Go home on time… or whenever

Today, it came to my attention via Twitter that the 21st June, the longest day of the year, is ‘Go Home on Time’ Day, organised by Working Families.  They say: We want to start a national discussion that puts work life balance and employee wellbeing at the forefront and stresses that going home on time should be the norm, not the exception.

I’m torn.

I like anything that raises awareness of the need for life work balance and integration. That challenges thinking about the way that work is usually done.  But at the same time, I find it sad that we need such a day.  That we need to raise awareness, give permission, remind people, to leave their work at their normal finish time.

Here is what I know.

Time spent at a desk does not necessarily mean high productivity.

Time spent in the office does not necessarily amount to good work.

Time spent working after the end of the normal working day does not equal hero status.

Time spent working does not necessarily equal business performance, an increase in the financials, innovation or creativity or any of the other things that businesses need to survive and thrive.

A culture of long hours can be damaging. But all the same, it is hard wired into many places – and leadership styles.

If your people are regularly working excessive hours it should tell you something.

At best, you have a cultural problem.

It may also mean that there is a resource issue, unrealistic expectations set, excessive pressure or demands, or simply, a time management issue.

But something is wrong. The wrong stuff is being valued.

Here’s the thing. People value flexibility.  Research suggests many will take it over a pay rise.

I love the work that I do. I also need balance.  If I go home at 5pm, I am no less committed or engaged.  And I am not the only one.

It’2 2017. It is long past time to judge people on the hours that they work, or the time they clock out.   Judge them instead on what they bring, deliver and contribute.  The value that they add – all the time.

Not just after 5pm.

Are your employees really your greatest asset?

simon heathThe first tweet I saw this morning was from Simon Heath. He was calling out that old staple ‘your employees are your greatest asset’.

It is a statement that has become a cliché.

It’s also a cliché to say that actions speak louder than words. In the case of employees, it is most definitely true.

Anyone can say that employees are their greatest asset. In much the same way that anyone can come up with a generic list of values and put them on a website and into the corporate induction.

When it comes to leading people, words are just words.

Whether you really mean them is shown up in your actions, in the every day.

Putting aside the idea of employees as assets (something that I instinctively dislike), this is something you shouldn’t get to say unless you mean it.

If people are your greatest asset, don’t say it, prove it.

It should be evident in your recruitment practices, your people policies, the reward that you offer, the learning opportunities in place, in the actions of your leaders.

To anyone organisation that says people are their greatest asset, I would pose these questions:

  • Do you pay the living wage?
  • Do you offer flexible working?
  • Do you go out of your way to create a great candidate experience?
  • Do you have an induction that supports this statement?
  • Do you invest heavily in your leaders so that they can bring this to life when it comes to leading their teams?
  • Do you have a way to give people regular feedback on their performance – and I don’t mean a once a year appraisal.
  • Do you have awesome internal communications?
  • Do you offer people the freedom to do their best work?
  • Do your people polices treat people and speak to them like they are adults?
  • Do you invest in people’s development even when budgets are tight?
  • Do you offer a range of rewards that are flexible and meet the individual needs of your employees?
  • Do you treat your employees as well as you treat your customers?

As a minimum, if you can’t answer yes to these questions, then your actions don’t match your words. You are not treating people like they are your greatest asset.

So stop saying it.

Image by Simon Heath.

 

What time do you call this?

There are some jobs where timekeeping really matters.  If a shop has to open, call handlers need to answer the phone, a train needs to leave on time…. then those who do that work need to be there when they need to be there.

But this doesn’t apply to all jobs. It doesn’t apply to many of those that are doing the 9-5.  For many, those working hours are simply a tradition of working lives.

I’ve worked at places where managers are obsessed with what time people walk in the door.  They monitor it to the minute and the second.  They even hold disciplinary hearings for breaches of these rules  Only all too often, the time being managed is that of people and jobs where it just doesn’t matter all that much.  For many roles, it isn’t the hours that you work that should matter but the results that you deliver and the impact you make.  A little harder to monitor though, perhaps.

When those workers need to be there each hour and minute, I see the need for this sort of time management.  Although like with any type of performance management, it’s all about how you do it.

There are two main approaches to managing people.  One is to treat employees like adults, and the other is to treat them like children.  Treating people like children includes getting employees to clock in and clock out when there’s no real need for them to do so.  Treating them like children means monitoring activity over achievement. It means worrying about someone walking through the door at 9.04 instead of 8.58.

Fundamentally, what we are talking about, is trust.

