Work and Life and Everything In Between

My mother, who has dementia, has been living with us now for a week.  

A really really REALLYlong week.

Getting her to Louisiana was neither an easy task not did it occur in a particularly seamless fashion. Over the last month I made two emergency (last-minute) cross-country trips. While some of these travels took place in the friendly skies, there was also a 1,100 mile one-way road trip (with a dog). Fortunately, this afforded the opportunity for a stop at a Waffle House in Mississippi; mom’s very first Waffle House visit and she ordered, of course, a waffle. Next visit, if she doesn’t order it herself, I’m force-feeding her some smothered and covered hash browns. Get with the program mom!

This is but step one of dealing with my aging parents though; plans are also in motion to relocate my dad.

And I, already, am utterly exhausted.

I am also incredibly thankful, every single waking moment of every single day, that I work for an organization (Strio Consulting | Rocket Power) where (a) I am 100% remote and thus can work anywhere/anytime, and (b) we don’t put “rules” around our time off policies. As I recently wrote in the first edition of the employee handbook:“Time off is about the time you need and not about a quota.”

We believe in letting youtake care of you. We want you to take care of yours

Which, despite what every article in Fast Company would have you believe, is still pretty unusual. 

Of course, for years. it has been trendy, fashionable, and #FutureofWork’y for every workplace pundit, thought-leader and speaker-on-the-HR-circuit to lecture everyone else about the needs, wants and desires of employees for a flexible workplace. More often than not these pontifications center around “millennials want this” which, for some inexplicable reason, continues to be spewed forth and gobbled up by eager masses of HR ladies. (I guess anything with “Gen Y” still gets a whole bunch of clicks on the interwebs. Note to self: add #millenial to the SEO tags on this blog post). 

News flash: it’s never been a generational thing.

Listen…I just switched companies/jobs 3 months ago and, were I still working for my former employer, this would not be working out as smoothly as it is. Well, smoothly other than the fact that we had to discuss the year’s snowfall (remember: no snow: Louisiana) 12 times over the course of an hour yesterday.

But, at my previous employer, I would have:

  • had to get pre-approval for the TIME-OFF before scheduling a last-minute (“I need to book this flight NOW”) trip as opposed to booking it at 10 PM at night and then letting folks/TPTB know
  • used up 1/3 of my allotted PTO time for the entire calendar year (holidays included in that PTO balance) by the 2ndweek of January
  • not been able to do this at all because I cannot leave my mother alone in the house …… and I had no opportunity to work from home. We didn’t do it. We didn’t believe in it.  What would I have done? I think about this every single day
  • gone unpaid (after quickly blowing through that PTO balance) had I applied for leave under the FMLA to take care of my mother

The pooch would have been screwed.

There’s something fundamentally wrong with how we, as a society, allow our fellow human beings to handle life, family and health. 

Spending all these years in human resources I have, naturally, helped employees navigate child care, elder care and self-care issues. Sometimes the company I worked for cared and worked diligently to assist everyone no matter the circumstances or their position/level/job. Sometimes, and this was much more common, the company I worked for didn’t give a shit …. unless the employee happened to be the most senior-of-senior-executives. 

I vividly recall an employee, we’ll call her Kathy, who had no choice but to take unpaid FMLA to care for an ailing parent who had been sent home from the hospital. While out on her leave Kathy stayed in touch and one day, when she popped in for a visit to HR, she sat in a chair and sobbed. No income. No money to pay her medical/dental/vision plan contributions. No money to pay her utility bills or buy gas for her car. My heart hurt.

It’s for reasons like this that we need programs like those put forthby California Governor Gavin Newsom; his proposal expands California’s PFL so that it becomes the longest paidparental and family leave in the U.S. 

Let’s get our stuff together people of the U.S; this is a travesty.

*******

image: MaxPixel

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I Refuse to Maintain the Status Quo

I dare say that most humans are creatures of habit and routine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; in our hurly-burly lives it’s nice to rely on muscle-memory so we can drive the same daily route to the office or know that Friday evening will inevitably be comprised of pizza, pajamas and movies. The usual and ordinary tasks we have are pretty straightforward when we do them the way we’ve always done them.

Naturally this tendency to adhere to the tried-and-true carries over into our work life. Whether we’re cranking out TPS reports or processing journal entries we get into the flow and rhythm. This is also a good thing. People who take comfort in the unremarkable may find a sense of peace cranking through mundane tasks. And for those folks who chafe at “sameness” day-after-day, entering automatron mode allows them to churn through the repetitious soul-crushing chores that exist in every job.

Now envision a department filled with people simultaneously jogging on the procedural treadmill as they push out the same reports, take the same phone calls, and sit in the same meetings week after week. Picture rows upon rows of cubicles. Department after department. Floor upon floor. A humungous organization located in either a suburban office park or on a busy street in a bustling urban city center.

