The Twenty Minute Difference: A Case Study in Manager Flexibility

Managers – What are you thinking?

I have a great deal of respect for Managers. I know how tough it is to be one – I was there for many years.  Juggling the pressures of the job and managing people, who all have their own personalities, development desires, work habits, and expectations is one huge difficult task. As rewarding as it can often be, it is a big, big job.

Yet often times I cannot believe how foolish some managers can be, and how inept they are at building an environment of high productivity and trust.

But I have to say that I also am thinking, “Come on, people. Does this really make sense?”

A new client shared with me the primary reason she is looking for another job.

Before I tell you why, let me offer a bit of context.

My client, let’s call her Janice, has been working for EnergyAlive (fictitious name) for over eight years, and has been promoted three times into a Manager position. She is very well-liked, very smart, and has received consistently high performance ratings. (That’s why she was promoted).

So, what’s the problem?   

A new Director (Mason) recently came on board into the company. Within a few weeks, all of a sudden, everything changed. There is a problem.

Janice wants out – NOW.  She is seriously looking for another job.

Why is something that was going so right, all of a sudden going so wrong?

  Janice has a young son, John. John attends kindergarten nearby and goes to   after school care so that Janice can pick him up at 5:00pm every day after she leaves work.

Janice’s previous Director had given her the flexibility to leave 20 minutes early each day so that she could reach the daycare center on time to pick up her son. Janice usually took shorter lunches and was a hard worker so it all worked out.

Janice was grateful because it often took up to an hour, with traffic, to reach the daycare center. She greatly appreciated her Director’s faith in her to get the job done even though she had to leave a little early. She worked hard to show that appreciation.

Mason arrives as the new Director. He is gung-ho to “make his mark”.

Mason has a different idea of what the “rules” are.   

In plain English, Mason doesn’t believe in flexibility. He has laid down the law that Janice must stay at work until 4:30pm just as her hours dictate.

Janice now has a new worry every day – a big one. If she can’t make it to the daycare center by 5:00pm, she gets charged for an extra two hours because the daycare manager wants to close up at 5:00.

So what is happening?  Janice is stressed out every day. She rushes into her car and drives (perhaps a bit too fast) to get to the daycare center as quickly as possible – and rarely makes it on time. So along with the added stress, Janice also now has a much bigger daycare bill.

Janice now has a chip on her shoulder about the company (and Mason).  Are you surprised?

What used to be a very productive and positive relationship between Janice and EnergyAlive, has all of a sudden become a very tense and negative one.

I see this as Penny Wise and Pound Foolish.

No, I take that back. I don’t even see this as Penny WiseIt is just plain foolish.

  • EnergyAlive has already lost an excellent employee. Janice will be gone soon. She has excellent skills and can bring those skills elsewhere.
  • Janice knows the company (and its customers) very well.  She used to have respect for EnergyAlive and its services, and really put in 110% effort to do a good job. Not anymore. Why should she care about them when they don’t care about her?
  • It will cost EnergyAlive several thousand dollars to hire and retrain and onboard a new manager to take Janice’s place. Usually this takes up to 8 months or more. There will be lost time and perhaps a big slip in customer service.
  • Janice’s co-workers know what’s going on and are also ticked off. They feel for Janice and can’t understand why Mason can’t be reasonable. It doesn’t bother them that Janice used to leave 20 minutes early. They like having her as their manager. She treats them with respect.
  • Mason is standing firm, because he doesn’t want to ‘lose face’. (He doesn’t realize he has already lost it)

Have you seen these types of situations arise? Have you been involved in one? It’s quite amazing how a change in the Director position has created such a negative impact on the employees and the company within a few short weeks.

Where is HR? Is anyone paying attention?  Who is coaching Mason that he may be establishing a reputation in the company that might eventually cause his derailment?  What’s fair? What’s reasonable?  What makes sense?

Twenty minutes of flexibility. Is this too much to ask?

Important things to think about.

As a manager and leader – how will YOU handle these issues?

A report by Sodexo (has approximately 125,000 employees in North America alone) in 2012 shows employers need to think beyond the business and outside the traditional office setting to create an engaged, productive workforce*.

*2012 Workplace Trends Report: Integration, Flexibility and Wellness Top Drivers of Employee Engagement *

“…Because recession or not, the U.S. still has a skilled worker shortage.  As the economy picks up and the boomers finally do retire, it is only going to get a whole lot worse.  Companies that get ahead and build real cultures of workplace flexibility are going to have the staffing advantage and the competitive edge.

“Flex is no longer an ’employee benefit’.  Those days are gone.  Today it is an all-around public policy issue and bottom-line corporate strategy.”

