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.

My Way or the Highway: Oh, Really?

Marsha is an incredibly talented business development executive. She’s an independent thinker and a real go-getter. She makes things happen.

Marsha has put together complex multi-million dollar deals that involve the government, global utility companies, private industry etc. On top of all that, she is highly experienced and savvy in the alternative energy industry space.

Marsha was recently recruited into a well-positioned alternative energy start-up. They pursued her with a vengeance because of her reputation and industry knowledge.

The VP advocated strongly for hiring her and fought to make an exception to the “standard” offer. They considerably jacked up the base salary and incentive structure to make it happen. Everything fell into place – Marsha received an incredibly lucrative offer.

Sounds like a happy story, right?

Well… there has been a new development. Marsha has been there for six weeks. When I spoke to her, the first sentence out of her mouth was “I’ve got a big problem here. I’m not sleeping and I find myself experiencing a lot of anxiety. My gut is telling me there is something very wrong.”

What was the problem? Here is the down and dirty.

  • Boss assumes everyone is available until all hours of the night and sends emails expecting an immediate response.

[By the way, Marsha has a full personal life with many family responsibilities and community interests]

  • Boss believes in the traditional method of volume calls to create qualified leads and wants to see the ‘numbers’ every day. He sees business development as sales.

[By the way, Marsha has a different style of developing business with a focus on relationships that build over time. Her approach has led to numerous multi-million dollar deals.}

  • Boss is hyperactive and often rude, pointing at people (including Marsha) and publicly saying he wants to see MORE, MORE, MORE and FASTER, FASTER, FASTER.

[By the way, Marsha expects to be treated with respect, just as she treats all of her colleagues, and feels insulted by the way the boss is communicating.]

There’s more, but you get the picture.

The bottom line is that unless the boss changes his communication style and becomes more open-minded about how his staff gets the work done, he is going to lose a very talented person, and fast.

Who really loses?  I say the organization loses in the long run.  If Marsha could bring in a couple of multi-million dollar deals within a year, is it worth losing her because she has a different approach?

Patty Inglish noted in a short piece entitled “Top Ten Reasons Why Employees Quit” that the reasons most people quit their jobs include:

a) Lack of autonomy and respect

b) Health problems or burnout

(note: the article is from 2007 but is still applicable)

In this economy there aren’t too many blogs being written about employees quitting their jobs because so many fear being unemployed.  But don’t let that fear fool you. When talented people feel unreasonably pushed and not respected, they’ll leave as soon as they can.

Marsha has a responsibility in this situation too. She needs to communicate what the problem is in a way that doesn’t put the boss in a defensive stance and allows them both to see the benefit of working this out. But not at the expense of her health or her family.

The boss has more “organizational power” but Marsha has personal power…she is ready to walk because she is confident that she can take her talents elsewhere.  I would bet that Marsha is right.

Leaders, listen up: Assess your tendency to take the  “My way or the highway” approach. In the end, you could be biting off your nose to spite your face.

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Have you ever been in a situation like this? What was your experience? I’d love to hear from both leaders and employees.

Please leave your comments by clicking on the “Leave a Comment” phrase written below (in very small print). Thanks for reading.

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?

We must find a way out of here

In the past two weeks alone, I have seen three new clients whose primary complaint is the increasing volume of work expected of them without additional resources. In other words, these clients find themselves doing the work of two or three people as opposed to the one person they are. Often, it is impossible to accomplish everything that is expected. A very common complaint. It seems to be getting worse.

Too many clients are saying, “All of a sudden I am being questioned as to why project deadlines aren’t being met. This never happened to me before. It’s not like I am a slacker; I believe in hard work and take pride in results. No one acknowledges that in the past week, I was pulled into five unexpected emergency situations and had to attend an extraordinary number of ‘mandatory’ meetings. Everything is a priority. How can one person do all of this in a normal work week”?

There are two simple things I’d like to put on the table about this issue.

One is directed towards leaders and managers. If you care about retaining valuable employees (you’ll need them desperately in the coming years if you are up on worker statistics), get real about your expectations. People are only human. You may be willing to work 18 hours per day/ 7 days per week and disregard other aspects to life, but most people want to work hard and then spend time with their families or with other interests.

Free time actually helps employees be more productive and loyal to the company cause. Studies have shown that people think more creatively if they have some room to breathe and play. Suggestion: Read the book A Whole New Mind or A Whack on the Side of the Head. You may not know it, but your employees would jump ship in a second if they had a good offer. This puts YOU at a competitive disadvantage.

Two is directed towards people who find themselves caught in this trap. You like your work, you want to work hard and and get positive results, but you can’t seem to do enough to please the powers that be. In order to accomplish every expectation, you’d have to work at least 16 hours per day and put in some hours at home every weekend.

Your kids want to have you attend their programs, your partner wants to get to know you again. You have other interests that need time and attention. You’d like to relax and enjoy life once in a while. TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR OWN WORK LIFE. First, communicate often with your boss. If they are reasonable people, plan out an approach to talk about realities. Work with your coach to find the right approach. If no one listens, strategize a plan to network and find other organizations who have cultures that really support work-life balance. It’s not easy – but you can pull yourself out of this trap and make a transition. Don’t make rash decisions, strategize carefully.

Life is short. Reclaim your spirit. Don’t let work become a prison sentence. You are too talented and have too much to offer to settle for that kind of disrespect. Other organizations could use your talents. Get help with this transition process – it’s not easy, especially in these uncertain economic times, but it CAN be done successfully.