Friday 5 November 2010

Work: an extension of my personal life

Once upon a time, I had a job. Then I moved up the ladder and got a career. Now with a Blackberry and a laptop with wireless access, I find I'm plugged in and "at it" pretty much 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I no longer have a career; I have a "life style". :-)

Total waking hours available for work per week


95 hours in which you are awake that are available for work.

Okay, I'm not including things like downtime for watching TV or even going to the bathroom. Of course, some of this is up for debate. 2 hours for meals? Ha! Eating at my desk is more like it. And transit may differ for your circumstances.

Number of hours of work per week
So, let's take the 95 hours and compare it to various numbers of work hours per week; this number will change according to the job. A 40 hour work week calculates to 42% of the 95 awake hours you've got. That's 42% of your usable time devoted to your job.

hours per daydaystotal% of available

Depending on your job your times will be different. I've worked at a McDonald's type of job and yes, punch in and punch out at precisely 8 hours with a half an hour off for a meal. Now I'm doing the higher up the ladder thing and 10 or even 12 is not unheard of.

Now picture this: You work at McDonald's and you are spending over a third of your waking time at your job. Get up the ladder and you could be spending two thirds of your waking hours at your job. Wow, that's a lot of time.

In my blog Passion: Can you live without it? I discussed the idea of liking your job, of enjoying your work, of getting a sense of achievement and personal satisfaction from your employ so that is no longer work as it is... well, it could be described as "fun". It becomes, like in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, an activity of self-actualization. It defines who you are and this is very much blurring the lines between work and something of a calling.

As such, working 24 by 7 isn't so much work; you're doing what gives you a sense of purpose in life. Ah, ain't it great having a sense of worth. Yes, we're all just tiny grains of sand on the big beach of life but we can at least feel like we're important grains even if it's a bit of a delusion. :-)

The blurring of work and home
I have 1 email address; it is my work email. Not only do my colleagues use it; the clientele of the company use it. However it extends outside of the office. My family uses it; my relatives use it; my friends use it; my acquaintances use it including my bank, my doctor, my dentist, the car repairman, the plumber and the electrician. In other words, this one email is me, my de facto email address. I do not have a work email and a home email; I just have one.

I have a Blackberry. It is my phone. Everybody from business to family has this number.

When I am at work, I check my Facebook account. On the other hand, when I'm at home I am answering emails from my colleagues at work. Personal stuff at work; business stuff at home.

Yes, here it comes, the but. The company owns my mailbox. They have the right at any time to look at its contents. They can look at any email including emails from my family, my friends and even my dentist.

The company pays my Blackberry bill. The company gets the monthly detailed report on the usage including whom I've phoned and who has phoned me.

The company owns my laptop. Obviously they can take it at any time to examine it.

While the company respects my right to privacy, I did sign on the dotted line to accept the job while agreeing to the terms and conditions; that is accepting the company policies. Yes, I have a reasonable right to my own affairs but at the end of the day, I am using company equipment and there is a written policy which says so. No room for debate. Nothing is up for interpretation.

Am I concerned?
Nope. But then again I'm not downloading entire movies or filling my hard drive with porn or making long distance telephone calls to relatives on the other side of the planet. I do clean out some of the more personal emails but for the most part, my personal activity is pretty innocuous. I doubt I'm going to get arrested for sharing pictures of my Shih Tzus.

I do, however, recognize that as the company demands more from its employees which amounts to work spilling over into their personal time, I know that personal stuff is going to intrude into the work place. With the advent of the Internet, we as a race have given ourselves unprecedented access to both information and communication. As an executive for a company, I approach the problem as giving you a responsibility and it is up to you to take care of that responsibility.

Yes, I do look at personal stuff on the Internet at work. However, I have my browsers set to clear cache on closing and I use CCleaner

Employees are adults
Okay, let me be clear about this. If I was managing a McDonald's outlet where workers were being paid minimum wage, my management method would be completely different. At my current company, the employees are well paid people who are doing a critical type of work which requires a high degree of education and specialized field experience. This type of employee is given a responsibility and they are measured on the results not on the time they spend at their desk. If they can do the task in 10 minutes, good for them. However, if the task is not completed at 5, they are either not going home or they will be completing the task at home after dinner. It's their responsibility. And, by the way, they do just this because they are responsible. However, I will add here that these people work hard and are proud of what they do. They are all 5th level Maslow people.

I am quite sure there is no hard and fast rule that can be applied to all situations. McDonald's is certainly not comparable to my company but I come back to the idea of treating people like adults. Of course there will be abusers; that's a given in any situation but that doesn't mean that the company in demanding more and more from their employees - it ain't a career, it's a life style - can nitpick on personal stuff. I have to phone the wife about when I'm coming home for dinner and the call may lead to something else. My bank is a block from the office; I need to make a visit. It's 3 o'clock; I'm pooped; I get a cup of coffee and take 5 minutes to see what the family has posted on Facebook. Big deal; so shoot me. But I am also the guy answering your email at 11pm because you're trying to complete your own responsibility before tomorrow's deadline.

Employees as Mature adults
As this discussion from 2007 shows some interesting perspectives on the question of monitoring what staff is doing.

This starts with an article by

South Florida Business Journal: Employees accomplish personal tasks at work. Is that OK?
Robin Londner Rothberg - June 7, 2007^1473681

The journalist quotes a study done by Robert Half International of 560 people which discovered that people spend about 36 minutes a day or 3 hours per week doing personal things at work but managers thought they were spending more. The question is raised about why employees are doing or why they think they have to do it and whether this is good or bad.

