Yesterday, as is often the case, there was a good discussion in the HR Open Source Facebook Group. A group member posed a question stating she was looking for creative ideas as her company wants to offer additional benefits/perks beyond the basics (medical/dental/vision). Members of the community chimed in with all sorts of ideas including:
Commuter benefits (i.e. train or bus pass)
Time off to volunteer
Wellness Days off (i.e. go and take care of preventative wellness appointments)
A book benefit (company pays for book on a professional development topic; the readers writes a review to share with co-workers)
Discount movie tickets, amusement park tickets, etc.
Onsite massages, oil changes, car washes, and teeth whitening
Student loan repayments
Milk Stork (ships milk home for breastfeeding moms who are traveling)
Nice. Real nice.
Interestingly enough I recently had several conversations with business owners and HR leaders posing the exact opposite question:
“We need to save some money and are wondering which of our existing benefits we can eliminate without too much fuss from employees.”
Items potentially on their chopping blocks included:
Paid Time Off (PTO)
Employer provided Short Term and Long Term Disability coverage
Ah yes; the great divide.
Alpha Companies are taking the approach that we all like to think we can take; crafting a total rewards program that is designed to not only recruit and retain but also to delight, excite and energize. Does cost factor in to the equation? Of course it does; but there’s analysis (and sometimes just sheer gut-feel) that stuff like this is worth it.
Omega Companies, on the other hand, have decided to approach the design of their benefit offerings in the same manner in which they decide to purchase 2-ply vs. 1-ply toilet paper. Supply their staff with generic ball points or fancy liquid roller ball pens. Determine whether their pay will match or lag the market. (No leading the market with this group).
The Omega Companies simply want to push the limit by asking:
“How much can we take away before our current employees either stop performing or leave?”
“How little can we offer before our applicant pool dries up?”
“How much are we willing to risk that we won’t be able to innovate or grow revenue because we can’t even attract the people who will make that happen?”
And that’s …. OK. It’s the real world. Oh sure, in some cases there are business owners being assholes and treating people as disposable widgets in the great scheme of keeping the ginormous corporation humming along. In other instances there are challenges being faced in order to keep a business running in the first place; although, come to think of it, how is it that newly-minted start-ups and/or small businesses with, one would assume, less cash flow, seem to offer the best benefits around? Maybe it IS more about the a-hole factor….?
Alpha vs. Omega.
There’s an attraction/retention battle for you.
Head on over to the HR Open Source site to check out the case studies, Sparks and other great content. And join us in the Facebook group referenced above; you’ll love it.
Back in the day I worked for an organization that was quite keen on holding team retreats. These were off-site business affairs held at a somewhat centrally located resort or venue that could accommodate business meetings, dinners and frivolity for 100 or so managers for several days. Spouses/partners (SPs) were invited as well and, in a gesture of goodwill, the company arranged outings and activities for the SPs during the day while the staffers were locked up doing humdrum SWOT analyses and strategy stuff.
Several weeks before the gathering an itinerary of the available outings was sent out so that the SPs could sign up for their preferred activities; among the offerings were things like golf, shopping excursions, horseback riding, a day at the spa, cooking classes, and canoe trips. Now, people being what people are, there was a general guesstimate by the organizers up at the corporate office that the female SPs would sign up for cooking classes, spa trips and a visit to the local shopping district while the male SPs, naturally, would want to play golf, hop on an outrigger, and scale the nearest mountain while doing very very manly things like posing with the wild animals they caught. Or something.
One year however I got a phone call from a very perplexed administrative assistant/planning person at the corporate office who wanted to see if I could check with a few of the managers from my region to ascertain if, in fact, the female SP (of one manager) really wanted to go hiking and the male SP (of another manager) truly meant to sign up for the day at the spa.
A thing of the past…..right? Well, not quite.
Yesterday a friend of mine attended a seminar for organizational leaders (primarily Finance and HR) and was the lucky winner of a door prize/raffle called “The Executive Bag.” As she described it (see picture above)…”turns out the event sponsor thinks executives are 2XL males who like to golf.” (oh…and “The Executive Bag” contained two (2!) wine bottle openers with no wine………….#SuperSad).
Now I know it’s often a thankless task being the person responsible for ordering booth swag or assembling raffle prizes for a corporate or community shindig. Many a work relationship has blown up when one event organizer screamed at another in a planning session “Well if you’re so smart Betsy then you tell me exactly how many L vs. XL t-shirts we should order!”
But this? How tone-deaf to think that a prize like this would go over at a leadership seminar with just as many females as males in attendance. Is it that only the men are truly ‘executives?’ Did the vendor/sponsor also have a designated “Lady Executive Bag” that held nail polish, a box of tampons, and a hair dryer?
One of the last bastions where this stereotyping exists is HR conference land. I’ve also witnessed it at payroll, education and healthcare conferences; three additional professions that tend to skew female. Sadly the time-worn cliché of “Give Away a Coach Bag to Get the HR Gals to Visit Your Booth” is a cliché for a reason; over the years I’ve witnessed hordes of female conference attendees in orgasmic frenzy as they dropped their business cards in fish bowls.
I’ll admit I’m not, personally, a gatherer of swag; I keep things pretty minimalist at home and certainly don’t need to cart home loads of crap from a conference that will only clutter up my desk or closet or bookshelves. I’m not an idiot though so if someone wants to give me a new iPhone or some other fancy gizmo at a conference I’m all about taking home the booty.
