Category Archives: Work/life balance

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 

Presence culture barrier to women’s career success

A presence culture is the current barrier to keep women out of the corporate sandbox

One of the many challenges women face in the pursuit of their careers is the widespread existence of a “presence culture” in male-dominated corporate organisations.  Here, highly visible long working hours are rewarded and therefore encouraged, as employees feel they have to make themselves available for their employer. The arrival of the smart phone means that this is extended to 24/7 corporate on-call. The presence culture, or its cousin the availability culture,  is proving to be an effective barrier to women in a corporate setting.

It’s a “families are for wimps” philosophy.

Research from Harvard Business School Prof. Robin J. Ely, suggests that men in the early stages of their career, feel they need to sacrifice family life to advance their careers. Many women on the other hand are not willing to make that undertaking and either opt out, or take a break,  when family decisions become critical. This generally happens women hit the mid 30s mark. She notes that life and career goals in older survey participants were “remarkably aligned” and talked “giving back to society” and raising healthy families.

Over work is counter productive

Overwork is very much gender driven, and intrinsic to many male dominated corporate cultures. Time scarcity seems to have become a  corporate and cultural badge of success and an indicator of professional status. 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 now commonplace.

Ironically there has been another shift. Three 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 populated by younger men.

So where does this originate?

fred flintstone

I have a theory, so please hear me out.

The amateur anthropologist in me believes that, deprived of lions, tigers and bears, the modern young male needs a way to prove his resilience and power, outward signs of maleness and masculinity. Gender based occupational roles became further embedded in agrarian times when upper body strength was important to maintain the food supply. Women were required to produce lots of children for free labour. Revenue generation was also associated with physical strength.

In a 21st century knowledge economy that is no longer necessary.  So how are we to show strength and resilience,  in an age where the modern up-market cave is 4 bed, 4 baths, and a spear is a smart phone?  Long hours and the subsequent success of a linear career, is one way to achieve this. Hours are an easily definable metric, even though they have no relationship with the reality of modern business. Some organizations base their business model on “billable hours” and use them as a tool to measure employee success and financially reward. Pulling all-nighters gives young male careerists, bragging rights.

The reality is today men and women can both use smart phones equally well, but we are still being driven by DNA from previous eras which is no longer necessary in high-tech, knowledge economies

They are losing interest. They don’t want to be them, or like them.

Melinda is a Director in a consulting firm. Her boss she says “must see very little of his family. Even on vacations he is on his Blackberry to the office all the time. He has missed almost every milestone in his children’s lives. That’s not for me.” 

In a study from Catalyst, there was compelling research that would indicate that that companies with the highest representation of women in top are better performing. Nevertheless the percentage of women in top leadership roles remains depressingly static and low.

Wouldn’t it make sense for everyone to change corporate thinking and norms?

Cultural change

What has to change is the cultural commitment to overwork imposed on anyone wishing to continue a corporate career. This 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.  HR conferences talk about putting the “humanity back into HR” yet continually fall short.  Some businesses compensate for this culture of overwork, by providing corporate mindfulness training, 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 men and women can thrive, both in the workplace and outside it. This is one area where gender balanced leadership teams would surely have an impact.

 

The phrase “having it all” rears its ugly head again

Having it all  – a blast from the past

The phrase ‘having it all’, the famous tagline coined by the original Superwoman Shirley Conran, has plagued us since 1975 which truthfully started all this nonsense. I had hoped it had disappeared for ever. It conned women into believing that we could ‘have it all’ when it actually means ‘doing  it all’ or ‘managing it all’. It has now reared its ugly head to probably do the same level of disservice to women everywhere, as it did first time round.

Another high-profile writer has  caused a storm. Anne-Marie Slaughter was the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department and in “a foreign-policy dream job that traces its origins back to George Kennan.” She has stepped down for family reasons which has precipitated a flow of unprecedented angst on behalf of ” women”.  In the Atlantic July/August “Women  still can’t have it all”   Ms Slaughter basically reiterates the many truisms that most talent management specialists, as well as both women and men everywhere, have been saying for years when dealing with the challenges of the 21st century workplace.

Important issues

There is no doubt that a highly visible woman publically targeting the key issues both men and women face in their careers today is beneficial. But sweeping, emotive, headline- grabbing generalisations from women of privilege, do other women everywhere a disservice, not just in the upper echelons of  U.S. government administration. This headline is being picked up and syndicated globally to become a stand- alone #trending news item. 