I once had to talk a manager out of a system of financial penalties for lateness.  I told him what he had planned was an unlawful deduction from wages.  That ended the debate.  But it was more than that of course.  The work was of a nature that demanded emotional labour.  Empathy and personal care.  Financial deductions from wages would have changed the game.  Led to unintended consequences.  For those who were there simply for the money rather than the meaning, it just becomes part of the financial calculation.  For the employee who was genuinely late for no fault of their own, damaging to engagement and their sense of meaning in what they do.

When I see managers who monitor the minutes, I often wonder whether, if they are so concerned about contractual hours, they are chasing those same employees out of the door at 5pm.  This isn’t usually the case of course.  It’s all about presenteeism in these sort of places and with those sort of managers.

I sit at my desk therefore I am.  Hours equals dedication, in these sort of organisations.

If you have good people, trust them to do a good job.

If you don’t have good people, then do something about it.

If the minutes don’t matter, don’t monitor them.

If your employees aren’t children, don’t treat them like they are.

What time is it?

2017.

Stainless Steel Digital Clock Showing 12:20 Am

Reflections on culture

I’ve been working somewhere new these last couple of weeks. Helping an organisation with their people stuff. It is always fascinating going somewhere new. Learning about the product and the customers and the people. When it comes to the HR stuff, from one place to another, it is both exactly the same and completely different. You can pretty much guarantee that there will be a handbook and a suite of policies. Organisation charts. Processes and procedures. Recruitment and induction and training and internal communications and payroll. All the people stuff, in their own particular way.

The key is the context. Not what the documents says, but the how.

When it comes to learning the culture at someplace new, what is okay and not okay, there is all the express stuff. What people say, and their silences too. It’s about watching for signs and listening closely.

How people talk to each other.

What is celebrated.

Where time is spent.

What gets focus.

What is encouraged and discouraged.

The tone of voice used, written and verbal.

What the money is spent on.

The welcome given.

The work place itself.

The care taken.

Where managers are, physically and psychologically.

What is done, and left undone.

These are the things, the signs and the signals, that tell you the true organisational narrative beyond the branded corporate induction material. It’s the how we do things around here.

The traditional people stuff operates within and around these variables. Only when you understand the context and the culture can you assess what people stuff needs to be done. My biggest challenge….. drawing too much on the past, other ideas and other places.

There isn’t any one size fits all perfect people solution. Only what will work, here, at this place, in this context. Today.

Out of Office?

This article gained some traction over the bank holiday weekend.  From 1st January, workers in France will have a so-called ‘right to disconnect’.  Companies with more than 50 employees will be obliged to draw up a code of conduct, expressly stating when employees are not required to answer their emails.

Now I am all for life work balance.  Equally too I believe in the importance of organisations taking wellbeing at work seriously.  But I am a little less convinced we should  legislate for it.

Legislation and employment policy have something in common.  If you need to write them, sometimes it means you have failed.

Here’s an example.  I heard of a manager who had spent thousands of pounds of his budget introducing a corporate uniform for a back office team that never came face to face with customers of visitors.  When I asked why, I was told that some of the employees in the team weren’t dressing appropriately for work.  So instead of talking to those few people and quickly sorting a problem, a dress code was written and communicated and expensive uniforms purchased and enforced.

Going back to the French example – if people are working late into the night, if people are checking their emails excessively, if people don’t have a healthy work life balance, then this isn’t about formal documents, it’s about your organisation culture.  Someone, somewhere, somehow, has said that this is expected.  Or at the very least tolerated.  Maybe there isn’t enough dialogue about wellbeing and balance in the organisation.  Maybe there aren’t enough resources to do the job properly.  But something is wrong and the starting point for addressing issues like these is rarely more policy, documents or legislation.  Instead these should only ever be a last resort.

We have all worked with one of those email people.  Who sends messages late at night, or at a silly time in the morning, or at the weekends.  Leading to everyone else jumping onto their emails to respond.  And so on.

This stuff spreads and it only takes one person to start it.  The more senior they are, the bigger the problem.

I often used to work in the evenings.  It suited my lifestyle, and I often found that if I went home at 5pm and let the day settle in my mind I’d have ideas or new insights whilst at home.  Sometimes they came in the shower or whilst in bed waiting for sleep.  Let’s face it, no one has their best ideas sitting at a desk in an open plan office.  But I made a conscious choice; I would write emails and leave them in my drafts file, ready to send in the morning, when no one in my team would be disturbed.

What we need isn’t even more written documents or employment policy.  Most companies have already got more than they need of that.

Legislation can help to change attitudes and beliefs.  But it is not a quick route to tackling bigger issues.  The Equal Pay Act tells you so.  More than 40 years on from the legislation, we are still waiting to see enough change is this space.

What we really need in the workplace in simple.

Less policy. More talking.

2017-01-03-20-10-24

When culture goes bad

I have been reflecting on the research published yesterday into sexual harassment in the workplace. My co-author Tim Scott recently shared his thoughts on the same research here.

