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    Entries in work (125)


    How to quickly solve your engagement, retention, and employer brand problems

    If you (and the people in your organization) are representatives of what has been happening more generally in work and workplaces over the last decade or so then you are likely working more hours, remain as disengaged as ever, and now, more acutely, are struggling to find and retain the needed talented people for many of your key roles.

    These challenges of work/life balance, engagement, and retention collectively have had about 4,958,909 articles and 'advice' pieces written about them in the last few years, (I looked it up), and yet most organizations and people still struggle with one or all of these problems. But what if there were one simple change to the design of work and workplaces that actually could improve the situation across all three of these measures? What if there were the equivalent of an HR/Talent/Org Design magic wand that you could wave and you'd pretty quickly see employees happier with their work/life balance, become more enthusiastic and engaged with their work, and be much less likely to leave your organization to search for greener pastures?

    When you hear this idea (especially if you are from the USA), your first reaction is almost certainly going to be 'There's no way that will ever work here', but I ask you just suspend your cynicism for three minutes and at least allow your imagination to play with the concept - it's Monday morning and you are having a hard time getting going anyway.

    So here it is, the easy solution to burnout, engagement, and retention:

    Change your standard workday to 6 hours.

    That's it. Keep everything else (salary, benefits, performance standards, org structure, etc.) the same. Just cut the workday from the 8 hours down to 6, and remind everyone that you still expect and require the same productivity and outcomes as you did on the 8 hour day, but you now only 'require' them to work for 6 hours.

    This is an idea that has been in the news again lately, based on a few experiments both in the public and private sectors in Sweden, and are reviewed in this recent piece in the Guardian. Organizations that have either tested or totally adopted the reduced hours have consistently reported improvements across the three key objectives I have been mentioning - work/life, engagement, and retention.

    From the Guardian piece, the experiences of a tech startup, (a type of company much more commonly associated with 12 or more hour days):

    For Maria Bråth, boss of internet startup Brath, the six-hour working day the company introduced when it was formed three years ago gives it a competitive advantage because it attracts better staff and keeps them. “They are the most valuable thing we have,” she says – an offer of more pay elsewhere would not make up for the shorter hours they have at Brath.

    The company, which has 22 staff in offices in Stockholm and Örnsköldsvik, produces as much, if not more, than its competitors do in eight-hour days, she says. “It has a lot to do with the fact that we are very creative – we couldn’t keep it up for eight hours.”

    And what about a more 'normal' job, say as an auto mechanic? Well their is evidence that shorter workdays can be successful there as well:

    Martin Geborg, 27, a mechanic, started at Toyota eight years ago and has stayed there because of the six-hour day. “My friends are envious,” he says. He enjoys the fact that there is no traffic on the roads when he is heading to and from work. Sandra Andersson, 25, has been with the company since 2008. “It is wonderful to finish at 12,” she says. “Before I started a family I could go to the beach after work – now I can spend the afternoon with my baby.”

    I know what you are thinking - there is no way a 25% reduction in work hours without a reduction in comp and ben costs will EVER work for you. 

    The bosses will never go for it, and for US companies, it just sounds too 'European' and vaguely socialist an idea to ever merit serious consideration. But if you can get past your instinctive reaction as an HR pro and just consider the notion as an individual employee you might think differently.

    How much time, really, do you spend each day on 'non-work' - catching up on your idiot friends posts on Facebook, calling to schedule a Dr. appointment, or doing the lunchtime 'bank/dry cleaner/pharmacy' trifecta? 

    How many of your kids school activites to you either miss or have to guiltily sneak out of work to try and attend?

    How many times to you sit in traffic from 5:45PM - 7:00PM only to reach home completely frazzled and wiped out?

    And after all of that, how much work, actual important and quality work did you get done that day?

    Definitely some, you are a solid pro, but definitely not 8 hours worth, that is for sure. Work expands to fill the available space and time provided, often crowding out the other, 'non-work' parts of our lives. And, if your job is similar to many of the other folks I know, it never really is 'done' anyway - no matter how much time you spend in the office.

