)

The Strategic Use of Flexibility (NEW Article in Talent Management Magazine)

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(This article appears in the October, 2011 issue of Talent Management Magazine and was co-authored with one of my Flex+Strategy Group partners, Donna Miller)

As the dust settles from the Great Recession and a new economic reality emerges, businesses are beginning to take a hard look at how they can manage their talent for maximum business impact. The urgency to review and rethink is driven by leaner headcounts, larger workloads and greater stress as technology and globalization.  These trends erased the traditional lines between work and life. The result is a shift in expectations about how to manage responsibilities on and off the job. Businesses are moving beyond the traditional one-size-fits-all model of work and career and taking a more strategic, flexible approach.

Since 2007, Work+Life Fit Inc. and Opinion Research Corp. have conducted a biennial national study to track the state of work-life flexibility from the employees’ perspective. The results of the 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check study confirm that new, flexible ways of working have gained traction since 2007. However, organizations need to do more. Helping employees manage the way work fits into their lives and organizations’ profits and growth plans in a transformed economy will require making flexibility — informal and formal telework, flexible hours, reduced schedules and compressed work weeks — an integral part of the operating business model and culture.

Traditionally, that meant writing a policy or training managers. But strategic flexibility requires dedicating people, time and money to a coordinated culture change process — one that clearly defines a business’ unique rationale for greater flexibility, establishes a shared vision of how managers and employees will use it and executes with relentless communication.

(Click here for more)

11 Ways HR Can Jumpstart Work+Life Flex Strategy

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Thank you for tuning into HR Happy Hour and talking about the important topic of “Making Work/Life Work.”  As promised, here is a list of ways HR professionals can get started today advancing strategic work+life flexibility in their organizations.  Please add others you think are important and didn’t get a chance to share during the show.  I look forward to continuing this important conversation with you!

Define what you believe work+life flexibility is. The answer will determine HR’s role and response.  Is it a business strategy?  Is it a “perk” reserved for good times?  Or is it an annoying regulation to be tolerated and mitigated?  Assuming you decide, yes, work+life flexibility is a strategic lever that we want to help integrate into the day-to-day operating model of the business, then…

Start to change the way you talk and think about flexibility because according to our the WLF/BDO study of top CFOs, only 13 out of 100 felt their senior leadership saw flexibility as a strategy (the rest saw it as a perk), and had the process in place to target flexibility toward a problem or opportunity.

At FSG, we talk about work+life flexibility, as opposed to workplace flexibility, because flexibility in how, when and where work is done won’t succeed if there isn’t corresponding flexibility in the way life is managed, and vice versa.  So for example, a compressed workweek is only going to succeed for a parent that can flexibly move the pickup time at child care back.  Or telecommuting only works if there’s the appropriate equipment and space to work remotely.

We also use the term work+life fit, not balance as one of the outcomes of strategic flexibility.  By work+life fit, we mean actively and flexibly optimizing the way work fits into your life day-to-day and at major life and career transitions given your unique realities.   Everyone has a work+life fit they need to manage, from the CEO to the temp worker.  This normalize it throughout the culture.

Learn about what is already working and start to capture it. Success doesn’t require a complete overhaul of the way you do business.  No, in fact, there’s often a great deal of flexibility already happening that you can start to capture and leverage.   And chances are HR doesn’t know about most of these pockets of flex innovation because it’s usually just organically happening and might not even be called “flexibility.”  The intuitively flexible manager and team probably think of it simply as “getting the job” done.

Gather internal and external data to support the need for flexibility.  And to reinforce the business impact of the success stories you’ve identified internally.  Here are links to some of my favorites (others below):

Find a senior line leader who will be the champion and public face of the flexibility strategy. As much as possible from the beginning, position the strategy as business led and sponsored effort with HR as a partner.

Link impacts of flexibility to the business as directly and broadly as possible. Keep pulling all of those links together and building buy-in and awareness.  Find the “pain” points of opportunity or challenge within the business where being more flexible in how, when and where work is done and life is managed would make a big difference.  Start to share and build the business case.  Listen and join the conversation.  For example,

  • Is the administration group trying to figure out how to seed new markets without taking on office space until a presence is established?  Telecommuting.
  • Have revenue and earnings not rebounded as quickly as expected?  Are conversations starting about more reductions?  Furloughs, sabbaticals, reduced schedules.
  • Are more and more of the company’s clients oversees requiring coverage outside of normal office hours?  Flexible scheduling.
  • Are levels of stress and overwork causing a spike in health care costs?  Day-to-day flexibility to get to gym, leave early to see kids’ games etc.
  • Are the investor and government relations groups struggling to complete the Corporate Social Responsibility/Environment and Social Governance Report for the SEC? Telecommuting.
  • Can implementing a flexibility strategy in partnership with the technology group help improve utilization of what’s already being offered and identify gaps in tech resources that need to be filled?