The report, entitled ‘Still Just a Bit of Banter?’, makes horrific reading.  In 2016.  At all. I’ve blogged previously about the word banter.  It is a dangerous word.  It reduces and minimises and trivialises what horrors some people have to go through just to earn a living.

If you put the word ‘banter’ into a Thesaurus this is what you will find…… Teasing. Joking.  Wit.  Repartee.

Try this example from the report and see if any of those words sound even vaguely representative.

‘On my last day at work, my colleague told me that his biggest regret was that he didn’t get chance to rape me’.

Or this one.

In front of all his friends he groped my breasts’.

Banter this ain’t.

After reading this report, the questions that are running through my mind are these…..

How does an organisational culture get to this place?

How does this behaviour become part of the day to day?

How does this stuff happen in 2016?

Why, when harassment and offensive language, behaviour and so-called ‘banter’ takes place, do people stand by and watch it happen?

Because whilst some harassment goes on behind closed doors and out of sight, not all of it does. The report says so, and I know it for myself as someone who has both experienced it early in my career, and from dealing with it as a HR professional.

There is no one single answer to those questions I’m reflecting on.

It’s about what is permissible in an organisation. What is acceptable and tolerated.  It is about the behaviour of leaders and the message that sends.  It is about the extent to which it is safe to disagree and to challenge.

Another unrelated article makes a similar point.  The writer reflects on an organisation in which the C word, that most offensive of swear words, is so common place it has become barely noticeable to those that work there.

When you work in an organisation, especially for a long time, it is all too easy to fail to see what might be out of place or downright wrong within its culture. To see beyond what just happens around here and fail to ask if that is actually ok. To go with the flow.

Ask most people what they would do if they witnesses an act of harassment in the workplace and you will no doubt get a reassuring answer. They would report it.  They would help the person being harassed.  They would say something to the perpetrator.  But the evidence from this report, and indeed what we know about how our brains work, is that they don’t or won’t or can’t.

How does a culture go bad? In lots of ways.

Slowly. Incrementally.  One tiny step at a time.  Through poor leadership.  Through lack of challenge.  Through inertia.  Through simply not seeing.  The Ostrich effect.  The bystander effect.

Through all of the biases.

Culture is a boiling frog.

You have two choices when it comes to culture. You are either part of it, condoning or accepting.  Or you stand against it, for something else entirely.

And if we truly want to end harassment at work, then each of us need to stand up and be counted when the time comes.

The persistence of (organisational) memory

Memories make us who we are. They give us our sense of self.  Through memories we make sense of the now.

But they can hinder us too. Take this conversation that I had recently.

Them                     If I do X, then Y will happen, for sure.

Me                         In three years, I have never known that to be the case.

Them                     Ah, well it used to happen.  About ten years ago……..

Just like the proverbial elephant, we never forget.

Organisational stuff hangs around. For longer than you might think. Especially the stuff we remember as negative.

Memories, hard wired, into both individual and culture.  Beyond the time that they are helpful.  Beyond the time that they are still true.  Memories that grow larger than themselves.  Become myths and legends. Buried in our subconscious, ready for recall.

Shadows of leaders long past but who still loom large. A piece of difficult feedback lingering in the back of our minds. The project that didn’t go at all well. Or on the other hand, the time that we succeeded or the time that we celebrated together. A piece of genuine appreciation.

Stories written in the walls.

We say that culture is the ‘way we do things around here’.  But it’s not just how we do things today but yesterday and the day and days before that.

As leaders and HR professionals, what we do today reverberates into tomorrow. We constantly create memories for people.  How we handle that redundancy programme. How we speak to people every day.  How that project gets managed, or doesn’t.  What people get rewarded for, or don’t.  The 121 that we cancel.  What information is shared and what is kept secret.  What the Employee Handbook said in 1978.

It all hangs around for the long term.

Just like the individual memory bank, the organisational one is persistent too.  And as well as long lasting, unreliable.  Memory shifts and changes as time goes by. Convenient recall, or otherwise.

In organisations we so often strive for new stuff. New cultures, new visions and missions.  A new set of values.  Re-launched policies.  Another change programme.  But you can’t force people to forget what is remembered and therefore real to them.  You can’t say ‘ah well that was yesterday, so forget all about it’.

How long does a memory last? Like Dali’s melting clocks, memories are elastic.  Our capacity to store them is immeasurable.  It is a cliché that people have the memory of an elephant.  What is writ large for us is stored for the long term. In contrast, trivia, stuff that doesn’t cast a shadow, is cast aside from the short term memory banks.

We can’t ask our people to forget the organisational history. But we can challenge the old and create the new.  Being careful, always, in the organisational memories that we create.