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    Entries in workplace (113)


    Those work/life balance heroes who leave at 5:30? Ask them what they're doing at 9:30

    A recent piece in Business Insider provides a glimpse into the philosophy and priorities of General Motors CEO Mary Barra with respect to protecting and maintaining a semblance of work/life balance while juggling an incredibly high profile and busy job with the normal demands any of us with families also face.

    First, let's check the key 'I want to have a healthy and normal family life and I want everyone at GM to have that too' quote from the piece:

    In the role I have now — even for the last few jobs — I'll say, 'You know what, guys? This meeting needs to end on time because I'm going to my daughter's soccer game. So we're going to be done at 5:30 because I've got to go then,'" Barra explained. "It gives everybody permission" to acknowledge their other obligations.

    Sounds good, right? When the CEO can shut down a meeting at 5:30 to head to the park to watch soccer (and hand out orange slices at halftime), then the other folks at GM feel empowered to do similar. And you don't have to be the CEO or some other big shot executive to appreciate these kinds of challenges and tradeoffs. In fact, I'd argue when you're not the CEO the challenges are even tougher, as 'skipping' work time to take care of personal matters often requires you to ask permission or demand forgiveness. That aside, it is still kind of refreshing to hear the CEO of one of the world's largest corporations at least acknowledge there is life outside of work, and that life is important too.

    But let's unpack the rest of the story, about what happens after the soccer game and the family dinner and the making sure Jr's homework is done. Once again from the Business Insider piece:

    (At a conference in 2013) when she was senior vice president of global product development, Barra said that while she may make time to see her daughter's game, "that doesn't mean that after we go home, and after we've eaten dinner and the kids go to bed, I'm not going to take out the computer and catch up on what I missed."

    It's about finding a balance that actually improves the quality of work output rather than detracting from it.

    Simple, then really. Work/life balance for Barra (and by implication anyone else like her with a super-important job, or just everyone that wants to eventually get one of those super-important job), is to make sure you take just enough time for the 'life' part, (soccer game, dinner), before making sure you jump back into work, (emails from 9:00 - 11:00) every night.

    And it's not a 'balance' plan that is all that unusual or unique to Barra - read any of the pieces about execs who make sure they have adequate family time. Every one of them ends up in the same place, with the exec continuing to work into the night to 'make up for' the time they missed while watching Mary Jane kick the ball around. There's two things from these stories I think are important for us to remember, particularly those of us who aspire to C-suite type roles.

    1. 'Work' is the default setting for these execs. Watch the way they use phrases like 'catch up on what I missed' when they refer to getting back online after the kids go to bed. When they are not working, like at the soccer game, (assuming they are not stealthily reading emails on their iPhones), they see that time as 'missed' work. Work is the constant. Things that are not work have to be 'made up for' with more work.

    2. People like Barra work much, much longer than just about all of us. If you are punching out (figuratively or actually), at 5 or 6 each night and not worrying about the job until 9 the next morning, you are losing the game compared to the Exec or anyone else who decides to grind away from 9 'til midnight on a Tuesday. I think most of us simply fail to accept the fact that in most circumstances the level of effort and commitment needed to hit the C-suite is ridiculously high. 

    Work/life balance is a touchy subject since it is so personal. But there are a couple of universal truths that the Mary Barra story reveals. It is all about choices after all. But to think that you will be substantially rewarded for choosing 'life' over 'work' is probably the most important one.

    Have a great week!


    The Cold Changes Everything

    I have had about 25 or so phone calls this week working on the program for the 2015 HR Technology Conference, (note, registration is officially OPEN, please see www.hrtechconference.com/register.html for more details), and I bet 24 of them have started something like this:

    Me: Hi, this is Steve

    Person A: Hi, Steve how are you? Are you getting all that snow/surviving the winter/staying warm?