    These small experiments with shorter working days all seem to turn out the same - employees are more focused, have more energy, provide better service, are happier, and are much less likely to leave what they perceive to be a great working situation.

    What's not to like about that?

    Nah, it would never work here.

    Have a great week!


    Three lessons from getting caught offline unexpectedly

    Everyone runs into this at one point or another - a sudden, unexpected, and uncertain as to the duration period where you are knocked offline, out of contact, and unable to do just about any real work. It happened to me this week, and I have to admit I was not really unprepared as to how to make the best (or at least not have it be the worst), of a tough situation.

    These days, even a short stint of being out of contact can quickly escalate into a pretty dire set of circumstances - incoming messages pile up at an alarming rate, people are not sure why you are not getting back to them, (since you didn't know you needed to alert them), and certain folks begin to resort to alternate/additional means of contacting you when Option 'A' fails. To the person who followed up their email to me with a call, text, LinkedIn message, Twitter DM, AND Facebook message - this one is directed at you.

    So what did I learn from the aftermath of being offline and off-guard for a few days that might help me be better able to handle such a situation should it occur again in the future? I can think of three big and simple things, plus one request for a tool that if it existed, would have helped me out immensely.

    1. Making sure I had the actual phone numbers programmed into my phone of the most important 5 people that I am currently worknig with on various projects.  When you rely on email for about 95% of your work communication, and you are forced into a situation where you only have access to a phone, (and no charger), have extremely limited windows of time where you can work,  then trying to get much of anything done in email only for an extended period is just about impossible. Sometimes you have to just connect via phone to get anything done, and not having all of the numbers I needed at hand was a huge barrier to getting anything done.

    2. Figuring out how to set up an 'Out of the Office' auto-responder when having access only to the email apps on my phone. Like I mentioned, I was caught off guard to being out of touch and I didn't know how long I would be essentially out of reach. From the apps I use on my phone for my various email accounts, I was unable, (given my limited time and attention), to set up the classic 'Out of the Office' auto-responders that while not perfect, at least would have given people trying to get in touch with me a general sense of what to do or expect. I need to figure out how to make that work.

    3. Setting up 'smarter' email filtering. In the few moments I had to take a look at my email, I was simply overwhelmed with the volume of 'non-essential' messages I had to sift through in order to find the ones that did, truly matter. I have to take some time, find some add-on tools if needed, and set up a smarter system for tagging and filtering incoming messages to keep the Inbox clean of non-important items and more easily surface what is actually important. When you are working only with a phone, in very short time intervals, you need to only see what is needed.

    So those are the three things I need to do to be ready to handle this situation the next time it comes up. But there is one thing I don't know how to do at all, because I don't think it exists, and that is how to set up the equivalent of the email 'Out of the Office' auto-responder on all of the other ways that people try and connect these days. Like I mentioned, when some emails were going unresponded to, I started getting LinkedIn messages, Twitter mentions, and texts, and there is not any way that I know of to have one, universal, 'Out of the office' that would cover all of these methods and platforms. Which is why, I continue to contend, they are mostly terrible for business communication. So please, someone build a tool (and it has to be an App), that can make the 'Out of the Office' universal across other apps and platforms besides email.

    Ok, that is it. Now back to trying to catch up!


    The obligatory Amazon take

    By now you have read (or at least heard about), the New York Times' blistering takedown of life working at Amazon, your favorite online shopping destination for just about anything you'll ever need, (and lots and lots of things you don't). If you are interested in work, workplaces, culture, and performance, the piece is definitely worth a long read, and it just might make you pause for a moment before you order your next shipment of stuff from the giant retail machine.

    Most interestingly, the Times' piece largely focuses on working culture for Amazon's white collar or professional workers, and not on the many, many thousands of Amazon employees and contractors that toil away in their massive distribution centers, often in extremely harsh conditions. Most Amazon customers already know how tough the warehouse workers have it at Amazon, and judging by Amazon's continued revenue growth, we have shown that we really don't care about people in the warehouses all that much. We just want our stuff faster.

