Category Archives: HR Practises

Diversity and Inclusion Recruitment – Beyond the Hype

Diversity and Inclusion recruitment processes and workforces are the buzz words right now. If the level of white noise was a benchmark, we should be there and all sorted. But we’re not. So  what’s going on behind the hype?

Why aren’t diversity and inclusion recruitment initiatives working?

I see regular, but superficial posts about the way to get it right. But despite the social media fanfare and the business case for D & I being incontrovertible, the needle isn’t moving at the rate it should. In some cases it’s regressing. These are the stats from McKinsey,  but if you go with Deloitte, Mercer, the World Bank or W.E.F. the indications are all similar.diversity and inclusion recruitment

Now companies like Microsoft and Google who seemingly go to great lengths to do everything right are struggling to shift the status quo. They are making D & I KPIs for senior management and part of their personal objectives. Essentially the message is that people can’t be relied on to do the “right” thing, they must have incentives and be rewarded for achieving specific objectives when it comes to diversity and inclusion recruitment.

Tackling bias 

To tackle this, many organisations have thrown big budgets and people at unconscious bias training and awareness coaching, but without creating a safe culture where biases can be called out.  Not unsurprisingly there is push back against generic programmes as employees resent the idea that they need to be “fixed.” Unconscious bias can only ever be managed in any of us. Candidates are placed because they conform to pre-conceived ideas around “cultural” fit (affinity or confirmation bias) and conversely rejected because they may not. The concept of hire for attitude rather than aptitude beyond entry-level, is something mainly seen in Twitter memes and quoted by LinkedIn influencers.

Read: Affinity bias and the recruitment process

Defining diversity

Organisations need to have a clear vision of how they define a diverse workforce, what it means for them and then clarity on the strategy they need to achieve those goals. Then there needs to be an impactful  message related to the company mission statement and employee benefits that would attract that diverse workforce. These conditions need to be openly stated as this demographic self-deselect. This can be flexi-time, welcome bonuses, job sharing, disabled facilities, carer support, retirement support, mentoring programmes and education and study support. So whether diversity comes from hiring on the basis of gender, ethnicity, age, physical ability or even mental health issues, there has to be clarity on which demographics are being targeted.

Promote an employer brand based on diversity

diversity and inclusion recruitment

Diversity and Inclusion recruitment drives can’t succeed in a vacuum.  A positive employer branding message has to focus on the benefits of working in an organisation that supports diversity. Building relationships at grass-roots level to create a feeder talent pipeline,  whether via alternative schools, community centres, colleges, NGOs, charities or women’s organisations etc;, or offering returnships to early retirees or parents. This involves having role models to act as brand and diversity ambassadors going directly into those communities to do a full-on PR job.

Spread the word

Once created this message needs to be strategically communicated where the target demographics are likely to be found.  85% of jobs are secured via networking so you can see why hiring results in “mini-mes” being selected. Many recruiters pursue low hanging, visible fruit. It means a fast, problem-free placement and easier fee. Identifying potential candidates easily tracked on LinkedIn is the quick fix option which will not support diversity. Many young recruiters don’t have the skills to do anything more imaginative and will need training on what is needed to encourage successful diversity and inclusion recruitment drives

Positions should be advertised in a wide variety of places and platforms. It is well-known that women cannot be found on STEM courses, so it’s a waste of time looking there. Yet most companies continue to do exactly that and then complain loudly they can’t find the talent. They should try looking at liberal arts courses and conducting numeracy testing at the interview stage.

Neutral selection processes

At this point the selection process should be as neutral as possible.

  1. Empathetic application forms – some companies still list learning differences as disabilities.
  2. Neutral profiles – making sure that the text usually written in an alpha male tone will not cause candidates to self-deselect.
  3. Blind CVs  – these are useless on their own without 3,4 and 5.
  4. Structured interviews with open feedback and a culture of calling out and naming bias
  5. Short lists of 3 for the target demographic. A token minority will end up getting cut.
  6. Interview panels with a diverse composition.

Read: Do structured interviews overcome unconscious bias? 

Organisations with a real interest in diversifying their workforce will make more concerted efforts to test new ways to identify and attract a new type of potential candidate. Unless that happens then diversity and inclusion needle will continue to stick.

For support on innovative recruitment processes contact here 

HRTech World – Managing the messages

Fresh back from HRtechWorld in Paris, I am trying to work out the best way of managing the messages for HR which were at times complex and conflicting. The over-riding theme of any tech conference is clearly the tech. The conference/expo central area literally hums with the vibe of complete confidence in our futures. They have it covered. No question. The pace of change is palpable as new apps, games and processes being designed by the brightest and best in tech companies are shared with an enthusiasm which is hard to beat.

In the Disrupt HR section newcomers and hopefuls pitch for the €15,000 cheque under Faye Hollands watchful eye. Read her blog posts on that process.