The discussion of the article shows some interesting perspectives on this phenomenon:

If companies would support flextime, the 3 hours would reduce. I coached a team 2 years ago researching flextime and they confirmed the 3 hour figure. Companies need to calculate the cost of 3 hours per week, per employee. Then there might be motivation to support individual needs for flexibility.

When I was working in an office I'd easily spend about ten hours there. I always went above and beyond, and took initiative to do more than what was expected. I figured it was good for the company if I could whack out a few personal things and get them off my mind to be able to focus better on work. I don't advocate doing things like studying, even if the company is paying for it, on company time, although I had coworkers who were adamant about it. But really, if you expect a lot from me you gotta be a little flexible.

Who cares how much time they spend on "personal" work? If we managed correctly, we would have a clear-cut set of goals and objectives that define increasing levels of output and quality. If the employee achieves those goals, and the goals are appropriate for the responsibility and pay, then I shouldn't care what else is being worked on. Without those goals the employee is often just sitting there staring at a screen, which isn't exactly productive anyway. We just need to learn to manage to what really counts, and "hours in the office" is not one of them.

Results Only Work Environment
As per Wikipedia
ROWE - Results Only Work Environment is a human resource management strategy co-created by Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler wherein employees are paid for results (output) rather than the number of hours worked. Cali and Jody, who originally proposed the strategy at Best Buy, have since started a consulting group called CultureRx. The strategy has subsequently been implemented at a second large American retailer, Gap., as well as the Girl Scouts of San Gorgino, J.A. Counter and Associates, and the Fairview Health Services I.T. Department. ROWE is detailed in Dan Pink's bestselling book DRIVE.

The web site of ROWE is found here and I quote from their About:

ROWE for Employees
ROWE recognizes that life is an individual experience and that no two lives are identical — and leverages this to achieve better performance from each individual. ROWE is not Flextime. ROWE is not Telecommuting. ROWE is not Job‐Sharing. ROWE is not about allowing your people to work from home a couple of days per week.

In a Results-Only company or department, employees can do whatever they want whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. No more pointless meetings, racing to get in at 9:00 am, or begging for permission to watch your kid play soccer. No more cramming errands into the weekend, or waiting until retirement to take up your hobbies again. You make the decisions about what you do and where you do it, every minute of every day.

ROWE for Business
Successfully adopting a Results‐Only Work Environment will position your company to attract and retain talent that will show up energized, disciplined, flexible and focused—ready to deliver all results necessary to drive the business. A ROWE workforce is more efficient, productive and loyal to the organization while also feeling satisfied, fulfilled, and in control of their personal and professional lives.

A Results-Only Work Environment is all about productivity. But more importantly, your workforce will respond to the business as if it were their own. Innovate won’t be a buzzword, it will be what you do. With ROWE you can stop monitoring the hallways and focus your energy on the business.

Are bad things going on at work? Of course, there will always be abusers of the system. But can we get the facts so we can better manage? I found this article:

Yahoo - associated content
Personal Internet Usage in the Workplace - a Serious Epidemic
Heather Tooley - Jan 17/2010

This freelance author gives no statistics, cites no studies and has no legitimate, reliable references to support her claims. This is bad journalism; this is chicken little the sky is falling type of reporting. On top of it, her recommendation is to better use "monitoring software" to oversee employees. What?

True Story
I was contacted years ago by the CIO of a company in Atlanta, Georgia which had a branch office in Toronto. His story involved an employee from my company who had sent an email to an employee of the Atlanta company who worked in this branch office. The email was flagged by their mail system as having questionable content. He wanted to bring this to my attention. I asked to see the email.

Keep in mind that the two men, the employee at my company and the employee at the Atlanta company played golf together regularly. The message in question consisted of a joke about playing golf (I forget what the joke was) and the punch line used the word s**t. That was the word flagged by their system. First of all, I was stunned that this company would set up monitoring software to look for keywords in all emails. Secondly, why are you wasting my time with something as stupidly trivial as this? I always wondered if the next step was to start listening to telephone conversations or to set up a microphone at the water cooler.

I have always voted to never do such a thing at my company. I start with the idea that people are adults. Believe me, there are many other ways of monitoring employees which are far better management techniques than to start relying on some piece of technology to do my monitoring for me. Yes, people have to be managed but is turning your workplace into a 1984 Big Brother is watching you environment the best way, the proper way of doing it?

Final Word
It's not a job; it's not a career; it's a life style. Believe or not, I have received emails (sometimes telephone calls!) from the staff including the executive, the president even the board during the evening and weekends with the expectation that I have an answer. I appreciate that this contact really represents them trying to deal with their own responsibilities.

My world has turned into a global 24 by 7 world. I suppose I could fall back on the idea of better time management but with work demanding more of me, I have to be prepared to be responsive. I note that work doesn't always demand a lot of hours in total; it may just demand that I be ready to answer an email or take a call afterhours. On the flip side of the coin, my work gives me a degree of flexibility: I do need to go to the ATM once in a while to get some cash!

I deal with my own staff by setting goals. I hand out a task and give a due date. From that point onward, I am not standing over their desk making sure they have their nose to the grindstone. What am I dealing with here, a bunch of children? I don't think so. If I'm monitoring anything, I'm monitoring the results and the progress. Unconsciously, I guess I have set up a ROWE, a results only work environment: I know they have families; I know they have a personal life; I know they have "other" responsibilities. However in being flexible with my employees, I have told each one of them that once in a while an emergency, a top priority will cross my desk. When it does and I say, "Jump", I expect each one of them to respond with, "How high?"


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