What is “having it all” anyway? Should Ms Slaughter’s headline become a defining slogan for all women? I don’t think so. But sadly, it probably will be applied to all women,  all over the world, just as Conran’s did before her.

Out dated business models

Corporate business models are currently generally based on two factors:  a fully functional  nuclear family which in many societies today, is significantly reduced. This brings a distinct divide between domestic (usually childcare) and revenue generating responsibilities, with one partner today tending to assume point roles on each side of that divide, women focusing on childcare and men on revenue generating. This model which exists to various degrees in different parts of the world, is outmoded and impacts both men and women equally:

  •  Global economies are dealing with skill set shortages, declining birth rates and aging populations. We have essentially created a cultural conundrum. Economically we need women to have children. We cannot support an aging population with an insufficient economically productive base. 60% of graduates are now female,  those skills are under utilised with developed economies filling key gaps with migrant men.
  • A presence  rather than result focused business culture in today’s hi-tech, super- communication age is also out dated.  Organisations can be effectively managed without all personnel being in the same place, 24/7/52
  • A macho work culture where “pulling all-nighters“, working 15 hour days and not taking time off at weekends and vacations is glorified and seen as a “badge of honour”,  rather than acknowledged as increasing the incidence of risk for error and being potentially damaging to both physical and mental health.
  • Men and women are both refusing to relocate for family reasons and have been for some time, as any search specialist will tell you: spousal professions, housing costs,  education, single parent status and child and elder care are the 5 reasons most often quoted to me.

Extreme commuting

The extreme weekly commute from Trenton to Washington Ms Slaughter was undertaking, seemed to be at the root of the issues and anxiety she was facing. She makes no mention of why her husband and family didn’t move with her.  Many families relocate with children aged 12 and 14.  I would imagine the job of her husband  Andrew Moravcsik,  who “supports ” her career as a Princeton Professor, was a criterion. Perhaps it wasn’t feasible that he move to Washington. Perhhaving it allaps he didn’t want to. But an increasing number of men are re-locating to support their wives career progression.

Nor do we know what emergencies caused her to rush home mid-week and why her husband was unable to handle them. As Conran famously quipped  “you don’t need  a pair of breasts to take a child to the dentist

Children –  a corporate inconvenience

Fathers in the workplace tend to be viewed more highly,  not just  above women, but also above men without children. So although we hear about the “Daddy Factor” where men are perceived positively for family involvement, most say that if this manifests itself in a substantial time commitment, then that perception would rapidly shift to become career suicide.  For our businesses to survive and to maximise the potential of both men and women in the work place, we cannot continue to relegate child care to the level of corporate inconvenience.

Any re-location specialist would have suggested that this arrangement whether for a man or woman, was potentially fraught with difficulties for all  involved, without significant workplace concessions.  Astonishingly, this seemed not to be part of any sign-on package. Although men who work away from their homes and families putting in punishing hours, might appear to do so more willingly, they are not unscathed. They report significant damage to their relationships and health and many are afterwards filled with regret.

Wanting too much

Ms Slaughter’s regular job is as University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University where she  says “I teach a full course load; write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book”

By most people’s standards male or female, she already had it all. The suggestion  that she didn’t, creates a benchmark for inadequacy.  Did she simply want too much and have unrealistic expectations?

But above all, letting the mantras and experience of  famous, well placed, individual women, whether Conran or Slaughter, become global catch phrases for all women is high risk.  This is damaging to the men and women who would, and do, make  entirely different choices. They will inevitably be tarred as flight risks by that same stereotyping brush when applying for senior positions.

What does ” having it all ”  mean for you?

Extreme commuting! Why more of us are becoming Super Commuters

Limited local opportunities, expanded job markets and better value housing further from city centres are prompting more and more people to undertake longer commutes. Factoring in the career of a spouse or partner, slumps in housing markets making it difficult to sell or rent property,  as well as issues impacting kid’s educations, commuting rapidly becomes the most viable option in a range of other poorer choices. Extreme commuting is growing.

Typical commutes 
Whether by plane, car, train or any other form of transport commuting is consistently listed as one of the bug bears of modern life.  Recent research in Sweden from Erica Sandhow at Umeå University,  on the impact of commuting,  suggests that 45 minutes could be considered a long commute. However, in the US a typical commute would be 50 minutes  while the British commuter spends 200 hours a year getting to work. Although there are a number of benefits from an increased number of career opportunities,  there are also significant downsides, with Sandhow suggesting that couples engaged in commutes longer than 45 minutes are 40% more likely to get divorced.