    The responses to the Times piece have more or less fallen into two camps - one; Amazon is a horrible, terrible, dystopian place and shame on them for not (for some inexplicable reason), treating their white collar professional staff 'better' than their front-line warehouse staff; or two, creating a high-performing organization demands focus, dedication, long hours, and most importantly, no tolerance (for long anyway), for average performance. No exceptions. And as the Times reports this lack of tolerance for anything less than high performance and an almost singular dedication to the Amazon cause can look really cold, ugly, messy, and heartless.  

    So where does the 'truth' lie in all of this? Kind of hard to say unless you have direct experience working at Amazon. Chairman and Founder Jeff Bezos issued a kind of non-denial denial of the Times piece. Something along the lines of 'This is not the Amazon I know. This can't really be true or no one would want to work here.' That sort of thing. Note he didn't really say 'This is NOT true, just that it probably can't be true.'

    And ultimately, like in most other complex situations the real truth is somewhat blurry, inconsistent, and as always very, very subject to interpretation and bias. What do I think? Well since it is my blog I get to share.

    I think that any organization that, at least for a time, was willing to subject any of its workforce to the kind of brutal conditions like at the 115 degree Pennsylvania warehouse where workers had to be carried off by paramedics, has pretty much determined that performance, or rather the ability and willingness to sacrifice in order to achieve high performance, is what matters most. 

    Amazon is/has been willing to push warehouse workers to the point of heat exhaustion and collapse, why should we be surprised (and angered), that it is willing to push its professional staff into 80-hour weeks, emails and texts at all hours of the night, and has, if the Times piece is true, to have persistently pushed employees to think of their work first, last, and at every time in between?

    I think, more or less, this 'outrage' against Amazon is at least a little misplaced. Most of us, by virtue of how we spend our money, (and let's not even talk about under what conditions our iPhones are assembled), don't really care how badly most companies treat their workers. 

    We only start to care when these workers begin to, uncomfortably, look a little too much like us, and do the same kinds of jobs that we do.


    Guess what teens' least favorite communication technology is?

    I may as well rename this blog 'All the ways I hate Email' since that is what I am going on and on about lately.

    Well, I ask your indulgence one more time and I swear I will get off of this soapbox for a while because I am sure you are sick of it, and also because no matter how much I moan about email, it isn't going anywhere soon.

    Unless it might be.

    Take a look at the chart below from some recent research from Pew on teens' (also known as your future candidates, employees, customers), preferred mediums for communicating with their friends. Drink in the dta on this fine Monday morning and then some FREE commentary from me after the chart.

    A quick look at the data reveals a few interesting pieces of information:

    1. The obvious: Text or SMS messaging is still the 'killer app' for teens, with 55% of those surveyed reporting they use SMS every day to connect with friends. Despite the proliferation of 'messaging' apps like SnapChat and WhatsApp, the lowly SMS message still dominates teens' daily use. The lesson here for the rest of us: Interoperability often can trump features when people make decisions about technology. SMS just works, no matter what kind of a phone one has, no matter the version of the operating system, and more importantly, comes 'enabled' and ready to use on every device - no special app downloads and 'friending' required.

    2. In-person is not dead, at least not totally. If you combine 'In-person' along with talking on the phone, then you can see that these 'real life' interaction methods have not been completely replaced by electronic an impersonal communication modes. There are a few possible reasons for this - it could be information overload with teens' likely feeling somewhat overwhelmed with all the communication choices and formats available to them. Or it could be that teens' are actually, you know, somewhat normal people, and enjoy the in-person interactions with friends just like you do too. I guess the main takeaway is to not undersestimate the value and importance of the in-person interaction, even when it is so, so much easier just to send an email.