Sodexco’s research predicts continued focus on well-being and the ability to deliver a unique value proposition to business communities that focuses on not only integrated, effective and efficient use of space, but also the performance of human capital. Employees are looking to organizations for tools and resources to help them simplify their lives, stay healthy and balanced, and bring their “whole self” to work as these continue to be top drivers of engagement.”

Terry Del Percio is a Career Transition and Workplace Consultant based out of Beverly, MA. Follow her on Twitter at @WorkIntegrity or visit her website at www.workstrategies.com  

Your Mobile Phone: A Tool for Mindfulness

I am sure you have heard the term ‘mindfulness’. It is tossed about frequently these days. I’m glad of that, since it seems the idea is making its way into the mainstream. That’s a good thing, in my humble eyes.

Mindfulness refers to being completely in touch with the present moment, as well as taking a non-evaluative and non-judgmental approach to your inner experience.

For example, a mindful approach to one’s inner experience is simply viewing “thoughts as thoughts” as opposed to evaluating thoughts as positive or negative. http://bit.ly/9rxspw

Mindfulness plays a central role in the teaching of Buddhist meditation. Buddhism is a philosophy that began in India in the 6th century and is becoming increasingly accepted in western culture.

Although Dr. David Rock wrote in Psychology Today that he has a problem with mindfulness being linked to any religion, because he worries that people will ignore it simply for that reason, his piece is full of useful information and I encourage you to take a peek.

Dr. Rock believes that as we get older, we resist learning new things. I’m not sure I agree, but his blog is definitely worth reading, especially if you are interested in the health benefits of mindfulness.

The best statement in Dr. Rock’s post is that ‘even the most cynical, anti-self-awareness agitator can’t help but see that they will be better off practicing this skill (mindfulness)’.

Okay – since I believe that we become more open-minded as we get older, let me briefly introduce the idea of Buddhism. Are you with me?

The Buddha, many centuries ago, identified Four Noble Truths as the foundation of this spiritual practice.

See if you can relate to any of these Four Noble Truths.

1. Life is full of suffering

2. Craving and desire is the cause of suffering.

3. Craving and desire can come to an end, therefore ending our suffering

4. The way to end suffering is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration

This is a lot to digest at one sitting. So let’s just focus on one small aspect.

To practice Right Livelihood means to use the practice of mindfulness to address the problems of daily life, including work.

Take telephone meditation, for example.  This can be a very important practice for you, if you’ll try it.

When the phone rings (yes, even your mobile phone), try hearing it as a bell of mindfulness. Are you giggling yet? Experiencing some discomfort at the thought of a new perspective?

Stop what you are doing and breathe in and out deeply and consciously three times before you pick up the phone.

Alert: I bet this will be very difficult for you to do. Please tell me if you can do it the next time the phone rings.

If you choose to practice this, I wonder if your phone calls will take on a different tone. What do you think?

I’m curious to hear how you do.

Making Space for Change

Some things are so simple that we overlook them. In the fifteen years that I have been working with clients who are working towards a Career Transition or Reinvention, one very simple issue comes up over and over again – the need to make space for change.

We tend to assume that if we want to change something, and we learn the tools to make progress, it will just happen. Nope.

Clients put lots of energy into learning techniques of self-marketing, repositioning themselves and gaining expertise in various areas and even forcing themselves to learn how to be comfortable network. It takes a lot of emotional and practical energy to build and polish all the skills necessary to make significant career change – even if the desired goal is another job in a similar role, it’s not easy, especially in the current job market.

Why do clients come to me every week and express frustration because they feel like they are spinning their wheels and not making enough progress to believe they can actually make this happen?

Simple. They don’t make make space for change.

If your days are already filled to 120% capacity of what one human being is capable of doing, what makes you think you can add more? You can’t.

If you work 10 hours per day, eat dinner and take care of the kids (or grandchildren), go to the board meeting, fix the doghouse, work on the budget spreadsheet before you go to bed and get up at 6:00am to start all over again, what makes you think that you can recreate your professional identity, and explore other career opportunities? You can’t.

That is, you CAN, but you must make space for change.

Probably the most important thing you need to do in order for your life to be different is to make space for change. That means you have to make some tough choices about what you are going to STOP doing, so that you can do something different. (make sense?)

What will you say “no” to? What are you willing to postpone? What do you have to communicate to your loved ones to help you make space for change? What will you give up in your life so that new good stuff can come in?

There are many good reasons for realizing that it’s time for change in your life. Dawn Rosenberg McKay lists several good reasons to consider a job change in her blog “Six Reasons To Make a Career Change“. In my opinion, the best test is if your gut keeps nagging you that it’s time.

I propose that the most important gift you will ever give yourself is to make space for change. Not only for career transition, but for just about anything you want your life to become.

Are you willing to make space for change?