International commuting
Just the mildest of enquiries in my social circle produced the feeling that long distance commuting is more commonplace than these stats would suggest. In fact most believed that average commutes are taking increasingly longer as congestion is most towns is rising and 45 minutes elapsed time door to desk  was actually on the light side.

Yet many choose to commute not into their local city,  but internationally.

During a recent trip out of Malpensa airport I found myself in conversation with an Italian gentleman, Fabio, who was negotiating the security line with all the frequent flier finesse of George Clooney in “Up in the Air”. He works in international business development for an Italian conglomerate and was headed, not the 25 minutes typical Italian commute down the road, but 700 kms back home to Brussels.  Fabio was quick to let me know why he has decided to live apart from his family Monday to Friday.

Tough decisions
When I was offered a senior role back in Italy 3 years ago, it was a tough decision. On the one hand I had a great promotion but on the other I also had to factor in my wife’s career. She is British and an E.U. lobbyist, so needs to be Brussels based, as well as my children’s education. They are 16, 14 and 10 – so not great for the older ones to move. We speak English at home and the kids go to Belgian schools so they only have conversational Italian. So as I travelled 80% of my week  at that time anyway – the logical solution was to find a pied à terre Monday to Thursday in Milan and commute between Belgium and Italy“.

I have been in that situation myself twice when my ex-husband commuted internationally, in the days before cheap flights and speedy boarding. It’s not easy. Fabio continued ” When I’m not on the road I can work from home but obviously I need to be in Milan a couple of days a week at least. Technology helps and I’m lucky that my General Manager is a results orientated rather than presence orientated manager, but when you run a team being visible and available is important.”

Downsides
So what are the downsides as if I didn’t know already. “When flights are delayed or cancelled – that’s a hassle. My wife struggles sometimes dealing with my 16 year old son on her own and feels isolated. It means if she needs to travel for her own work we have complex childcare arrangements as we don’t have family in Belgium. Hikes in fares means that it’s high cost too. But overall it’s the best decision for our family

 Women super commuters
Erica Sandhow’s findings show that extended commutes primarily benefit the careers of men and also contribute to polarised gender stereotyping with women assuming a  greater share of domestic responsibilities in the absence of the men, while their partners become the defacto more significant salary earner. I can certainly testify to that.

If a high number of super commuters are men, what about women?

 I miss my kids probably more than they miss me and have some sad moments when I can’t make an event or something is going on in their lives which I can’t be there for. 

I spoke to Hannah who commutes between Paris and Amsterdam, leaving 2 children on Sunday evening or Monday morning,  with her husband Markus until Friday night.  “Yes it’s stressful but you get used to it. I find that I have to separate my work and personal life, but as the main salary earner in the family, I have to pay the mortgage and the bills. I am 16 years younger than my husband and will have to work for another 18 years at least.  I miss my kids probably more than they miss me and have some sad moments when I can’t make an event or something is going on in their lives which I can’t be there for.  My husband wishes I had more time, especially if I ever have to work at the weekend” 

At the same time, it is reported that those fewer women who do commute long distances gain new career opportunities and higher salaries – so there are some benefits.

But are they worth it?

So how long would you commute to work?

A great divide: planned parenthood and corporate planning

Corporate plans in place for a terrorist attack or natural disaster, but not maternity leave

Stereotypical thinking
I have just taken a flight across Europe. For 2 hours and 20 minutes straight, a new-born baby screamed without taking a breath the entire trip. The parent (male) and steward (male) did their level best to soothe the poor mite – but to no avail. It was a totally natural scene and possibly apart from being thankful it wasn’t their child, no one on that aeroplane gave the matter a second thought and especially not the gender of the 2 care givers

Perpetuating stereotypes
Which made me think of the Forbes Power Women List which came out last week. I’m not a fan and generally believe it leans towards bull rather than buzz, although I will admit this year’s list is an improvement on 2010, despite Christine Lagarde only coming in at #9. I also think perhaps somewhat contentiously that it promotes stereotypical thinking, just as much and perhaps more so, as it tries to debunk it.

A vital statistic that stood out for me in this year’s promotional roll call, in that slightly breathless, condescending, incredulous, ” didn’t they do well” tone, is that 88% of the women on the list have children. They are mothers. What’s particularly interesting about this information, is that it is even mentioned. I assume most of the Forbes powerful men list are fathers. Does anyone ever comment about that? Exactly!