Certainly all those workers are providing some sort of value as they strive to meet organizational goals while, undoubtedly, participating in the latest Corporate (HR) program-of-the-month designed to simultaneously boost engagement, track OKRs, and determine annual compensation increases?

There may be a fancy new name to this program-of-the-month but, let’s be real –  it’s the same old state of affairs.

And when you’re part of an existing entity, whether that be your job/company or your personal life/family, there’s an incentive to maintain the status quo.

It’s easy.

It’s cozy.

It’s safe.

And while human resources professionals are particularly adept at (and quite fond of!) maintaining the status quo, we are not alone amongst our corporate brothers and sisters.  In the corporate setting we’re often more keenly focused on reducing risk rather than setting our sights on maximizing potential.

So we make the “safe” hire. We stick to the same procedures whilst also building additional steps and creating complexity for the most insignificant processes (“let’s have the SENIOR Director sign off for all office supply purchases too!”). We rely on last year’s numbers (and the year before and the year before that). We look backward (only) instead of looking forward. We research other companies’ ‘best practices’ instead of designing our own ‘NEXT practices.’

We stay on the hamster wheel.

I get it. I totally get it.

But as for me? I want to try new things. I don’t want to settle for merely doing what’s easy, comfortable and that-which-has-come-before.

I refuse to maintain the status quo.

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Your Company’s “Management Culture Number”

If there’s one word that every HR practitioner (and every employment attorney for that matter) would spend good money to have embroidered on a custom-made throw pillow to keep in their office it would be “document.”  Good grief how we love to talk about documentation.

  • Having a coaching session with Bob about his slovenly attire? Document.
  • Discussing Polly’s tendency towards tardiness every Monday morning? Document.
  • Making it crystal clear to Sean that his continued use of the “f” word in customer meetings is not appropriate? Document.

But mere documentation and note-taking won’t do of course. Every HR Department on earth has created its own form to use for the documentation process and, depending upon the style of the HR leader and the culture of the company, they’ve devised catchy names like:

  • Employee Counseling Form
  • Coaching Conversation Form
  • Corrective Action Report
  • Corrective Action Notice ( a.k.a. “CAN” )
  • Employee Warning Notice
  • Memorandum to Employee File
  • Record of Counseling
  • Employee Discipline Form
  • Progressive Discipline Form

Lots and lots of euphemisms devised by HR teams for a form that signifies “you’ve done something we don’t like so we’re going to write it on a piece of paper and put it in your permanent file!!”

And then, of course, there are increasing levels of severity for various infractions so the CAN may have checkboxes to distinguish whether this piece of paper being generated is a:

  • Counseling
  • Verbal Warning
  • Verbal Written Warning
  • Written Warning
  • Final Written Warning
  • Last and Final Written Warning

Having been duly instructed by their HR partners, supervisors and managers churn these forms out at a furious pace. “Uh oh; Susie didn’t hit the requisite number of minutes on the phone today in her call center position. I better ‘write her up!’ (note: if there is one phrase that sets my teeth on edge it’s “write him/her up.”)

In some organizations it is a cyclonic whirling maelstrom of paper as managers compete with each other to win the organizational Gold Medal for number of pieces of documentation generated. File folders overflow. Spreadsheets are overloaded.

If you work in HR though you can make a bit of a game out of it AND toss around some numbers that will delight and impress.  I give you an easy equation that will tell you a lot about the management culture/state of affairs at your organization:

 

Management Culture Number

total number of discipline notices (divided by) total number of employees = MCN

 

Let’s toss a few examples out, shall we? (Remember that CAN = Corrective Action Notice; I have to use that one because it is just too precious):

  • Company with 150 employees; 10 CANs = 0.067 MCN
  • Company with 1,000 employees; 200 CANs = 0.2 MCN
  • Company with 5,000 employees; 4,762 CANs = 0.95 MCN

Note: this doesn’t mean, in the last example, that 95% of the employees received some sort of documented discipline; it might be that 40% of employees had multiple instances of documentation.

You can easily run this number over any period of time; per week, month, quarter, or year. It’s a number that can tell you any manner of things:

  • Perhaps you’ve just instituted a policy outlining some type of new behavioral expectation and either employees don’t understand it or managers have not communicated the expectations clearly
  • You may have production or performance measures that are either unrealistic or easy to manipulate. Think about this in the context of a call-center (calls-per-hour) or a warehouse (pick-and-pack and throughput) where employees either have difficult targets to hit or, conversely, targets they can manipulate so that when production slacks it’s noticeable and leads to documentation.