In the Influencers stream where I spent most of my time, Jean-François Manzoni, President of IMD, put the current pace of change into perspective on the Influencers stage. “Change in 30 linear steps is 30 metres. 30 exponential steps is a billion metres, which translates into more than 20 times around the world. “  Leighanne Levensaler, SVP Products at work day confirmed that “change was coming whether we liked it or were even ready for it” in her session.  Costas Markides on the main stage showed us exactly how unprepared for change most organisations are.

Mixed and sombre

Here, on the main stages the messages were more than slightly mixed and definitely more sombre. The recurring rallying call was the usual “putting the human back into HR” with employee engagement still way down in  the doldrums. To Gary Hamel’s exuberant point, we need to unclog our organisational arteries of bureaucracy to empower employees and increase engagement.

Bureacracy free zone

Photo Annemie Marien

He goes onto say that “people turn up to work physically, but leave their humanity at home”  which is always a problem when you want to put the human back into the workplace. He suggests that organisations are suffering from ambition deficit disorder which he calls #bureausclerosis.

His call was for all to become organisational intrapreneurs and to rail against bureaucracy; He illustrated his point with a story of crowd sourced grass-roots initiative within the NHS, to improve patient care, without a sign off form in sight. Within 3 years the movement had reached 800,000 people. He also talked about the cost effectiveness of getting rid of the bureaucratic infrastructures which are sapping our organisations of their energy.

“Eradicating that bureaucratic overhead would save the OECD $9 trillion and more than double productivity within a decade”

Future of work

network of teams

Photo Robin Erickson

Josh Bersin developed this line of thinking further. 92% of organisations are not structured efficiently and he believes we need a  shift from linear organisations to systems where individuals have an opportunity to become more entrepreneurial to move forward. An ideal model is an environment where people thrive as part of a network of interlocking teams with shared values and culture, transparency and rewards based on skills rather than position. Although hedging his bets about future trends, he felt the next generation of software would be focused on health and wellness.

It’s not them – it’s us

I’m loving all of this, until I attend the sessions of Jean-Francois Manzoni and Costas Markides.  Here the conflicting signals were strong and unequivocal to make managing the messages even more complicated.The greatest challenge to effecting real change is not the tech. It’s people and their behaviour. It’s us.

In an interview with Thinkers 50  Costas said:

Business today must deal not only with marketplace competition but also with a severe economic downturn and companies failing due to excessive greed and corruption. I would like to see a change of orientation about the role of business in society and more emphasis on underlying values.

Set against this background, it is hardly surprising that we struggle to change our behaviour and then sustain that change.  All evidence suggests that not only are we resistant to change in the first place, but according to Costas, 90% of us back slide within 6 months to our default learned and biased settings.  If that wasn’t enough, we all over-estimate our own capabilities and sense of integrity. So managing the messages in HR and the doing something about them, is never going to be easy, especially as Jean-François suggests:

Reshaping behaviour for enough people, for long enough, requires triggering enough levers to send a coherent and powerful signal to reshape the culture of an organisation. This is a top down process. Problems are further compounded by organisations only responding to change when they are in crisis says Costas, with everyone assuming “someone else” is dealing with any response to external shifts. Given that cultural change can take as long as 20 years, many organisations are predestined to lurch from one short-term crisis to the next.

Read: A big danger for big data  – the human element

Gender Balance in Tech

Women in Tech image

This has been apparent to me for some time. Nowhere is it more evident than in the case for gender balance in organisations. Kim Wylie Change and Transformation Lead at Google, facilitating the Women in Tech panel segment, gave some disturbing statistics. Empirical data overwhelmingly supports the value of diverse teams. Yet we’re still not effecting those changes that makes this possible, culturally or organizationally. It seems crazy to ignore that data. But we do. Costas says this is because we need emotional rather than rational imperatives to push us to adapt. The business case is simply not working.

Many of these points were neatly and soberingly brought together by Daniel Thorniley, an authority on global emerging markets. Served with a side dish of black humour, his projection was that the present recession,  which he described as chronic and the worst since 1933, will persist for another 5 years or even longer. Austerity has debased the value of wages in real terms to all time historical lows. This is one stat I tweeted. 

The polarisation of rewards to favour a tiny minority and resistance to globalisation, is producing a populist backlash. As people struggle to maintain a decent standard of living they are becoming protectionist and inward looking, reacting negatively to immigration.  Agile organisations and platform companies are creating the gig economy which favours employers, are met with scepticism by both Jean-François Manzoni and Daniel Thorniley. Increasing swathes of the population struggle with economic insecurity and instability.

Daniel’s final point and the conference footnote, and also the final conflicting message, was that moving forward out of these difficult times will require steadfast input from HR practitioners. How HR will sustain that, will be the real challenge going forward. Managing the messages for HR is not going to be a breeze.  But the result is that process innovation on the technology side will not be as effective if the people running and using them don’t change and advance too.

This tweet which went through my stream from @HRCurator resonated:

RT @kevincharef: @Atlassian “a fool with a tool is still a fool” #hrtechworld

So what’s the solution?

