26 November 2010

The Risks of Clock-Watching

Source: www.tonystone.com
You've gotta hand it to the Aussies.  They've honed work-life balance to a fine art.

A recent study by The Australian Institute has unearthed a shocking statistic: every year, Australian workers are 'donating' more than A$70 billion (no typo here) to their employers in terms of unpaid overtime.

"That's a very generous gift," observes Dr Richard Dennis, executive director of the think-tank, "and our employers have taken, gotten into the habit of accepting it."  He goes on to say that slashing overtime would create some 400,000 extra jobs in Australia -- and improve the health of workers.

According to the study, some 80% of Australians who work overtime want shorter working hours.  Since full-time workers want to work a lot less and part-time and casual workers want to work a lot more, the study explores the idea of capping the working week at 35 hours, and recommends sweeping changes that would better match the preferences of employees and employers alike.

Which is all well and good for hourly-rated workers.  If you're flipping burgers or are a brick-layer or vehicle mechanic, you deserve an honest day's wage for an honest day's work.

But what if intellectual capital is your stock-in-trade?  What if you're a legal intern, an advertising copywriter, or industrial designer?  What if your job can't be easily confined to an 8-hour window?

Are only 20% of the jobs in Australia of this variety?  What does this stat say of the chances of companies retaining a competitive advantage?

Fact is, organizations live and die on the strength of the talent coursing through their corridors. What then can organizations do to ensure their employees are engaged, energized and equipped to succeed?  A few pointers come to mind:

1. In an age where roles and management structures are loosely defined, jobs are dispersed and alliances keep shifting, brands are emerging as the most significant spiritual, emotional and cultural glue that an organization has remaining to stabilize, focus and inspire an educated workforce.

2. Recognise that different skills are needed to lead and motivate a geographically dispersed, remote workforce than those required for close-quarter management. The more dispersed your team, the more directive you should be.

3. Organizations are traditionally good at doling out responsibility -- but chronically deficient at taking it away. Don't just focus on what your people should start doing; dig deeper to define what they should stop doing as well.

4. Find out what turns the crank of your employees.  It might be an inspiring credo like "Do no evil"; free perks like day-care and laundry services, and the best employee cafeteria on the planet; or the permission to spend 20% of your working hours on pet projects which may not yet have proven commercial viability (all of which, by the way, describe the cocoon of the Google employee).  Or, as Google as effectively admitted by giving employees across the board a 10% salary increase, it might come down to pure cash.

The bottom line is this: When you're really into something, you don't notice the (passing of) time. It behooves employees to find some purpose in their profession. And it behooves employers to give them a reason to do so.