Work/life balance in the new millenium

In the past, I’ve joked about being that person who checks email at 3 o’clock in the morning. I tell people I am available 24/7 and tragically I am.

I did access the ABC News website from my CrackBerry while seated on a Mayan ruin in Guatemala; I do send email, ICQ, instant messages and talk on the phone at the same time with the same person. I have my ‘Learn French, Spanish and Arabic Language’ classes loaded on my iPod along with Seinfeld and The Office videos, Douglas Coupland’s book J Pod and some music too.

And my husband is thinking of taking out a SPAM restraint order against me for the number of emails, SMS and phone calls I make to him each day – usually with the same reminder.

But while this 24/7 connectivity has its upsides, it is also making it harder for us to achieve work/life balance.

While most of us have accepted that 9-5 work hours are a thing of the past, we still haven’t come to grips with how to manage this new world of 24/7 connectivity.  We’re working longer hours, we’re taking work home and we’re increasingly on call on weekends.

The Work-life balance in Australia in the New Millennium report published in April 2008 found that nearly half of the 12,000 Australian knowledge workers surveyed suffered from ‘role overload’.  In other words, they felt they had too much to do and too little time to do it.

The researchers also pointed to an increased use of technology, arguing that “email has increased expectations of response time and availability as well as the volume of work.”

We all know this, don’t we?  But what are we going to do about it, given the serious consequences for individuals, families and business?  People who feel stressed out will eventually feel unsatisfied, and are more likely to take sick leave, stress leave or simply quit. 

While better time management may have some impact on your work/life balance, the secret is finding a space between work and home where a high performance individual can unwind.  Rather than leaving the office stressed out and coming home to yell at or ignore the kids, some time to rest and reflect – whether that’s through the ride home from the office, some exericse or meditation – can help people make that transition between the office and the home.

The key to work/life balance is not to measure how much time you spend in each area of your life, but to measure your level of engagement.  The aim is to be an active participant in your home life, to feel invigorated by your work, and to have time to yourself for mental and emotional rejuvenation.


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Harness the knowledge of your workers

Before a company thinks about redundancies, it is worth remembering this: a century ago, the most valuable US corporation was US Steel, whose primary assets were smokestack factories. Today’s most valuable corporation is Microsoft, whose most precious assets go home every night. Your organisation is the same – your key assets walk out that door every night.

Companies that want those assets to return every morning must pay attention to the workplace. To quote former GE CEO, Jack Welch, “We spend all our time on people – the day we screw up the people thing, it’s over”. 

A Delphi Group survey revealed 42 per cent of corporate knowledge was unmanaged – in other words, within employees’ heads – while the rest was spread across paper and electronic repositories.

Other estimates place this figure as high as 80 per cent.

Yet, no matter how high the percentage is within your company, odds are that it’s too high. This is simply because knowledge that’s only available to one person only benefits that one person. And if that person leaves the company, his or her knowledge benefits your competitors.

So, right now is a good time to review the process for managing information that is critical to your organisation.

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Boosting enterprise IQ

For a company to achieve competitive advantage, people are more important than ever.

A critical underpinning of internal intelligence is how the enterprise leads and manages people – and a significant part of the enterprise’s intellectual property is vested in the minds and commitment of its people.

People no longer ‘belong’ to an enterprise, though – they will attach themselves where they perceive their contribution is most valued. And ‘value’ is more than a simple compensation package – it includes a combination of rewards, responsibilities, work environment and life style arrangements. Increasingly, employers need to understand the unique and individual motivations of each employee if they wish to retain them.

Peter Drucker noted that knowledge workers are people who know more about what they are doing then their managers.  If that holds true, then the old models of leadership will simply not work.  So, what’s a leader’s role then?  To be a guide.  To share information.  And to know how to ask rather than how to tell.

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Managers get half of hiring decisions wrong

Half of hiring decisions are mistake, according to a new survey out of the UK. This is interesting in the current recession where employers are putting potential employees through longer and more interviews than they have in the past.

The Recruiting Roundtable has found bad hiring costing firms millions of dollars in lower performance, less engaged workers and higher staff turnover.

The researchers, who analysed data from more than 8,500 hiring managers and 19,000 of their most recent hires, found that a similar number of new employees are disenchanted with their working environment, colleagues and managers.

In fact, four out of 10 new employees polled complained that the information they received about the job when they were applying was less than accurate.

Given the high cost of early career turnover, organisations cannot afford to make the wrong hiring decisions.  The Recruiting Roundtable says it had identified the three most important reasons organisation failed consistently to hire high-quality candidates:

  • over-relying on candidates to describe themselves rather than having them demonstrate what they can do
  • failing to follow a consistent, evidence-based selection decision process
  • failing to provide the candidate with enough information and “experience” about what the job was really like.

Providing candidates with an ‘on-the-job’ experience can help organisations observe a candidate’s capabilities and provide the candidate with a better sense of what the job is really like.

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Social Recruitment: The New Spy Catcher

When the British Secret Intelligence Service starts using Facebook to find its next James Bond, anyone doubting the power of social recruitment needs to rethink their scepticism.

And that’s exactly what MI6 is doing – hunting for its next generation of spies through a series of Facebook advertisements launched in late September.

One of three pop-up advertisements says: “Time for a career change? MI6 can use your skills. Join us as an operational officer collecting and analysing global intelligence to protect the UK.”