Inclusion initiatives

Diversity and inclusion initiatives under threat

What can HR do to protect diversity and inclusion initiatives?

Diversity and Inclusion initiatives struggle to succeed under any circumstances. But with recent dramatic shifts in the current social, economic and political cilimates in many areas, there is a strong possibility that any progress will be stalled. These swings signal a potential backlash to any corporate inclusion initiatives and even a reversal in our wider cultures. In a wider context, the growing mood seems to be dig in, keep people out, protect ourselves and make things “great” again. Whatever that means. It’s always unspecified of course. To specify would mean there is a vision, supported by goals and a plan. Across the board it’s clear there are no goals or plans. Anywhere. Just reactions.

The impact these new cultural developments will have on company diversity and inclusion initiatives needs to be factored in as the anti-diversity noise is getting louder by the day. News pours in from Denmark, Germany, U.K. France as well as other European countries. Of course not forgetting the rise in tension in the US.

When Inclusion is threatened 

Inclusion isn’t about creating a superficially correct business culture, where token minorities and the odd woman are included in low impact initiatives to tick C-suite KPIs and release Boards of their obligations. It’s about creating high quality work teams which will excel at meeting their ascribed objectives and organisational goals. People are needed to lead those initiatives.  There are any number of studies which show that diverse organisations have a higher return on shareholder value and hands down outperform non diverse companies.

Mckinsey business case

Mckinsey business case for diversity and inclusion

Changing climate

Yet they are not working as they should, even in cultural climates reflecting a positive outlook and so we are failing to see a lasting impact. A rational approach supposedly to appeal to the data driven business mind is simply not gaining ground.  Organisational cultural change can take many years. What is holding us back is the unconscious, irrational mind which is clearly overriding factually based D & I programmes.  Today, that irrational mindset seems to be getting stronger.

Somehow hiring managers regardless of their political mind-set and persuasion, need to be committed to doing the best possible for their organisations in terms of attracting, sourcing, retaining and developing top talent. Already on the weak side, these flawed processes will struggle against this changing sociopolitical background.

The level of unconscious bias in the recruitment and promotion process is already high. The tendency to copy paste “mini-mes” so companies create cohorts of corporate clones which tend to be white and male, will become even stronger.  The chances of creating a corporate culture based on diversity and inclusion set against that prevailing viewpoint will be weakened. The use of the hackneyed cop-out term as the right  “cultural fit” will only grow. One hiring manager in a strongly Brexit region told me he had already been instructed to cut certain ethnic groups from the selection process of his organisation.

Challenges for HR

At a time when employee engagement is at an all-time low and insecurity and uncertainty are clouds over- shadowing a majority, HR practitioners face challenges dealing with these key issues. How do companies expect to find a way forward through this morass if they are located in geographies where the beast of xenophobia has been unleashed in a way that many did not anticipate. I’m not sure how many hiring managers will prioritize inclusion initiatives in these areas.

What can HR they do to implement diverse hiring policies if political wranglings over visas and work permits are going to make international hires increasingly difficult? How will they deal with outright discrimination?

Read: Post Brexit uncertainty starts talent drain

The inclusion challenge today for HR is to have the skills and credibility as well as the tenacity and resilience to cut through the crap and call things for what they are. They may need to stand up to poor leaders.

How many are willing and able to do that?

Check out unconscious bias training here


structured interviews

Do structured interviews overcome unconscious bias?

Structured interviews in the hiring process

Structured interviews with data driven questioning and assessment are being touted as the “new” way forward in selection processes to avoid unconscious bias, especially in relation to gender bias. Today, most interviewers adopt a fairly relaxed approach to interviewing. There is a strong preference for what seems like casual questioning about the candidate’s background and experience. But although unstructured interviews are perceived to be the most effective from a hiring manager perspective, research suggests that they are one of the worst predictors of on-the-job performance. They are considered to be less reliable than general psychometric testing and personality tests which can be as much as 85% reliable.

So why do we continue to do it?

Cultural fit

There is a long standing reliance on the ability to identify “cultural fit.” Many managers and leaders pride themselves on having the gut instinct to recruit the best talent. It’s possibly true that some do. But most don’t. What they do is follow the tried and tested P.L.U. method of hiring  – People Like Us. As most of the decision makers are male, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the 3M approach applies: Mini- Male- Mes. An interviewer’s perception of a candidate in an unstructured interview (a normal interview to you and me) is the over riding factor.

Removing human perception

Somewhat cynically I think it’s an unlikely and unrealistic expectation that we will be able to remove human assessment from hiring decisions. A candidate maybe considered to be the best via testing, but may struggle to fit in with the team. I have seen situations where candidates come into the 98 percentile on testing scores and still are not hired because the hiring manager just didn’t like him. Is this based on a bias? Of course. One that is very hard to define. His boss decided that the relationship between the manager and job holder would have been the key driver and the candidate was cut.