    Me: Oh man, it has been brutal. <at this point I go on for a minute or two, lamenting the cold, the snow, the giant icicles hanging off of my roof, the fact I have been stuck in my car a couple of times, my kid's school has been closed due to the -25 wind chill, etc.>

    Person A: Wow, that is terrible. It is freezing here too <and then Person A takes their turn listing their tales of excruciating snowy woe>

    You get the idea.

    For most of the eastern half of the USA, the last six weeks or so have been a relentless, crushing, and demotivating series of snow storms, Arctic cold, and more storms.

    This kind of sustained period of misery begins to get to you after a while - you lose energy for the things you want to do (creative work, spending time with family and friends), because you have to expend so much more time and energy dealing with the impacts and exigencies of the weather (clearing snow, chipping ice off of the car windows, sitting in traffic jams or waiting out airport delays).

    It's has been bad, really bad - and if you are lucky enough to live and work in a part of the country/world that has not had to deal with this winter then you are really fortunate and smart. Also, I hate you.

    I don't have a solution for this, except perhaps to say we ought to do something for our teams and colleagues that have been dealing with this ongoing, frosty nightmare.

    Maybe give everyone at work a free 'Snow day' off. Except save it for say Friday May 22 - the last day of work before the long Memorial Day weekend. Your people will appreciate having a snow day that is not, you know, actually snowing and one they can enjoy.

    So there it is. I am declaring an official 'Snow Day' on May 22. I will bring the BBQ.

    Stay warm out there my friends. 


    VIDEO: Unconscious Bias at Work

    Save this one for the long weekend maybe, as it is about one hour long, (a 45 minute talk, followed by some Q&A), from Google's Director of People Analytics Brian Welle on the subject of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace.

    Link the video is here, it is also embedded below (Email and RSS subscribers will need to click through)


    From Google's description of the piece, and of unconscious bias more generally:

    There is a growing body of research – led by scientists at Google – surrounding unconscious bias and how we can prevent it from negatively impacting our decision making. The goal is to teach ourselves how unconscious bias can affect our perceptions, decisions, and interactions. It is aimed at raising awareness, sparking conversation, and initiating action. We’re hopeful that this will help us to create workplaces that are not only fun and innovative, but allow each of us, no matter our background, to achieve more than we could anywhere else.

    I definitely recommend the talk from Google's Welle, as it not only lays out a simple to follow 4-part plan for addressing unconscious bias at work, but as in typical Google fashion, his recommended approaches are all backed and supported by research, many of which are cited in the piece, (and in the accompanying notes).

    For me, the part that stood out the most was the research that showed that two identical resumes would be assessed completely differently when the first resume had a 'male' name attached to it, and the second had a 'female' name. Take the names off of the resumes, and suddenly this unconscious bias slips away.

    Anyway, take some time this weekend to check out the talk - if you are in the half of the country where it is about -5 degrees outside you are probably not going anywhere and have plenty of time!

    Have a great weekend!


    HBS Grads on Competitiveness, Jobs, and American Workers

    Is there a better cohort might to survey about the state of American business, workforces, and competitiveness than Harvard Business School grads? 

    Chances are a whole bit fat bunch of us are taking direction today from a grad of the famous business school. It does stand to reason that if you survey enough HBS grads you will get a pretty decent understanding of what business leaders are thinking, saying, and doing, (or importantly, not doing).

    This is a long read, so you might want to save it for the weekend, but I definitely encourage you to check out An Economy Doing Half Its Job: Findings of Harvard Business School's 2013-2014 Survey on US Competitiveness. The Harvard researchers, led by Michael Porter and Jan Rivkin, surveyed about 1250 HBS Alumni on questions of US firm's competitiveness, the quality of the workforce from a skills perspective, and their assessment of how the US K-12 Education system is performing in terms of producing capable and qualified workers.

    Long, long story short, while US firms remain highly competitive across a wide range of sectors, the HBS grads' responses about many important workforce-related questions do not bode well for workers today, and in the longer term as well. 

