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Rethinking "Time" and the Ways We Work



The Issue

          Efforts to recruit, retain and develop talent are increasingly coming into conflict with the escalating demands that businesses are placing on all of their personnel in terms of the amount of time they are expected to devote to work.  

These demands may be explicit: e.g., high monthly and annual minimum billable hour requirements; excessively short delivery schedules; on demand accessibility at all hours of the day and night (including weekends); on-site assignments far from the office and home four days each week for months on end; and last minute requests on a regular basis.

They also may be more subtle: e.g., undermining of flexible work arrangements and leave policies by resistant managers and resentful “workaholic” colleagues; stigma attached to those who try to make time for non-work activities such as sports, family, community service or religion.

The consequences of these practices include

·         less productive employees who suffer from lack of sufficient sleep, poor health, high levels of stress, and few non-work outlets or sources of support, all of which also can result in costly absenteeism, work-related mistakes and accidents, higher healthcare costs and employee burnout;

·         less engaged employees who lack loyalty to the company and their teams, often competing openly with one another for ephemeral rewards and undermining organizational goals;

·         conflicted employees who are unable to reconcile the demands and expectations of their families and their managers; and

·         the loss of talent at all stages of the career “ladder,” from entry-level college graduates who turn down job offers to mid-level and senior executives who leave for other firms, often in the same industry, resulting in higher recruiting costs, loss of investment in human capital, adverse effects on the organization’s relations with clients, customers and suppliers, and the loss of role models and lower morale that often accompany excessive turnover.


Some Research Findings Regarding Work and Family

Men and women of all ages, but especially dual career and single parents with young children, want to find ways to spend more time with their families. More and more families find that two incomes are essential and for an increasing number of women, work is an economic necessity. This means that all workplaces, more than ever before, must be prepared to deal with the needs of working parents and of employees who care for older and disabled family members.

·         In 48% of households with children 18 or younger, either both parents or the only parent in single parent households are in the workforce.

·         40% of mothers with children 18 or younger earn as much as their spouses or are the sole breadwinner.

·         In a recent survey, a majority of Millennial respondents ages 22 to 28 say they are willing to work long hours or take a lower paying job or internship to advance their careers. However, respondents ages 29 to 31 years old, those most likely to be contemplating or dealing with young children, say they are unwilling to make these sacrifices (53% unwilling to work long hours, 51% unwilling to take a lower paying job or internship). Furthermore, a majority say that having a successful marriage (63%) and being a good parent (57%) are among the most valued things in their lives.

·         19% of Millennial fathers and 14% of Millennial men who do not yet have children say that their ideal career path includes taking time off to be with their children.

·         Family is more than twice as much as career to contribute to life satisfaction for both men and women of all ages.

·         Women say that company practices that are quite or greatly helpful for women’s career advancement include

o   Offering flex-time (flexible hours) work (78%)

o   Offering flexible work week (flexible days) (74%)

o   Offering parental leave (60%)

Metrics to Monitor

1.    Attrition at all levels

2.    Absenteeism

3.    Healthcare costs

4.    Accidents

5.    Work quality

6.    Workforce engagement

7.    Job satisfaction

8.    Use of various flexible work arrangements by gender and career stage

9.    Relationship between use of flexible work arrangements and “rewards” (bonuses, raises, promotions, choice work assignments)

10. Themes from exit interviews

Action Steps

1.    Assess the organization’s culture and the extent to which it fosters productive and engaged employees at all levels.  Through employee engagement surveys and exit interviews, as well as the metrics listed above, develop a strategy to drive and guide changes needed to curtail destructive overworking.

2.    Make career customization (in terms of work arrangements and amount of work) the norm in order to optimize the contribution of every employee throughout his/her career at the company. Allow employees to transfer to other positions or departments where work arrangements are more suitable for their personal situation if the needed flexibility is currently unavailable due to the nature of their work.  Consider the adoption of an on and off-ramping policy for employees who need to take a temporary break from employment.

3.    Systematize and institutionalize policies so that they are transparent to everyone at all levels of the organization.  Provide training and discussion forums to assure that all employees are aware of and understand their work arrangement options, as well as their respective roles in the implementation of those policies.

4.    Lead by example as part of the messaging by showcasing executives and top performers who use flexible arrangements, work “smartly” rather than excessively, and work collaboratively rather than competitively.

5.    Build in a system of accountability by rewarding executives and managers (as well as the employees who report to them) for the results of their work and for incorporating into the evaluation, compensation and promotional processes appropriate consideration of flexible work arrangements.

6.    Use available technology to enable those who work remotely or during non-business hours to be as productive as possible while at the same time avoiding situations in which employees feel pressured to be accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

7.     Develop innovative ways to improve productivity by exploring alternative models of organizing work and of evaluating and compensating employees at all levels of the company, paying attention to the variety of employee needs.