Planned parenthood
One of the greatest historical changes to impact the lives of couples and women in particular in recent times (perhaps ever) in the developed world, is the wide availability of sophisticated birth control and contraception.The Economist (December 31, 1999) called oral contraceptives ” the greatest science and technology advance in the twentieth century

This has given both women and men (let’s not forget these are not immaculate conceptions) in developed economies, the opportunity to plan with the military precision of a space mission, not just the number of children they have, but also the timing of each pregnancy. Diets are adjusted, alcohol intake modified, exercise increased, temperatures taken, ovulation cycles monitored, sperm counts checked, baby rooms prepared, ante natal classes attended, showers held, mother and baby classes subscribed to. Books are bought, family are alerted, dad-to-be helps with all the heavy breathing, romper suits arrive by the dozen. Buggies, bouncers and baby chairs are ordered. Names are chosen, christenings or similar naming ceremonies are planned. Plan Bs hover in the background , with frozen eggs and sperm on hand just in case mother nature doesn’t oblige.

Strategic planning
So it would seem, notwithstanding the odd surprise, that having a baby has to be one of the most orderly and thought out processes that many men and women undertake in their lives. So I ask myself (and you too!) why does the planning seem to stop there? If employees are planning their families, why can organisations not plan to the same degree? Instead the careers of women in their 30s becomes a major elephant in the sitting room, that people hope will amble away on its own. And women do – in their droves.

Female workforce
Janine is a Client Services Director for a well-known financial services company based near Brighton, UK. She manages a team of 120, of which 90 are women. 80% of that number are between the ages 18 and 40. “ If all my team became pregnant at the same time, I’d have a problem!” she told me smiling. “As their manager I’m not allowed to ask my employees what their plans or intentions are with regard to having a family. Their supervisors are close to their staff in an informal way and have ideas about who we would move where and to cover which gaps and skill sets. But there is no official succession planning policy to cover maternity leave, although we do have an emergency plan in the event of a terrorist attack or other natural disaster! ”

Terrorist threat
Now I’m sure there could well be any number of subversive, underground, terrorist cells plotting to target financial organisations near Brighton, but I wonder how these threats, including a meteorological catastrophe, would stack up against the likelihood of any of those female staff becoming pregnant. There is a plan to cope with both of the former, but not the latter. Does that strike anyone as a little incongruous? I also find it frustrating than women are not expected to plan beyond the start of their maternity leave and although having a baby is discombobulating on many levels, it doesn’t close down brain functionality completely. They are having a baby, not a lobotomy.

The father factor
A Fatherhood Study carried out by Boston College tells us “ According to a study by the National Study of the Changing Workforce, for the first time since 1992, young women and young men do not differ in terms of their desire for jobs with greater responsibility (Galinsky, Aumann, & Bond, 2008). As a result, young women may be less prone to be the “accommodating spouse” in two-career couples, placing their career aspirations second to that of their male spouses”.

In fact the study also suggests that men also have different expectations. “Their wives are likely to be at least as well if not better educated, just as ambitious as they are, and make more money than they do. More importantly, these men feel that being a father is not about being a hands-off economic provider

Cultural changes
It would seem that although the expectations of both men and women are changing, organisations are not adapting fast enough to the cultural shifts in the societies around them. Economies need to counteract a declining birth rate and stimulate economic growth. The economy of the euro zone for example has been predicted to grow 16 per cent if women were in formal employment as much as men. Both men and women are looking for better work/life balance, not just women, and the business model for corporate culture, which creates a gender divide needs to be re-examined rather than emulated.

Lists such as the Forbes list with messages which portray women with successful careers as mothers are actually perpetuating stereotypical thinking rather than knocking it on the head.

Men get married and are fathers too.

Age 70 for retirement? Bring forward workplace changes

How old will you be when you finally retire?

Why wait until 2040 to implement workplace changes for older workers who are opting for a later retirement?

I seem to be receiving lots of invitations to retirement parties recently. A number of my friends and associates are heading off into the sun or sunset with a variety of fabulous plans: sailing around the Mediterranean to the Baltic, travelling around the world, spending time in summer homes, learning new sports, going back to university, volunteering, spending time with their families and taking up new hobbies. Some simply wanting to potter around in their gardens.

One thing they all have in common was that they are well under the age of 65.  So in some ways it was quite a contrast to see the cover of last week’s Economist ” Pensions: 70 or Bust,” staring out at me from a news stand, suggesting by 2040 for economic reasons, the retirement age will need to be extended to age 70.