Sometimes though an overabundance of documentation means that leaders are managing by pen and paper as opposed to managing by conversation.

Yup; that management culture number can explain a lot of things.

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Longing to Belong

I’ve recently found myself diving into multiple conversations, online and off, about “belonging” at work. I’ve been reading articles and news stories about the topic, veered off course in a twitter chat about Diversity & Inclusion yesterday, and have spent a bit of time gauging the climate at my own workplace by observing, asking questions and reviewing some of the norms embedded in our workplace DNA.

Here on the home front I’ve been looking at things like (1) do we let employees express their thoughts and opinions? (2) how are we recognizing people for their accomplishments? (3) do individuals feel valued – not just for their job performance but do they feel valued as unique contributors? (4) are we allowing people to use their special skills and talents in ways that make them “come alive” but also bring a positive impact to the business?

Then last night I read this article – Nearly half of LGBTQ Americans haven’t come out at work – and it’s pretty heartbreaking. In the survey cited in the article, 46% of LGBTQ workers say they are closeted at work and 31`% of LGBTQ workers say they have felt unhappy or depressed at work.  Per the survey, the top reason LGBTQ workers don’t report negative comments they hear about LGBTQ people to a supervisor or human resources is the belief that nothing would be done about it and they don’t want to hurt their relationships with coworkers.” (The full report, A Workplace Divided: Understanding the Climate for LGBTQ Workers Nationwide, can be found here.) 

I also, recently, had the chance to do an episode of WorkHuman Radio with my friends at Globoforce (you can find the link to the show and my related musings here). During the radio chat we talked about operating from a core belief that all people (employees) are entering your company with an innate desire to do their best work. Yet, in our organizational zeal to “win,” I find that we often set up so many roadblocks and obstacles that we demoralize and un-empower those same folks we say we want to “include.” I think there can be a shift though if we (1) Promote values of confidence, freedom, and trust in order to provide a safe environment for employees to learn, create, and collaborate (2) create a workplace that recognizes each employee’s unique contribution, even when their personalities or styles may be a bit quirky.

Yes; “belonging” at work has been consuming my mind. This post is pretty much just me thinking aloud because I’m continuously planning the next steps of the journey. It’s a trip we need to take.

People are longing to belong.

 

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Ass in Chair, Inc.

Right now, as you’re reading this, people around the world are sitting in their offices. They have a desk, chair, phone and a computer with a monitor. Maybe two monitors if they either work in IT or are sufficiently high enough on the corporate food chain to get the requisition approved that uses valuable budget dollars to appropriate a second monitor.

The lucky ones have a cup of coffee, a can of Diet Coke or a packet of M&Ms within arm’s reach. Not everyone is afforded that luxury however; there are plenty of workplaces that don’t allow the worker bees to have any beverage or food at their desks. I’ve heard tales from one company in the UK that maintains such a policy although they do permit each employee to have a 500ml bottle of water. With an eye towards an aesthetically pleasing uniformity, all the bottles match.

Closer to home I’ve had conversations with numerous folks who are confined to a desk or cubicle with no ability to keep sustenance close at hand. The general corporate blather, usually passed on from HR, is (a) “we want you to relax and take a well-deserved break at lunch!” (wellness blah blah blah) or (b) “we want the facility to look nice when clients come to visit.” (even though no clients ever actually do come to visit).

I also continue to talk with an alarming number of people who, while perfectly content to head to the break room to grab an energy bar during the mid-afternoon slump, are rarely even afforded that opportunity. There are employees (start time 8 AM!) whose log-in at their workstation is immediately viewable by the department manager; they best be logged-in and ready to roll by 7:59 AM or discipline shall ensue!

  • Have to void your bladder? Sorry; you need to wait until break time at 10:15 AM.
  • Need to get to your doctor’s office by 4:30 PM because they close at 5 PM? Sorry; you’re expected to be at your desk until 4:30 PM. Unless you request and are approved for a full day of PTO you’re not going to be able to make that happen.
  • You want to take call from your kids when they get home safely from school in the afternoon? Sorry; no cell phone use is allowed at your desk. We require you to drop your phone off in the morning and you can retrieve it during breaks or at lunch time. (note: I wrote about a company doing this in 2013; 5 years later and I recently heard of a manager who is contemplating instituting this practice)
  • Christmas Eve and all of the customers, partners and 3rd party vendors you work with are off the grid? Sorry; this is not an official Holiday so you’re expected to be at your desk until the office closes at 5 PM. No; we will not be closing early.
  • What’s that you say? You can get your work done at home? You have a phone and an internet connection? Sorry; we don’t allow anyone to work from home and all employees must report to the office by 8 AM.

Welcome to Ass in Chair, Inc.

 

#culture101

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