There are some characteristics in the modern workplace that I cling to and are a given if the objective is to be part of a successful organisation; Punctuality, accountability and reliability immediately spring to mind. But nonsensical working hours, weekend and vacation impingement (no fakecations) are ones I have avoided for years.
Unsurprisingly then, I was inspired this week by a really interesting book - It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work - by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried, founders of Basecamp - a US Tech stay up, about the importance of the age-old conundrum of work/life balance or more specifically, avoiding “traditional” working practices.
Always on 24/7?
I am astounded how many age-old working practices continue to exist in the largest of corporations. We have a choice and not only should we not work in those conditions anymore, put simply, we don’t have to. 24x7 working and “hustling yourself to the max” just isn’t necessary. Some will argue that it never was.
Hustlemania shows no signs of abating. I interviewed for a very senior GM role at the beginning of this year. Where it all went south for me followed the pivotal, defining question I was asked: “how do you relax?” For me, it’s usually the middle of the evening, at weekends and with frequent vacations complete with no intrusions. I held up my smartphone and said, “and this little fella stays off at weekends and at home when I am away”. The silence was audible, you know, that moment when it’s so quiet you can hear that faint ringing in your ears as the metaphorical tumbleweed blew across the room. Wow! Later that day I spoke to the man who is now my current CEO, who couldn’t do a catch-up call at 17:00 because he was off to Metafit workout. Ok. Sounds like a culture I could readily embrace, job done, decision made.
And yet, almost all of my line managers going back well into the last century have perpetuated working practices that date to the 1980s, albeit with a modern twist. “Always on” and the outwork myth of a strong correlation between work ethic and hours worked has usually proliferated.
One recent disciple of this way of working wouldn’t think twice about calling at 8 in the evening or insisting on calling in from his sun-kissed lounger by the pool in a different continent and time zone, even though he was understandably not up to speed with recent events or facts. He then gloriously fed (his version of the facts) up the management chain, thereby unleashing the inevitable tsunami of activity upon himself and the rest of us. Happy Days. He was also a great proponent of the pull-off methodology: pulling people from crisis project to crisis project before the first was done and always to detrimental effect. After a continuous whirlwind of chaos, I decided to go and do something more meaningful in what I now see as that “epiphany moment”.
When trust works
More enlightened managers embrace more modern working practices, usually to great effect. Trust Battery is important to these individuals. They operate on the premise that whenever somebody joins their organisation their battery is charged at 50%. The charge is then increased or decreased dependent on whether they deliver on their promises. I have been fortunate enough to work for 2-3 of this type of execs and inspiration comes from being trusted to get on with the task in hand. Higher self-esteem occurs from increased motivation and self-actualization, leading to increased productivity and performance. Maslow was right after all with his theory of motivation, the only thing missing from his triangle as we all know, is Wi-Fi.
I am not sure whether eight’s enough and 40’s plenty. There are times when it isn’t (this morning started with a 05:25 alarm call) and whilst I am often up with the lark, I seldom embrace it warmly. However, it’s a balance and I wouldn’t think twice about going to the gym during the day either. We all have a responsibility to get stuff done, but should always be mindful of the consequences of doing so if time and effort is not reined in. Hit anything with the metaphorical “Ten kg hammer” and the laws of physics dictate that there will be a reciprocal reaction, with that momentum returned with interest.
A duty of care
For those that have been familiar with my good self for a few years, fear not. I have not become “zen like” or morphed into a perennial slacker. I haven’t ordered table football or beanbags for the office. I might have shifted from a suit to jeans with a nice tan brogue and be concerned what to do with the largest tie collection in the North West, but, my ideals of what “good looks like” remain. I never subscribed to the presence prison with office omnipresence dictated by the powerful person in the corner who was always first in the office car park, 2 slots from the front door. I hate calendar tetris in large Corporates where everybody else is trying to slice and dice your week to the extent that it is not your own with little time to breathe. It’s no fun on the other side of the desk either. I once watched one UK MD reading emails simultaneously whilst we were engaged in our monthly 1-2-1! But, I have always believed that there are alternative cultures that could be purveyed if leaders were brave enough to embrace it. All organizations sit in the shadow of their leadership as we know.
I’m not sure that the perfect work environment does or even can ever exist. An oasis of calm is surely never possible in any sales office. There are, however, alternatives to the working customs that exist in the majority of large corporations today. These organizations have a duty of care (to change) not just to their current employees, but more importantly, to their employees of tomorrow. There is a whole generation of talent that categorically will not embrace outdated cultures belonging to a different century. In fact, future prosperity, even survival, might just depend on this propensity to change.
“we love work, but we love life too…”