Changing retirement age
65 has been considered by many as an aspirational average retirement age and in a number of countries is considered the default age. However, many people like my friends, take steps to retire earlier and it has been quite common for people to retire at 60, or even younger. Recently, particularly since the recession, there have been calls to scrap the default retirement age to allow those who would like (or need) to work longer, to do so. I have come across many who either wish to, or have been forced to, re-enter the workplace as property values and pension pots nose-dived. But in the future individuals may actually be obliged to work those additional years before they will be entitled to any company or state benefits – if they will even exist then at all.

70 or bust
The Economist suggests in its lead issue last week that by 2040, the retirement age in Europe will have to be increased to the age of 70 years. Since 1971, the average life expectancy rate in the advanced countries has risen by 4 – 5 years, and forecasts suggest that until 2050 it will grow by additional three years. People living longer and retiring earlier is not a problem per se , but forecasted labour shortages because of declining birth rates will not allow this.

The article also suggests that this birthrate reduction means that ” in the US, there will be only 2.6 workers per pensioner in 2050, while in France, Germany and Italy – 1.9, 1.6 and 1.5 workers per pensioner, respectively. Countries are already intending to raise the retirement age: in the United States – to 67 years, in the UK – to 68 years” . However The Economist maintains that these measures don’t go far enough.

By raising the retirement age it argues that employees will receive more years at a higher income level, governments will of course profit from further tax revenue, and a later retirement should stimulate a growing economy. However if governments are requiring individuals to stay economically active longer than previously, it means that organisational and employees practises and attitudes will be obliged to accommodate this demographic shift.

Specifically:

  • Discrimination policies will need to be enforced particularly in the areas of recruitment and retraining. A 50-year-old candidate potentially will have 20 more years on the career clock.
  • Workers in jobs requiring certain physical skills and stamina will have to be reassigned to lighter roles if necessary.
  •  Older workers will require cross generational and new technological training.
  • Older employees quite often have spousal and elder care roles. Support will be required.
  •  Flexible work schedules may be required (reduced, compressed, extended work weeks, job sharing, part-time hours, unpaid vacations will all have to be options)
  • Home offices and remote working should be considered.
  •  Re-organization of work and the redesign of jobs could be desirable.
  • Health and wellness initiatives would be beneficial.

Commonalities
It also struck me that some of these proposed measures to support an aging workforce would also be useful to women, but not by 2040. But today. So if organisations are going to be required at some point to implement changes, why not pre-empt a crisis and bring those plans forward 29 years, before we’re all keeping our teeth in jars on our desks and needing ramps for our walkers. If many of those proposals were introduced earlier, they would perhaps stem the exodus of women out of the workforce at critical points in their careers, some of whom never return. Who knows, many might be tempted to have larger families – if managing a career and a modern family simply became easier for everyone.

Those who wish to work longer can do so and those who wish to retire earlier can head off in the direction of their choosing. Then perhaps then some of those gloomy pensioner support ratios might look a little healthier. Or is that too simple?

What do you think?

BYOC : Unexpected work/life bonus

Not everyone wants to be in a situation where their careers are their only or top priority. Men or women.

I recently found myself, somewhat unexpectedly spending rather more time than I would have liked, in the departure lounge of Fiumicino Airport, Rome. It’s a long story, one that doesn’t even matter and with everything going on in Syria, Libya and Japan, I’m not even going to make the mildest protest. But I have actually often found that some of my most interesting and informative connections are made during delays in travelling both business and personal. People who are usually too busy are happy to idle away the time with just about anyone. That day was no exception.

I became involved in a conversation with Thomas C and Brendan S, both routed via Rome for a connecting flight to Heathrow, on their way back from a Supply Chain conference, in a still desirable Middle East destination. At a guess they were both in their mid to late 30s. They actually both looked very alike, booted and suited as they were in the male executive uniform of dark grey suits, crisp white shirts and designer ties, which did eventually end up in their pockets. Both had young families and Tom’s wife was still on maternity leave, following the birth of their first child. That was pretty much where the similarities ended.

Paternity leave
Tom, a middle level manager enjoys his job, but his wife is the hot-shot, lead salary earner, already tipped to make Managing Director level in an American Financial Services company. My ears pricked up. I was thrilled to hear this  modern-day story! But alas there was a twist.

We had always planned that when we had children I would reduce my hours to part time and Katie’s career would be the primary career. Her income potential far outstrips mine and she is passionate about what she does. But we are already experiencing difficulties. My company doesn’t want to give me flexi-time or part time hours, even though it’s quite standard to support women. They reckon this will open the floodgates from other men wanting reduced hours. My boss also took me to one side and told me it would be a damaging career move and I could limit my chance of involvement in any long term, high level projects.”