Unconscious bias is set up in our DNA to protect ourselves. This is why we hire and surround ourselves with P.L.U., from backgrounds similar to our own or that don’t cause us discomfort.

What are structured interviews?

Rather than relying on ad hoc questions, where the bias of an interviewer can be imbued into both the question itself and also how she receives the answer, it is believed that interviews should be set up so that all candidates are asked questions, in the same order and responses noted down at the time.  There is usually a half way point where an anlysis of the candidates performance is assessed. Interviewers are also held accountable for any perceptions and required to defend them.

The objections to structured interviews are that the communication flow is less organic and possibly stilted, but the results are likely to be more neutral. Response can then be compared systematically.

Candidate Score cards

Candidate scorecards from structured interviews are a more objective method of evaluation in which candidates’ responses are assessed against a predefined benchmarks. Hiring managers can  allocate a weight for each answer based on the requirements of the job in terms of skills and experience, company values,

Will data based questions really overcome unconscious bias? Google identifies certain characteristics that guarantee on-the-job success and structure questions around that. Laslo Bock, VP HR  in his book Work Rules identifies questions that “are behavioral, dealing with past scenarios, and situational, dealing with hypothetical scenarios.”

Psychometric or other testing

Many companies combine testing and an interview process. Frequently candidates are asked to complete behavioural interviews with a specific assignment in line with the requirements of the job. A practical skill test also allows employers to assess the quality of a candidate’s work versus unconsciously judging them based on appearance, gender, age and even personality. Some companies do hiring weekends of “trial by sherry” when they go through a gamut of social events and behavioural assessments. This does not necessarily eliminate bias. There is that urban legend where a candidate was supposedly cut for putting salt on his food before tasting it.

Balanced shortlists 

The reality is that it is not just the nature of the hiring process and whether structured interviews become the norm. The interview procedure can be as neutral as you like, but if the rest of process is riddled with bias and coded messages then the system is set up to fail. This can be in adverts, job descriptions, self- de-selection of female candidates, and other subliminal messages projected at candidate touch points.

One issue is the number of minority candidates short listed for each open assignment. Research from University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, although not conclusive, suggests that the key is to have 2 or even 3 female candidates (or other discriminated group) on the short list to level the odds. Psychologically it deflects the black/white approach of “do I want this candidate or not”  to either or thinking.

Companies can insist that the executive search company or the in-house recruiter meet those requirements. If they don’t have the skills to go beyond the highly visible, low hanging fruit type of candidate identification, and many don’t,  they should use specialist organisations which do. Check out 3Plus International 

 A female candidate’s chances of being hired are statistically zero if she is the only woman in a pool of finalists

The most effective way to manage unconscious bias is to make hiring managers aware of their own biases. Then start managing them at every stage of the process.














Losing your team

7 tells you’re on the brink of losing your team

The stats on the level of engagement in all organizations come out overwhelmingly against the boss. 66% seems to be a standard figure for disengaged employees, so let’s work around that. It starts with the top employee who can bail fastest and more easily than the others. Then it trickles downwards, so that means losing your team will be the next step.

The top performer’s departure can blind side you. They are the best for a reason. Part of that is they are tapped into the market and bring their best selves to every situation. Very often their exit will be discreet and sudden. You can rightly be shocked, although some would say that even that might indicate that you are not in touch as you might be. But for the others, there are a multitude of tells that let you know you are losing your team, they are restless and out there testing the market. This might be as active candidates, or actively passive candidates, driving traffic to themselves and raising their visibility.

Whether you have your head in the sand or the clouds, unless you get on the ball, it will trickle down the ranks, until eventually you will be stuck with a team that will not be top calibre.

Multiple departures is a sign that you have a cultural issue which needs addressing urgently. Becoming tuned into the tell tale signs that you are on the brink of losing your team can help you take pre-emptive action.

So how do you know you are losing your team?

  1. LinkedIn not Facebook activity: Lots of it. Maybe a professional head shot or a pimped profile that’s been written with a career coach or by a resume writer. There will be some sensible updates going out on matters relating to your sector, not “likes” of a mate’s posts or selfies. The smart ones will do this on an on-going basis, but most don’t. So this is tell number one for sure. They will connect with recruiters or contacts in other companies and will have forgotten to adjust their privacy settings. Some companies try to limit social media usage, thinking that is the solution to employee retention. But creating a firewall around your employees, isn’t going to stop them leaving. You have to make them want to stay.
  2. Improved professional image: gone is the faintly rumpled shirt or nondescript trousers which have had only passing contact with an iron. Suddenly the workplace outfits are going up a notch with some statement jewellery and jackets on hangers, instead of a puffa anorak on the back of the chair. Shirts are crisp and starched. Shoes polished and make-up touched up. She is dressed to impress and warning tell… it’s not for you.
  3. Looking for metrics: watch out for a deeper interest in budgets, KPIs, targets and numbers, as he embeds his activities with metrics using the Be FABulous approach to prepare his USP or elevator pitch or soundbites.
  4. Loss of interest in next year: Interest in next years’ activity will fall off.  When there is barely a murmur about the bonus situation or summer party, you know you are in trouble. Your employees have opted out of even medium term thinking. Maybe you will see some passive aggressive behaviour, not meeting deadlines or poor time keeping. These are not necessarily signs that your disengaged employee is checking out the job search market.  This is even worse news – they are so demotivated they can’t or won’t be able to leave.
  5.  Networking: Instead of piling down to the pub, your team will be heading for after work professional drinks and events, clutching newly ordered business cards to pass around the room.
  6. Mysterious calls: taken in lowered voices in hallways or spare conference rooms. They are probably head hunters and recruiters
  7. Absenteeism: You will see an increase in requests for a few hours off, only one day’s vacation or recuperated overtime. The unscrupulous will take sick days.