    3. And since I just had to bring it up, we see teens' least preferred method of communication with friends is email. At only 6% claiming to use it daily, it trails all other forms of communication, including really niche methods like video game chatting. There is no indication from any source I have seen that suggests this trend and preference will reverse any time soon, resulting in essentially a generation of future workers and customers that simply rank email at the bottom of their preferred methods of interaction. We (people who make decisions about workplace technology and are charged with reaching and influencing this audience), have to start taking these changes more seriously, or risk not being able to effectively engage the next generation of folks.

    What do you think? Are you considering making any changes to your communication tech mix?

    When was the last time you emailed someone under 20?

    Did they respond?

    Have a great week!


    Signals of the Corporate Death Spiral #1 - Talking about dress codes

    We have probably all been, at one time in our careers, in an organization where things were not going so well. Maybe sales were down due to increased competition, maybe our products and services were not in alignment with what the market was demanding, or maybe we flat-out had exhausted the supply of every customer who might want one or two of whatever it is we were offering. There are probably thousands of reasons why once successful organizations can fall on hard times. 

    But often, especially when working in a classic support function like IT or HR, we are not immediately aware of just how bad things are becoming for the organization overall. Sure, the CHRO probably has some idea of what is going on, when he/she is asked to provide some numbers on potential staffing reduction scenarios, but often awareness of these plans does not reach very far down into the organization until, of course, it is too late for impacted folks to react or 'pro' act, if you get my meaning.

    So for rank and file folks, who are always the last to know everything, it pays to get attuned to the signs or signals that things in the organization might not be going as well as they once were. These are smaller, more subtle kinds of things that are not as dramatic as a layoff or a C-level shakeup, but might be as important nonetheless, as they point to a present and future that might not be as fun and gamesy as the past. 

    What are some of these signals? First up, courtesy of our pals at venerable technology giant HP is the 'Dress Code Crackdown'. Check this excerpt from The Register:

    Troubled HP has hit upon what it thinks is a terrific idea to revive its fortunes: tell techies to leave their T-shirts and shorts at home and obey the corporate "smart casual" dress code instead.

    Some R&D teams within HP Enterprise Services were sent a confidential memo this week reminding them to follow the IT giant's rules against workplace fashion faux pas, The Register has learned.

    "If you aren't dressed like the models in the posters that HP displays around its locations, then your appearance is sapping the productivity of the workers around you," one source, who asked to remain anonymous, quipped.

    The dress code memo was sent out because higher-ups believe customers visiting HP's offices will be put off by scruffy-looking R&D engineers, we're told.

    The order to tuck in shirts and smarten up for guests has not gone down well, apparently: some HP developers, who do not deal with customers directly, were quite enjoying wearing T-shirts and shorts at work during these warm summer months.

    According to HP, men should avoid turning up to the office in T-shirts with no collars, faded or torn jeans, shorts, baseball caps and other headwear, sportswear, and sandals and other open shoes. Women are advised not to wear short skirts, faded or torn jeans, low-cut dresses, sandals, crazy high heels, and too much jewelry.

    The Enterprise Services division employs more than 100,000 people across the world, from the UK and Australia to India and Germany, as well as cities in the US.

    "There are customers around, and HP doesn’t want them to think riffraff work here," one source told El Reg.

    Nice. At least HP is sticking to the script and the classic reasoning of the dress code police - that 'customers' somehow might be offended if they spot a coder in a T-shirt and a hoodie. 

    What matters here has nothing at all to do with customers, or even if there are really some technical folks at HP that are going a little too far with 'coder casual' attire at work. No company has a 'dress code' problem. They might have a few people here and there that need a little bit of guidance, sure. But when organizations, especially massive ones like HP start going off with internal memos about dress codes and posting up examples of 'acceptable' dress, then you can be sure there are problems far, far worse than the Queensryche T-shirt that Jeremy wore last Tuesday.

    It is a signal, and an ominous one at that. 

    When you are talking about dress codes you are not talking about things that really matter. And often it is because you've run out of ideas for how to attack the things that do matter.

    If you are in a company and get one of those memos, take it as a sign that worse news is coming. and maybe sooner than you think.

    Have a great week!