This anecdotal story is supported by a survey carried out by uSwitch of 1,000 men which showed that 41 per cent of men polled would be concerned to take paternity leave, citing fear of losing their jobs or having their career prospects reduced.

Do you need support aligning your career goals with those of your partner? Check out the career coaching programme for two career couples . 

Excessive demands
Not everyone wants to be in a situation where their careers are their only or top priority. Men or women. What would happen if flexible and part-time working were available to all? If a company is fearful that a large section of its workforce would down tools and apply for reduced hours, doesn’t that send a message that perhaps there is something amiss with their workplace culture? Are people being expected to work too hard and simply too long? But perhaps more significantly is there something wrong with our business models that requires people to work in this way, but also our cultures for endorsing these values?

BYOC
This was in stark contrast to Brendan’s story. I would say (am I allowed to?) that he would be described as a typical alpha career man, already at Director level, with mention made of private prep schools and exotic foreign holidays. His wife is a part time interior decorator running her business from home allowing her to focus on raising their family, as two of their children have special education needs. But Brendan also works mainly from home. His company has adopted what I recently learned is known as BYOC policy – bring your own computer. He is paid a monthly allowance for using his own hardware. He has a docking station in his company offices, where there are no assigned desks. What started as a drive to reduce IT infra-structure and real estate costs, has now turned into a work/life balance benefit, where company employees can work from anywhere at anytime. This is seemingly becoming an increasingly attractive business model.

Does this mean he is sneaking a quick look the PGA Masters instead of doing whatever supply chain people are supposed be doing I asked? ‘ Not one bit ” he told me. ” I don’t think the senior management intended to be progressive at the beginning. They wanted to reduce IT costs and office overheads. When I’m in the office the distractions are huge. Offices are inherently inefficient places. At home I am totally focused. If I’m travelling I can work completely normally. The technology on my own laptop is infinitely superior to anything my company could afford to buy at the moment. It means that I can self schedule and be there for school runs, medical appointments and so on. What is important is that I get things done – not how and when I do it..”

So ironically could it be economic and technological imperatives rather than altruism, that could facilitate a future workplace which is not driven by preconceived and stereotypical ideas based on gender?

What do you think?

Home and work: Balance or convergence?

Transplanting biz strategies into the home

The gender split of household duties and child care as well as a general work/ life balance, is one of the most talked about issues in any group of working women whether on-line or IRL. In a women’s online professional forum I have recently joined as a mentor, the issue is debated intensely, although with few solutions offered. Complaints abound: the lack of workplace flexibility, partner inflexibility, school runs, orthodontists appointments, parent teacher conferences, nanny, crèche and au pair issues

Earlier this year, I carried out a survey of Gen Y women and 54% indicated that they expected their partners to be fully engaged in household management and childcare, so with older generations letting go of the Superwoman myth, things should be improving. However currently many women are still assuming a greater share of domestic and childcare responsibilities.

Non – alpha males

Lucy Kellaway in an article in the FT.com Breaking the glass ceiling at home carried out an analysis of the partners of the top 50 Women in World Business. and decided that these women successful were in relationships with non-alpha males. “The biggest reason that alpha women don’t become CEOs is that they have made the common, yet fatal, error of marrying an alpha man” These non alpha males are seemingly happy to take a back seat and let their partner’s careers take priority.

I think however we need to bring some financial perspective into this discussion. Ms Rosenfeld’s husband, may have given up his professional activity, but was it really to pick up a dish cloth or pair up the socks? With Ms Rosenfeld’s compensation package according to Forbes estimated to be at $26m I somewhat doubt it.

Need support finding your balance? Check out the coaching programme for two career couples.  

Genetic hardwiring

Lucy Kellaway’s theory, interesting though it is, also flies in the face of anthropological theories fielded by psychologists who tell us that women are genetically programmed to seek out the males who will help them produce the strongest children. In organisations, these men are commonly (but not always I agree) found near the top of the pyramid, profession or chosen field of activity.

So how does the average non salary millionaire couple strike up the ideal balance, so that both can achieve their career goals? As the workplace becomes more flexible with dress down Friday’s, remote working, and with the possibility of employees being professionally contactable any time and anywhere, how are some couples and single parents dealing with this?

I spoke to a number of different women and it seemed that many were applying business techniques in the home. I heard the words procedure manuals, outsourcing, monthly meetings, responsibility allocation, forward planning.