If you see any or all of these tells, you should wake up and acknowledge you are losing your team. Don’t leave it until you have a high number of open vacancies to understand that you need to do something and fast.




The future of work debate divides HR opinion

Future of work –  is HR equipped to deal with it?

There are two concepts guaranteed to divide HR opinion around the future of work.  They are:

  • the sharing or collaborative economy
  • portfolio careers

In theory they are both fine and dandy. The reality is something different.

The sharing economy

Listed in WIRED as one of the main topics we must stop talking about in 2016, the discussion on the sharing economy will continue unabated for sure. For some this development is seen as a marvellous antidote to abusive corporate exploitation, where individuals can take charge of their own careers and work schedules. CIPD in a survey of 1000, suggests that individuals working on zero hour contracts are at least as happy as full-time employees and that they “experience greater life satisfaction, are more satisfied with their jobs and enjoy better work-life balance than those on more traditional employment contracts”

Employers can benefit from an immediately available, agile workforce, thus relieving the organisation from the need to do most forms of planning.

WIRED calls this situation “on-demand services ”  Because “They offer a new approach to meeting customer and worker demand without the pretence that we’re engaging in anything other than capitalism.”

Most people I have discussed this with are anything but content. Read: Dickensian: Zero Hour Contracts  Perhaps I should put them in touch with CIPD. They complain of continued exploitation, uncertainty regarding hours worked which leads to irregular revenue, impacting long-term security and  financial planning.  They are fast becoming a way for organisations to circumvent statutory employer obligations. Although officially associated mainly with unskilled labour, anecdotal evidence would suggest that this is no longer the case.

This brings us neatly to topic #2.

Do HR practitioners know how to identify the best talent from a portfolio career talent pool with their linear career recruitment approaches?

Portfolio careers

Herminia Ibarra in an article for the FT ponders the question whether portfolio careers are  normally for the older employee. “In the world of linear progression — learn, earn, return — the appropriate stage for portfolios is late life.” At one time, this might have been the case, with older workers going down this path as part of a pre-retirement transition strategy. A bit of consulting and a few non-exec Director roles are always great to keep the mind active and revenue stream flowing.

Today, portfolio careers in my experience, are no longer the exclusive domain of the older employee. Post 2007, with the increase in unemployment and reduction in entry-level jobs a rising number of younger employees are being forced into portfolio careers, rather than choosing them. This is what causes many to seek additional academic qualifications, thinking/hoping that they will gain the skills and gravitas needed to impress corporate recruiters.

The challenge they have, is that hiring managers still have a linear career progression mind-set and are locked into job titles and traditional career paths. Hiring for attitude rather than aptitude, is something you are more likely to find bandied around on Twitter than in the workplace. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg et al, are hailed as system disrupters, but their ideas are taking a while to filter out of Silicon Valley into mainstream recruitment thinking. Most companies look for “plug and play” hard skills and they associate portfolio careers with uncertainty and restlessness. This fills them with horror. HR does not do horror.

However, frequently, deep experience is accompanied by rigidity and resistance to change. It is probably easier to train new talent, than re-educate existing staff to unlearn a lifetime’s worth of experience and deconstruct their unconscious biases.

The real challenge is when those requiring that re-education are responsible for hiring decisions and policy. As Ibarra says what we need now is to learn “what it takes to thrive in a portfolio career, rather than simply touting its virtues with a few anecdotes.”

Although claiming that the collaborative economy and therefore portfolio careers suit the new lean and agile organisations, I’m not convinced that hiring decision makers know what they should be looking for in the portfolio career talent pool to make successful hires.

Overwhelmed by a culture of overwork

Culture of overwork

The advancement of employment conditions was very much a characteristic of the 19th and 20th centuries to improve the lot of the working person. In 1926 the Ford Motor Company became one of the first companies in America to adopt a five-day, 40-hour week for workers in its automotive factories.

The 40 hour week became over time, a workplace norm in most developed countries over the course of the century, as a benchmark for employment organisation, with still further reductions in maximum working hours in some geographies. Education was seen as a way out of this type of treadmill. The more successful worked fewer hours than the average working person.