MI6’s strategy is a smart one.  With more than 100 million active users, Facebook has increased by 153 per cent in the last year to become the fourth most trafficked website in the world. 

And with its membership growing at light speed – particularly among those 25 years and older – MI6’s recruiters have recognised that Facebook’s profiling and targeting capabilities can connect them with a vast pool of potential candidates.

MI6 is not alone.  A recent survey from the US revealed that 64 per cent of companies are making contact with potential employees through online social networks, predominantly LinkedIn (80%) and Facebook (36%). 

On the other side of the Atlantic, it’s clear that both employers and job seekers are extracting value from social media.  According to the Aquent Orange Book 2008-2009, a salary survey and industry monitor, candidates in Germany (39 per cent), France (34 per cent), Poland (30 per cent) and the Netherlands (23 per cent) rated social networking sites as their preferred method of job seeking, as did 13 to 18 per cent of employers as a tool for sourcing talent.

Meanwhile, only a handful of employers across Australia and New Zealand are leveraging social networking sites to source new talent.  Why?  Partly because social recruitment is still an untested strategy in Australia, and partly because employers and recruiters don’t know where to begin.

So, how can you integrate social recruitment into your broader recruitment strategy?  Here are six simple ways to get started.

  1. Create a ‘group’ for your company on Facebook.  Call it something like “XYZ Company is Hiring” and post information on how to apply for positions in your company, list your latest jobs and use the growing network as a marketing tool.  And add the ‘My Company’s Hiring’ application to enter currently jobs available in your organisation.  These will be displayed on your company page.
  2. If your company has a Facebook Workplace Network (a closed network for individual companies), use it as a recruitment and retention tool.  To establish one, ask Facebook to add your company to the list.  Only employees with a company sponsored email address can join and participate.
  3. Encourage ex-employees to rejoin your company with a Facebook group for your company’s ‘alumni’.  Promote the group among your current employees, who will soon share the site with their former colleagues.
  4. Use the search function as a sourcing tool.  Try searching for a particular position title in the ‘profile’ section, for example.
  5. Tap into the regional networks, and scour workplace and university groups.  Target these areas by posting jobs and listing job fairs.
  6. Stimulate conversations using ‘Discussion Boards’ and ‘The Wall’ – both features can attract members of your targeted community by showcasing what your company has to offer them.

But will the British Secret Intelligence Service’s recruitment strategy really work?  With a new James Bond movie, Quantum Of Solace, set for release next month, MI6’s attraction problems are undoubtedly over.  But it may well face another recruitment challenge – who will sort all the applications of these would-be spies?

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Women must learn to negotiate

In Australia, women earn on average 84 cents for every dollar earned by men.  This figure has remained unchanged for the entire decade.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the average weekly ordinary time earnings for full-time adult women was less than for men in all industries. The largest difference between the earnings of full-time adult males and females occurred in the finance and insurance industry, with female earnings approximately two-thirds of male earnings (66 per cent). The difference in earnings was smallest in government administration and defence (the average earnings of full-time adult females were 91 per cent of full-time adult males).

So, it seems that negotiating pay packages is something that women, regardless of level, fail to do as successfully as men.

One way to overcome this is to approach the task armed with the relevant research.  Know all the statistics about pay scales in your industry by skill or functional level.  Most importantly, find out all the possible components of the package that you might be offered.  My experience is that women do not understand what they might ask for during a pay negotiation.  It is important to use your research information to argue logically for a greater pay increase.

A female friend of mine worked in a large multi-national organisation that was undergoing restructuring due to an economic downturn (yes, it’s happened before!).  The CEO of the organisation had addressed all the senior executives and explained this situation and that salary increases would be small for the next year.

All the participants agreed to this approach while they were in the meeting.  However, the women later found out that all of the men had negotiated a salary increase equal to that of the previous year, while they had accepted the lower level of increase.

If you are taking a new job, remember, you get one chance to negotiate your starting package.  All other salary reviews will commence from there – so it is worthwhile getting it right.

This process is also applicable to people who work part-time, on contract or on a casual basis.  Often people, particularly women who work part-time, are unjustly perceived to be less serious about their careers.  Unfortunately, many organisations still maintain the thinking that performance is to be measured in ‘face hours’, rather than in terms of outcomes and outputs.  Don’t let that stop you getting what you’re worth!

In my book, SelfScape: Success through balance, I provide many tips and techniques for determining your personal value proposition and then getting what you’re worth.

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Start a conversation

There are many models for implementing performance management systems, but they all have one thing in common – a recognition that managing people and their performance is a daily activity, not an annual one.

So, start a conversation with each of your employees.  Smart managers hold regular performance reviews, linked to key company goals and a mixture of measurable qualitative and quantitative KPIs that includes training and feedback. Managers must feel confident and trained to provide feedback in a constructive manner and in the appropriate place. They must also look for opportunities to reinforce, reward and celebrate accomplishments and, most importantly, provide the role models for the behaviours that build success and trust among team members.

A word of warning, however: if you ask for suggestions or comments be prepared to listen. Workers these days will get tired of employers who pay lip service to their ideas.

The things that engage your people on an on-going basis can be different to the things that made them join you in the first place. Securing their appointment is like a sprint race; continuing to keep them and get the most from them is like a marathon.

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