Personal stories

Julia a senior business consultant told me ” I approached it almost in a business change management way. During my maternity leave , I identified key tasks, drew up ” job profiles ” for our domestic management, splitting chores and responsibilities according to our strengths and capabilities and what was logistically possible. We agreed to allocate a budget for a weekly cleaning company, because neither of us want to spend our very little free time doing the ironing. We decided that in the short-term to take the financial hit to make life easier and it was a small penalty to pay for both of us staying on our career paths“.

It was one of my greatest professional challenges combining work and home” Sarah now a CFO with an international pharmaceutical company ” the early years were very stressful. I had a number of au pairs and nanny’s which basically ate up my whole salary. At the time my husband wanted me to give up work and stay at home. Happily I didn’t because we are now divorced! As a single parent I allocate domestic responsibilities between my children. We all have the equivalent of job descriptions and ad hoc project management duties! I am lucky I can employ domestic support – a man before you ask!

Sally’s approach is much more indirect ” I cultivated some weaknesses. I made a mess of the laundry early in our relationship and it’s not a job that I’m now expected to do. I designed a procedure manual and made sure all the recipes we use are in there. Now my son aged 13 has his own copy and is quite a competent cook. I use online shopping and home delivery for almost everything and even outsource the ironing. I’m one of those crazy people who goes to the supermarket at midnight! “

Melissa and her partner have a monthly domestic meeting in the same way as they might in an office. “We check how we are doing. Manage our budget, make plans and allocate responsibilities. Now the kids are older they also join in for the last part. The minute we let the formal structure slide – chaos descends in no time! “

So as the gender split of domestic responsibilities becomes a workplace issue, some women are making a corporate style stamp on their home management. But is this a successful attempt to find balance or a destructive convergence as Stephen Covey suggests in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families,Home life has become more like an efficiently run but joyless workplace , while the actual workplace with its emphasis on empowerment and teamwork, is more like a family

What do you think?

The season of discontent: Singles speak out

I spent some time in the autumn with a mixed group of younger high-powered professionals. What they all had in common was that they were either single, or if they were in relationships, they had no children. Young and fancy free – sounds fun right? Well ..no!  This was not the season of goodwill but the season of discontent.

 

dead christmas tree

Workplace flexibility creates a the season of discontent 

Chat moved on to their plans for Christmas. There was more than a little disgruntlement about the issue of how their offices would be staffed during the holiday season. Some companies now close completely, but others expect a level of skeleton manning. There seemed to be an unwritten expectation in all their organisations (cross sector) that when it came to allocating holidays there was a pecking order: employees with children would be given (or take) priority and then the singletons, would be expected to volunteer to organise cover amongst themselves.

These guys were not happy! Not just because they wanted to go skiing or the Maldives (although a few did) but because they had their own obligations and commitments which they considered to be equally important. In recent research I carried out on the priorities of Gen Y women, I saw that they were somewhat intolerant of workplace flexibility for women only and advocated flexibility for all.

Other obligations

David, a Consultant with a major audit company fumed “My parents are divorced and I need to make two family visits. It’s just not possible to do that in a few days. All I want to do is take my vacation time when I want it. Last year I provided weekend cover and worked late in December, so that the parents could go to school concerts and do Christmas things with their kids. Parents assume they are entitled to take the time off between Christmas and New Year. I will be expected to work. It’s not that I begrudge them flexi-time – but I think it should be offered to all

There are also many different types of care and domestic or family responsibilities. Susan is single in her early 50s and has strong obligations to look after her widowed mother, now in her mid 80s. Peter’s wife has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and requires additional support. They claim , that the fact that an individual has no children doesn’t mean their commitments are necessarily any less demanding. In a C.C.H. survey carried out in 2007 in relation to unscheduled absenteeism, more than 60% of unscheduled absence is related to non sickness reasons, resulting in huge costs to companies.

Responsibility to and for self

But what about the employee who has no responsibilities for others, but simply wants workplace flexibility to allow them to look after themselves? As working days and commutes become longer, technology now offers many options to facilitate that. Workplace stress also causes significant organisational and health issues, so shouldn’t employees be encouraged to give their own needs priority?

Madeleine was more direct and took a firmer view. “People with kids feel that their family status puts them into a special category. Having children is a lifestyle choice. Couples know what the issues are when they make the decision to have a family. My boss quite often asks me to cover for her when she has to leave early or work remotely to deal with childcare issues ( she has 4 kids) .I’m totally OK with that, but when I wanted to go to the gym in office hours, because fitness is a high priority for me and after a 12 hour day, I’m too tired, it was suggested that I go at lunchtime. Lunchtime is for eating!