Understand the common characteristics of successful work+life flexibility.  Fifteen years of work with companies, leaders, and employees have shown us, time and again, that the best strategies have the following characteristics:

  • They are NOT one-size-fits-all. They are tailored to the unique realities of the business and the people who work there.  Those (sometimes tough) business realities must be acknowledged for the solutions proposed to have credibility and staying power.
  • They are process, not policy-based which makes them flexible enough to adapt and evolve with the changing realities of the business and the people who work there.
  • They are built on a strong employee-employer partnership, not from the top-down. The employer/manager creates the space within which innovative work+life solutions are crafted as part of the day-to-day operating model.  And employees are prepared and know what they need to do to meet the company halfway. Most companies skip this important step.
  • They achieve both business and individual personal objectives. The employer understands how to apply the same flexibility that helps individual employees manage their work+life fit to achieve other business objectives such as resource cost management (eg. labor, real estate, technology, and health care), global client service, sustainability, disaster preparedness, working better and smarter, etc.

Move beyond the five standard types formal flexible work arrangements.  Again, it’s process, not policies. Include in the process the ability to officially change how, when and/or where you work for a period of time.  Some people and the business will need a formal change, at some point in time.  But, build the strategy primarily around day-to-day flexibility or small, periodic, none recurring shifts in work and life.  Consider including in the flexibility toolkit any PTO and Leaves you offer.  You are providing a whole continuum of flexible tools in one package.

Any job and any industry can embrace some form of flexibility but not every type of flexibility. A process-based approach lets you adapt the flexibility to the business, whereas “check the box,” one size fits all formal flexible work arrangements don’t.  Flexibility is going to look different even within different businesses within the same company.  Important: The consistency comes in the access to the same process not in the promise of the same type of flexibility.

Measure at all points. Adapt what you measure to where you are in the process and what you want to learn.  An example is the case study of key metrics from our BDO Flex project. In the discovery phase we used quantitative and qualitative data to begin to identify what’s working and make links to the business.  In the visioning phase, we tested how well people understood this shared vision.  Then when we were building readiness of a key leadership group, we tested their buy-in.  And finally in the orientation and review phases we measured the following buckets of outcomes at set intervals:

  • Personal Work+Life Fit and Understanding of Flexibility
  • Employee Engagement
  • Work Effectiveness
  • Business Impact

Nothing is EVER going to be perfect, and you are always going to have to continually tweak and improve your flexibility strategy. Some employees will not live up to their end of the bargain.  If they don’t, then they don’t get flexibility.  As a very wise executive once said to us, “Chances are it’s not the flex, it’s the employee and maybe they should be gone.”  You will always have managers who won’t support it.  They need to be coached and penalized in the reward system.  But, at the end of the day, avoid the temptation to build a flexibility strategy geared toward the few who will abuse.   Build it for the many who will thrive…they will.

Great Resources (No particular order):

2007 Work+Life Fit Reality Check Reports on Prez Election and More

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More want to work differently than work less; only 5 percent favor reducing work schedule by more than 10 hours
• Almost 9 out of 10 believe work life flexibility would have either a positive or neutral effect on customer service
• Nearly 40 percent view work life flexibility as a growth strategy for their company, not just an employee perk
• More than half have more work life flexibility this year compared to last

December 6, 2007 – Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed in the 2007 Annual Work+Life Fit Reality Check believe the next president should introduce legislation that would make it easier for organizations to offer and individuals to have more work life flexibility. The telephone survey of a national probability sample of 900 full-time employed adults was sponsored by Work+Life Fit, Inc., conducted by Opinion Research Corporation November 1 – 5 and has a margin of error of +- 3 percent.

Congress Perpetuates Outdated “Face Time” Culture

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Blogs and links: Check out my weekly Fast Company blog, and monthly Management Issues posting AND my updated Bloglinks in the lower left hand column (finally!). It’s a pleasure to share the “blog” love with other thought-provoking bloggers on a variety of subjects…

Last Call! AWLP Work-Life Rising Star Award This is the last week to nominate someone who is making a significant early or mid-career contribution to the work-life field. The deadline is Friday, November 2nd. Please go www.awlp.org to complete your nomination.

Congress Perpetuates Outdated “Face Time” Culture

The headline in the New York Times over the weekend (10/27/07) screamed, “Democrats Plan a Shorter Workweek,” but are they really? It depends upon whether you analyze last week’s announcement by the House leadership through the traditional presence=performance “face time” lens, or a more progressive “it’s about working differently, not less,” flexibility lens.

