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What is it about organisations that keeps them from adapting to the changing lifestyles and career aspirations of their employees?
Employee needs and consequently their tolerance of traditional management are changing fundamentally. Attitudes, commitment and loyalty to work and single employer have altered significantly.
Modern employees want satisfaction, challenge, fun and the opportunity for personal growth.
Where’s the evidence? Aside from the countless unhappy Dilbert lookalikes we can all name, recent Gallup research found only 20 percent of employees felt their strengths were being played to every day!
Employer are battling increasing staff turnover and absenteeism accompanied by lower productivity and morale – the list goes on.
Combined with global talent shortage, the challenge for organisations is to create environments reflecting employee values and desires to stop them looking for greener pastures.
Alarming though it is to think you might be operating at 20 percent capacity this is an opportunity.
Changing the way we manage work doesn’t mean compromising business goals – in fact the opposite is true. It is response that could enhance performance.
Where would you start? As good place as any is reviewing the workplace and work practices.
Begin with the end in mind – what issues do you and your people have – what would you most like to see changed.
Use surveys, exit interviews, focus groups – whatever is needed – to identify the barriers to employee participation and satisfaction.
A note of caution – don’t ask unless you’re prepared to act on the answers.
Successful and sustainable change must be rooted in change of culture and an acceptance that the way people are managed will change. This last point is especially true of managers.
When AMP Australia won an Australasian Corporate Work and Family Award in 1998 one thing it did was to analyse leadership styles and document the behaviour it expected from managers to support change.
Take look at general workplace practices – what is the working culture of your organisation? When is it acceptable for an employee to leave?
How acceptable is it for employees to take an hour or so to attend an important event with their children or to take them to swimming lesson?
How varied is the nature and scope of jobs? How acceptable is it to make mistakes and consequently to learn something?
Some employers have developed protocols and guidelines to ensure reasonable working hours. Some allow employees to reconcile work and non-work responsibilities through measures such as family friendly policies and job rotation schemes.
Give consideration to part-time opportunities and job sharing. Sure there are additional issues to consider, but the benefits significantly outweigh any potential disadvantages.
Not all roles can be accommodated using these policies but many can, although different set of skills are needed to manage employees that can’t be seen all the time.
When AMP in Australia introduced flexible work it included evening and weekend work in some of its customer service areas where the majority of employees were women. Its research showed more than 60 percent of working parents saw evening and weekend work as desirable.
Another popular option is longer working days over shorter week – eg four 10-hour days. I can hear the cries already – what about profitability? What about management control?
This is not about compromising business objectives – it’s about fixing what is increasingly identified as significant barrier to improved performance.
What are the potential returns?
Giving employees more flexibility and control of their working lives increases the chance of retaining the experience and knowledge you’ve paid to develop – not to mention the likely increase in productivity and loyalty.
Companies with more generous and flexible time and leave policies have seen more satisfied employees and reduced sick leave. People that feel valued and trusted are less likely to leave if they feel temporary crisis may be accommodated. These all add up to healthier bottom-line.
What works in one situation might not be right for another – and people should be prepared to experiment. If it doesn’t work go back to the status quo or try different approach – the worst thing you can do is nothing.
Research tells us the trends mentioned above will continue so we ignore them at our peril.

Bronwyn Alexander is consultant with the organisational performance consultancy, The Empower Group.

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