Twofold regression

Yet in the last decades, we have seen a regression, with some sectors gaining notoriety for boiler room pressure and cultures of overwork. In October 2014 Goldman Sachs introduced the concept of “Protect Saturday” insisting that junior analysts take Saturdays off (except when they were working on live deals.)  This was considered on Wall Street as almost revolutionary, but seems Dickensian in its thinking.

Further shifts

The arrival of technology, particularly the  smart phone, has produced what Josh Bersin of Deloitte calls the “overwhelmed employee.” Now we have an expectation of 24/7 connectivity, instant gratification and responsiveness as well as availability. We are seeing a blurring between personal and professional, and in work and out of it.

Ironically there has been another shift. 3 decades ago more highly qualified employees were less likely to work longer hours compared to lower paid and less qualified. A 2008 Harvard Business School survey of a thousand professionals found that 94% per cent worked 50 hours or more a week, and almost half worked in excess of 65 hours a week. Attributed to the Boomer work ethics  characterizing workplace culture, with their work centric focus on hierarchy, power and prestige, successful people now work longer hours than ever. But this doesn’t explain similar overwork cultures found in Silicon Valley.

The notion of the idle rich seems to have gone out of the window.

Education and upward mobility

Education has always been seen as the path to upward mobility. This is no longer always the case.  The flood of graduates onto the market has created a glut, which is not being matched by career opportunities. The arrival of zero hour contracts and the gig economy, is leaving many people  running a number of jobs simply to pay the bills. Marianne, a recent English graduate who is still looking for a job post graduation, works in a bar, a shop and a theatre, all on either a short- term, part-time or zero hours contracts.It’s exhausting, I never know if my hours are going to be cut, so I take all the work I can get to make sure I don’t have to move back to live with my parents. I’m not committed to overwork – I have to do it”  

New status symbol

. Time scarcity seems to have become a  corporate and cultural badge of success and an indicator of professional status. It is very much gender driven with overwork being intrinsic to male dominated corporate cultures.  Yet this is set against a backdrop of a chronic fall in employee engagement. Reports of a reduction in productivity, decreases in creativity and corresponding increases in days lost because of health issues are commonplace.

In some sectors where services offered are based on billable hours, such as consulting or law, there are few incentives to make people more effective and to work shorter hours. The productivity of knowledge workers is also much harder to evaluate. Martin an ex-corporate lawyer in a Magic Circle firm in London says “the culture of overwork is institutionalized and the only way to find any balance is to leave. The first document I had to sign when I started, was a waiver of the European Time Directive regulating upper hours working limits (48)”

He left aged 32, at a time when 80 hour weeks and working 48 hours without a break were his norm. He took a 30% drop in salary knowing that there would be a line of others queuing for his job, with the lure of partnership as the carrot. “Many are prepared to put in long hours just to stand a chance of making Partner and a 7 figure salary. This impacts family life and relationships because you have to do this from usually 28-40 which is a critical time in your life. For me the sacrifice wasn’t worth it”

Cultural change

What has to change is the cultural commitment to overwork which indeed penalizes anyone who wants to have some sort of family life. It particularly impacts women who leave organizations such as these, in their droves, or opt to stay in lower level jobs.  Some businesses compensate by providing corporate mindfulness training and concierge services and even sleeping pods.

But the question is, are they band aids which treat only the symptoms, rather than addressing the core cultural malaise? There is a reason the company does your laundry.

Initiatives to chip away at this regressive mind-set seem to be working. Employee engagement is a hot topic. Sweden is introducing 6 hour days to increase employee satisfaction and productivity. Goldman Sachs has even reported promoting a record number of women to Managing Director status, which might reflect a further sea change in thinking, as their senior echelons achieve greater gender balance.

What is needed is a corporate culture where people can thrive, both in the workplace and outside it. This is one area where gender balanced leadership teams would surely have an impact.

Are you caught up in the culture of overwork?



Future of Work: New processes, traditional values

HRTech World in Paris was overwhelming. The sheer scale and energy of the event, with more than 3500 delegates, hundreds of sponsors and 200,000m² of exhibition space, meant some strategic cherry picking was needed.

Although I became something of a Josh Bersin stalker, I spent a lot of time in the DisruptHR area, listening to pitches and talking to some of the new entrepreneurs. The whole spectrum of new HR processes will be covered by what Mr. Bersin has identified as his number one trend “the appification of everything.”  Whether employee engagement, onboarding and offboarding, payroll, social recruitment, learning and development, we are going to see new dashboards, apps and analytics for every element of the  function.

What must have been music to the ears of hopeful start-up entrepreneurs was Trend #2. He believes one sole big ERP vendor is unlikely to cover all elements. There’s your crack in the market!

The appification of everything Trendn#1

             The appification of everything Trend #1

But one other message came over loud and clear. This was apparent particularly in the keynote panel discussions, but also in side sessions, as well as individual conversations with delegates. Putting the humanity back into Human Resources, which should perhaps more appropriately be called Human Relations, or Human Relationships.