Last week the Democratic house leadership announced that “the House would not be in session on Fridays, except in June for work on appropriations bills.” The intention, according to Representative Steny Hoyer (D) was to, “have more time for members to work in their districts and be close to their families.” He conceded that the previous 10-months of “Marathon days and weeks in Washington…had taken a toll, especially on lawmakers who must travel long distances home and who have small children.”

Immediately the response from the other side of the aisle was, “Changing the schedule was an example of Democrats breaking promises, ‘They said five-day weeks.’”

Flexibility Get Traction in the “C-Suite”

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The “C-Suite” positions composing the most senior levels in organizations—CEO, CFO, CIO, and President—are beginning to discover work+life flexibility as a strategic business imperative. This linkage to broader organizational growth objectives will ultimately transform the way we work and live. Where’s the evidence?

First, I was interviewed for an article in this month’s CIO Magazine entitled, “The Extreme CIO: Taking the “Life” Out of Work-Life Balance.” The author, Matt Vilano, does a great job of analyzing the macro issues challenging the ability of individual CIOs to manage their work+life fit, such as technology and managing across multiple time zones. But he also pushes CIOs to rethink how they work in order to find a “fit” in the context of their jobs.

There’s no nirvana of “balance,” or a one-size-fits-all answer. The key is the realization that the job of a CIO has transformed so drastically that following the old rules isn’t going to work if you hope to have any kind of life. Check out my advice on how to work differently. So often it’s a personal work+life fit reevaluation on the part of an executive that results in broader organizational change.

Second piece of evidence: one of the corporate client projects on which we are working has a tremendous amount of CEO support. The CEO so eloquently articulated how critical flexibility is to his vision of future growth, in its broadest definition, that I was momentarily speechless. Flexibility is critical if organizations are going to innovatively deploy the best human capital to achieve their corporate objectives in a 24/7, high-tech, global work reality. And, this CEO got it.

Work+Life in BusinessWeek’s Future of Work? Yes, and No

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First, I want to thank everyone for their inspiring and supportive comments and emails in response to my blog posting last week, “Mom’s Peaceful Passing—Eldercare True Confessions.” I promise to use my experience to keep the dialogue going. Now back to this week’s posting….

Imagine my excitement when BusinessWeek arrived with the cover story, “The Future of Work.” For organizations and individuals to thrive in the 24/7, high-tech, global work reality, work+life flexibility must be a core business and career management strategy. So, I was eager to see how this was presented in the article. What did I find?

First, I was happy to see work+life and flexibility were mentioned at all. However, I was disappointed that the topics were addressed separately and not as specific considerations in the management of global projects or 24/7 connectivity.

“Redesigning Career Paths and Jobs,” Is Not a “Perk” for Women

“Redesigning career paths, jobs and the workplaces to accommodate women with family obligations” was presented in a side bar article entitled “Shape of Perks to Come.” And that particular “perk” came under, “Women—Whatever They Want.” The fact is that redesigning career paths, jobs and the workplace are not just accommodations to get women to “stick around after having children.” They must be core organizational objectives if every employee is going to have a productive work and personal life in the workplace of the future. See my interview in this month’s Consulting Magazine where I discuss how consulting firms should rethink their traditional client service model that places a premium on constant travel.

Critical Grad Career Strategy– Managing Work+Life “Fit”

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If new graduates want to succeed in today’s 24/7, high-tech, global work reality, managing their work+life fit needs to be added to their list of critical career strategies. But unfortunately few colleges are making this part of their career services curriculum. Hopefully, with the publication of a new book called Getting from College to Career, by Lindsey Pollak, that will begin to change.

Pollak lays out “90 things to do before you join the real world,” including a key interviewing preparation step, “Figure in Work-Life Fit.” From day one, college grads who read her book will think about strategically putting boundaries around their work and life in a way that meets their needs as well as the needs of the business. And they will be ahead of the game because they will know:

Winter’s Challenges–Illness and Weather–and Flexibility

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The other day I was on the phone with a colleague who obviously had a terrible cold. She said, “I sound worse than I feel. You know if I had gone into an office today, I would have gotten everyone else sick. Instead I am working from home because I don’t feel sick enough not to work, but I don’t feel well enough to haul myself out of my house.”

Imagine how many fewer sick days companies would have to pay for (in terms of lost productivity) if employees not sick enough to be bed-ridden, but sick enough to be contagious worked from home. I couldn’t help thinking of the cost-benefit analysis: fewer people sick overall, and more people working at least partially, instead of not at all, equals more productivity. In fact, companies, like Lehman Brothers, consider their flexibility strategy to be a critical crisis management tool in the event of something like a potential avian flu outbreak.

And it’s not just winter illnesses. What about the weather? The 10 feet of snow in upstate New York, and our current snow storm got me thinking of the power of flexibility to allow companies to run in spite of such unpredictable weather challenges.