    There are lots of great money quotes from the study, (and again you really should take the time to read it all), but here is one that stuck out for me:

    Workers will not invest in developing their skills if it does not lead to employment and higher living standards. Employers will continue to turn to technology, vendors, or other alternatives to address their needs. The associated loss of productivity growth will further undermine both America’s economic growth and its long-term competitiveness

    Makes sense, people will not be incented to try and get better or improve their skills if they can't see a connection, even a potential connection, between this kind of investment and improved career prospects.

    But even if individuals don't see the link between skills development and a better living standard, then certainly organizations will still continue to invest in skills development anyway, right? After all, the organizations need and lament the lack of skills in large swaths of the workforce. Well, maybe not. Here is a another quote from the HBS study:

    Our survey reveals that business leaders in America are reluctant to hire full-time workers. When possible, they prefer to invest in technology to perform work, outsource activities to third-parties, or hire part-time workers. For instance, 46% of survey respondents strongly or somewhat agreed that their firms' US operations prefer to invest in technology to perform work rather than hire or train employees, while only 25% disagreed.

    So it seems like what we have been mostly thinking is likely mostly true - organizations would rather automate, outsource, find alternative (and cheaper) ways to get work done rather than take on more full-time staff (or train and 'upskill' the staff they have).

    It is a tough problem, with no easy solutions. The HBS authors do make several recommendations to try to better align workforce capability with opportunity and to encourage organizations to make investments in talent much like they have been making investments in technology. And while the answers to these problems are not simple, it does seem that unless we (all of us), begin to take them more seriously that large numbers of American workers are going to be left behind.


    CHART OF THE DAY: Read this while you're eating lunch by yourself

    Chances are if you are catching up on blogs on your lunch break today, you are probably at your desk, alone, while you read and munch on that tuna sandwich.

    Today's Chart of the Day comes courtesy of the retail and consumer goods research and advisory firm NPD Group that took a look at American's eating habits - specifically examining just how often people are eating alone. Turns out, you are not alone in eating alone. Take a look at the data and then some FREE commentary from me after the chart:

    A quick read of the data shows that we are eating alone about 60% of the time for breakfast and that about 55% of lunches are solitary occasions. We recover, and get more social for dinner however, with only about a third of evening meals take solo.

    What might this mean for you the HR/Talent pro? As usual, who really knows, but let's take a shot anyway.

    1. People will be more productive, (and probably happier), on the whole if they can take a complete break, even for 15-20 minutes from their work and the cognitive processing that accompanies said work. If someone never takes a break during the day time, then by about 2 or 3 in the afternoon they are likely to hit the wall, looking to some kind of artificial short-term remedy (like an energy shot which are disgusting or a candy bar, which are not disgusting but you probably don't need one), to try and make it until quitting time. If you in HR/Talent are really interested in helping people achieve the most they can at work, you are going to care if/when your entire organization seems to slow to a crawl at 3:30 every day. 

    2. Most people eat breakfast on the run and lunch by themselves at their desks because they have this sense of 'I can't take a real break, I just have too much to do', even if that is not really true. But we have gotten conditioned to see fully disconnecting from work as some kind of admission of slacking off, or of lack of dedication. We also think 'busy' equates to 'important' and while sometimes that is true, I bet the really important people at work probably are taking more social and casual lunches than most. HR pros should be mindful or at least aware of any ill-effects of burnout one symptom of which is an army of cube-dwellers eating/working through lunch day after day.

    3. If you need to 'catch' people that usually prove difficult to pin down, (Note: I am one of these kind of people), then you might want to attempt to hit them up at lunch time. Sure, there is some risk in interrupting someone's 'downtime' at lunch, but chances are they are not really taking a break anyway, they are by themselves still glued to their computer, and you won't be competing with anyone else for their time. 

    What's your take? How often are you eating lunch alone at your desk? See any problem with that?

    Have a great week!