The declining level of employee engagement and productivity was the conference buzz catch phrase. Some estimated this disengagement to be as high as 90%, with Prezi CEO, Peter Arvei  calling it an epidemic

Technology is part of the solution, but also part of the problem.

The ultimate irony is that Mr. Bersin maintains that this decline in productivity has been marked since the introduction of the iPhone. So technology is part of the problem. Unless organisations have cultures which are highly compliant, employers can’t make employees become engaged he emphasized. Nearly every company sees increasing individual productivity and overall performance as a challenge, but most struggle to handle it.

We are seeing the emergence of what his company has called the “overwhelmed employee.”  So although the processes adopted by HR are changing faster than we could ever imagine, many were suggesting that the future of work and the success of HR and businesses, will be a reconnection with basic old-school traditional values. What we need is to be able to manage the frenetic communications practices that overwhelm all of us, simplify the work environment, create more flexible work standards that allow employees to prioritise.

New processes. Traditional values

Euan Semple told us if we wanted higher engagement we needed to do something different:

Sir Richard Branson said leaders need to become good listeners and proposed writing any feedback down. Businesses thrive and survive because of their people, he maintained, and it’s necessary to treat them as adults and not micro-manage.

Not forgetting the famous Virgin parties. It’s necessary to recognise and celebrate individual contributions. 


When asked about his legacy, Sir Richard added: 

This was endorsed by Ambrosia Vertesi VP of Talent for Hootsuite.  To paraphrase she told us that employers need to do what is necessary to allow people to be fulfilled and healthy human beings, whether as employees, parents, partners or carers, an atypical corporate business model that Virgin have followed for years. Virgin has thrived when its competitors went to the wall because of a strong “people” culture.

And all succinctly summed up by award winning sector veteran Naomi Bloom, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing:

Quoi de neuf?

HR Carnival – HR and cultural change

HR Carnival – what cultural changes end up as workplace challenges?

Organisations are always impacted by changes outside the workplace and HR can often be slow to react. In this week’s HR Carnival, we’re going to hear from some international HR commentators about the impact of some those cultural changes on HR professionals.

Some changes are barely perceptible, but build up over time. Others are dramatic and can’t be ignored. These might be slow burning cultural shifts: the increase in divorce and single parent families impacting recruitment and internal promotions, dads wanting to take paternity leave, the growth of technology and social media, the rise of the collaborative economy and freelance contractors, communication trends, 5 generation workforces and the delayed retirement of Boomers, to name but a few.

All of these changes impact workplace practises and people, in ways that we hadn’t anticipated,  providing fresh challenges for HR professionals.

Here are just a few insights from this week’s HR Carnival.

The freelance economy is on the rise

Annabel Kaye, CEO of Irenicon and U.K. based employment law specialist, has written extensively about the growth of the freelance economy. Today, many simply fail to find full-time, permanent contracts,  others want to have access to flexible working conditions for any number of reasons.  Words such as lean and agile have crept into our corporate lexicon as organisations seek employees who are willing to be flexible.

But what are the downsides of this Uber style business model? Read Uber all under the law

Skill set deficits

This is an older post from HR commentator Mervyn Dinnen which was re-issued in August 2015 as organisations struggle to fill their talent pipelines with the right type of skills from young people. Mervyn’s commentary is U.K. related,  but his overall thesis is global. He suggests for companies to have access to the right skills in this age group “We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose

I couldn’t agree more.

Read:  A child who has ambition

Growth of technology

All forms of communication have become digitalized, whether email, text or other online tools, to the point where old school unscheduled voice calls are considered intrusive. Online training is  also becoming the norm as companies try to tap into technology to save costs and time. But Nicole La Maire, of New To HR urges us not to forget the human touch and why direct human interaction is best.

Read: Why the human touch still matters  


Katrina Collier, Social Media Recruiting Specialist, rails against the resistance to changes in technology in recruitment departments by the “Jobsworth mentality.”   Taken from the phrase “It’s more than my job’s worth” it describes a person who plods on in the same old way, regardless of the march of time in the outside world.

Read: The curse of the “Jobsworth” in hiring and recruitment  

 Parenting is an HR issue

With Gen Y set to dominate the workplace in the next years, organisations are going to need to adapt. The traditional family unit of a child carer (usually female) and revenue generator (usually male) is becoming obsolete, as women want to pursue careers and men want greater involvement in childcare. With greater number of single parent families, and men and women coping with joint custody arrangements, HR is feeling the impact in a number of areas especially recruitment and the willingness to travel and relocate,

Read my take on: Parenting is an HR Issue 

Silent epidemic

One research project after another talks about the rise of bullying in the workplace. It is no longer about physical abuse, but more covert activity. A person who is bullied in school is more likely to be bullied at work. This has become a form of silent bullying with HR under increasing pressure to deal with something that is difficult to prove.  Lisa Gates, Co-Founder of She Negotiates looks at implicit or unconscious bias and how micro-inequalities impact those outside a dominant group based on ill-considered stereotyping.