Fun!
The irony might be that working Mums, the group which cries out for work place flexibility the hardest, would actually benefit if that perk became standard for all. Leanne Chase of Career Life Connection takes the matter one step further and suggests that with regard to workplace flexibility

“ for it to be universal we need to place a whole lot less emphasis on “family” “women” “care-giving” and “children.”

Could it be the protests from the singletons who want to look after themselves, or simply take time off at the holidays to relax and have fun, with no obligations at all, which will make a difference? The holiday period for many is a period of joy and giving. But for others it morphs into a season of discontent .

What do you think?

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Duvet Day….zzzzz! Benefit or Ruse?

Does a duvet day in bed increase employee engagement?

There are a number of week days a year when truthfully, I don’t feel like getting my not so little bottom out of my bed. It’s not that I’ve had a wild party the night before, but it might be cold, raining, snowing or the day just looks as though it might be better viewed from a horizontal position.

Regrettably, I can only put the alarm on snooze for 15 minutes max and I just have to get up and get on with it. I have clients, candidates and calls and I’m not sure how many of them would react if I just said

I suspect I would go out of business quicker than you could say bankrupt! Or would I?

Duvet Day

Yet, we have a phenomenon which seems to be around in some organisations called a Duvet Day. www.duvetday.org define this practise as follows ” a term that has become synonymous with the act of taking a day off work or school when you ‘just don’t feel up to it’. You are not ill, you don’t want to lie to the boss; you just need a day in bed!! “ One of the upsides is seemingly reducing carbon emissions by cutting back on fossil fuels used up during a commute! Good wheeze!

How did this creep into organisational culture? It seems that it originated with US corporations, seeking to become enlightened employers and to foster employee loyalty. Early adopters in the UK include PR company Text100, in 1995. An allocation of several duvet days per employee is now becoming more widespread, reports suggest, as is the wider concept of helping employees maintain work/life balance.

Unscheduled absences

Unscheduled staff absence due to illness or other reasons can be very costly for employers, official statistics and survey data reveal. In the UK it was reported by the Health and Safety Commission that 36 million days of work were lost due to sickness absence in 2006 and 2007, and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) estimated the annual cost of sickness absence to UK employers to be £659 per employee. Previous studies found that employers significantly underestimate the costs to their organizations of unplanned absenteeism.

In the United States, research in 2007 by Mercer National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, found that the equivalent of around 9% of total salary costs were incurred due to unplanned absence although that does vary considerably between different types of organizations and is higher in the public sector. The CCH Inc. 2000 Unscheduled Absence Survey indicated that sickness absence accounts for only around 40% of all unscheduled absenteeism, with family factors also being significant. In the UK, a study by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health puts the total cost to UK employers of absence due to stress and mental health problems at £8.4 billion. Overall patterns of sickness absence are quite similar between different countries, being higher among women, than men and among older, rather than younger employees. .

Workplace informality

At the same time we have seen the general growth of US-inspired workplace informality; dress down Fridays ( where men are excused from ties and suits and women can wear jeans). In some organisations these are morphing into dress down every day. The dress codes of work places is becoming more casual, as employers recognise the connection between employees feeling comfortable while at work and the quality of their results.

Life style management services

Another growth area is so-called homing, where because of longer working hours and commutes, the office is made more like home with personal PA and concierge services (dry cleaning, car washing, laundry, groceries delivered to desks and general errand running) taking on the functions that many people need, but don’t have time to do themselves, so are happy to outsource.

Workplace flexibility: perk or placebo

So is this drive to give us more flexibility a superficial ruse to lull us into believing that things are better than they are and we don’t mind working all those long hours or as hard as we do? Is it all a con? Mike Emmott, employee-relations adviser at the CIPD, in a report, Flexible working: good business; How small firms are doing it, demonstrates the value – the economic benefits as well as less tangible measures – of flexible working, noting the common elements. “The managers were all “people” people; they were good at communication and fostered a caring ethos in their businesses. This meant they had low absenteeism, very high retention of expertise and experience, and workers who looked after each other.”

Emmott was particularly struck by how policies promoting work-life balance were “so intimately linked with business ideas about profitability. It’s about resolving business issues, not just about being lovey-dovey”.

I don’t know about you – but I’m going to take a nap!

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