Read: Is Implicit bias bullying you silent?

Redefining retirement age

As seniors become healthier and their longevity increased, 60 has become the new 40.  Steven Toft alias trend commentator FlipChartRick, in his blog Flip Chart Fairy Tails (Business Bullshit, Corporate Crap and other stuff from the World of Work) examines the impact this development has on the work force as well as government policy.

How are HR policies going to cope with a demographic that either doesn’t want to retire, or can’t retire for financial reasons?

Read: The Healthy Aging Challenge 

So what other cultural changes are worthy of inclusion?







They’re just not that into you…Organisational red flags

He’s just not that into you ” is the headline from  He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys by Greg Behrendt , the modern girls guide to men, dating and relationships. To save us women from complete denial when we fail to take on board something that is glaringly obvious to everyone around us.

Organisational red flags - do you ignore them?

Organisational red flags – do you ignore them?








Applied to organsiations

We  convince ourselves that our rose-coloured version of reality is the correct one,  even if all the signs scream a  totally different message . We have all been  in relationships that are  dysfunctional,  one-sided or perhaps just past their sell by date.   If he doesn’t call it’s because he lost his phone,  broken both his hands or  (poor darling…)  had to go unexpectedly to some remote wilderness and signal- less location. Despite our excuses and even defence of an indifferent or bad relationship,  the reality is we are not  important enough for them to call.

GB ” If he creates expectations for you, and then doesn’t follow through on little things, he will do same for big things.”

They are just not that into us. Sound familiar?

Well, like many truisms this philosophy is transferable and can be applied to other situations,  even corporate relationships.  Many employees hang onto old jobs, roles and relationships for all the wrong reasons,  when all evidence is suggesting they should getting a Plan B and getting one fast.


Regional Sales Director of an international  logistics company  had been the designated deputy for the C.E.O. for 9 years and  expected to be appointed on his retirement.  He was shocked to find that the position was advertised externally. He had not been appointed or even invited to apply for the job he had been effectively doing in his boss’ absence for many years. He pushed hard to be considered as a candidate and although he went through the  interview process with an executive search firm,  an external candidate was appointed. The VP H.R. claimed to be too busy to discuss this with him directly and asked a junior assistant to make the turn down call.

Message:  they aren’t that into him. If they had wanted him for the job they would have spoken to him not just for an interview,  but maybe even years before and started a development process.   There are a lot of organisational red flags here.

GBThe word “busy” is the relationship Weapon of Mass Destruction…..  Remember: Men are never too busy to get what they want.”


Returned from maternity leave in the banking sector and instead of slotting back into her position leading a large team , she was shunted into a solo operator functional role with no teeth. She was excluded from key meetings and responsibilities that had previously been hers were  re-allocated to employees who had previously reported to her.  She was told she needed to re-build her reputation after being in the company for five years. She is still working hard to retrieve her position,  putting in long hours despite having a small baby. She rationalizes the decisions  in terms of organisational imperatives and gender stereotyping which she hopes she can turn around.

Message:  they aren’t  that into her.  1 in 6 women experience contractual difficulties on return from maternity leave. Companies who value their female employees will honour and respect contractual obligations.  Will Manuela effect a successful turnaround of opinion? Should she have to go through this exercise just because she’s had a baby?  These are all organisational red flags.  

GB  “When it comes to men, deal with them as they are, not how you’d like them to be.”  


was hired from outside the financial services sector as a C.F.O. designate,   to step into the senior role after a three-year grooming period. When the outgoing C.F.O.  left suddenly after only 18 months,  under a mysterious cloud,  the position was given to a colleague.  It was felt that Simon lacked the necessary experience  to assume a senior role and as the errant C.F.O.’s protogé, he that he might be happier elsewhere. Despite  a tough time at the height of the recession,  he finally got another job. In the meantime the new appointee isn’t working out and Simon has been approached to return as his departure has left a gap in the organisation.

Message:  they aren’t that into him.  That was a major red flag. They could not see any potential and would not invest in coaching or other onboarding programmes to guarantee success. None of the other executives were willing to support him  because appointing Simon was a risk they didn’t want to take.  

GB “Don’t be flattered that he misses you. He should miss you. You are deeply missable. However, he’s still the same person who just broke up with you”.

Organisations that value employees look after them and groom them. They treat them with integrity. They provide support for growth and development.  If they have issues they communicate them constructively so that the employee is clear and can make informed choices.

If they fail to behave correctly once,  will that be a pattern that is repeated? Are the early warning signals likely to re-occur?  Like in other relationships there is always a chance of an epiphany and the neglectful employer will reform. They are also  strong indications that forming a Plan B would be a good idea.

GBThe quickest way to rectify that mistake (choosing the wrong person) is by learning from that, moving on, and choosing much more wisely in the future.”

What do you think?