But if you try to get my business by playing up dated gender stereotypes…keep the bag.
There’s a mantra, a commandment really, amongst certain religious fundamentalist groups that women and girls should always “keep sweet.” While the concept seems to have originated in polygamous/FLDS cults society, it has reached into other patriarchal groups. The phrase is designed to remind every girl and woman how she should conduct herself. Whether she is encountering life’s daily frustrations or something more harmful such as being forced into a marriage or encountering abuse, a ‘godly’ woman should maintain a smile on her face and acquiesce to the men-in-charge.
This, of course, has led to some horrible and harmful outcomes such as FLDS girls being forced into polygamist marriages at a young age. All because “the prophet” admonished them, over and over, to not show emotions or ask questions. The manifestation of this belief has been described as being “immune to gloom.”
Somewhat extreme I know; I’m willing to bet very few of you reading this consider yourself a member of a cult. I mean, it’s not like you’re with a bunch of pals sporting the same hairstyle, wearing matching Nikes and waiting to transport to the spaceship to join up with the Hale-Bopp Comet. Right?
Not to make light of a situation that took a tragic turn back in 1997, but that Heaven’s Gate group’s “Procedures Book” read somewhat like an HR Policy Manual. Among other things the book “enforced a 7:22 vitamin intake time, the direction to shave with a razor, and the proper circumference for pancakes.” As pointed out in this article, “these rules were implemented with the argument that they were training for the strict and disciplined life they would live on alien spacecraft. But in reality they kept members obedient and subservient to the group and its leader.” ……….I think I’ve worked for that company……..
Disregarding the rules for pancake circumference, which we can all agree crosses over into the realm of too much detail-obsession, we have to admit that some of these cultish behaviors sound eerily similar to the exhortations that infest a lot of organizations.
Don’t rock the boat. Don’t ask questions. Follow the directions. Keep a happy countenance. Keep a smile on your face.
A few weeks ago I was having a miserable (OK…let’s call it shitty) day. I was swirling about in a mental twister; simultaneously tracking and worrying about home/family/work/to-do-lists/dogs/parents/chores/not-enough-hours-in-the-day. At one point I took a brief stretch and wandered out of HR to get some coffee. In order to get to the employee dining room I had to pass through the casino lobby and walk past the Valet Office which was chock-a-block full of patrons, visitors and employees. But it’s a quick jaunt and I quickly arrived at the blessed coffee machine.
As I was filling up my mug (java!) an employee grabbing a Coke next to me asked “are you OK Miss Robin?”
“Oh no!,” I thought, as I quickly rearranged my face into the super friendly welcoming smile we’re accustomed to plastering on our faces in the hospitality industry.
And then I thought to myself, what load of fresh crap is this? I seriously think I need to pretend with an employee? Because I’m the head of HR or what?
“You know,” I said, as I let my countenance shift back into not-so-sweet-and-smiley-mode, “I’ve had a rough couple of days. I’m dealing with a sick dog, we’re slammed in HR, and I’ve just got a lot on my mind. I’m tired and just not feeling it today.” *** Shrug Shrug Shrug ***
“Sorry to hear that Miss Robin,” he responded. “It will get better.” (and then he gave me a hug)
A few weeks after that I attended WorkHuman in Austin where, among other things, we discussed creating connections, exhibiting empathy, and finding ways to create a deeper sense of belonging for individuals at work. “Let people be themselves” was a phrase I heard uttered a gazillion times (and then I flashed back to my non-smiling-RBF hug at the coffee pot).
I spent a lot of time at the event thinking about the importance that ONE person can have in an organization. The symbolism of ONE act. The impact that ONE person can make when challenging the status quo.
I think when we talk about “working human” it’s moving it from the macro-enterprise-company level and being up-ended and inverted. Over the last four years at WorkHuman we’ve moved from talking about the “organizational change” and now discussing how ONE person, perhaps at the bottom or in the middle of the org structure, can be the catalyst for creating a more human-centric company.
By questioning and challenging those in authority.
By calling out institutional racism, sexism or other -isms.
By shining the light on destructive policies, programs or practices that destroy, rather than uplift.
It’s just after 2 PM on Day 2 (and a-half) of Globoforce’s WorkHuman event in Austin and I just walked back over to the Convention Center from my hotel.
This hotel, which officially opened within the last several weeks, has a connecting skywalk that takes one from floor 2 of the hotel to floor 2 of the Convention Center. Very convenient.
This skywalk is a twisting, serpentine slab of concrete, perhaps 10 feet wide, that is suspended over a fairly bustling city street. There are no walls on this walkway; not even the illusion of a semi-comforting half-wall. Nope; this walkway is encased in what appears to be chicken wire. (OK; we all know it’s not actual chicken wire – it looks much sturdier and is actually bolted down but I have been much too afraid to actually get close enough to touch it and confirm this).
So every time I walk across this walkway I stay the straight and narrow right in the middle so as not to tempt the fates and end up having a strong gust of wind push me through the chicken wire. Yesterday as my friend Katee Van Horn and I made the journey we walked single file, lock-step behind each other, and didn’t even speak until we got safely to the other side.
And now, just a few short minutes ago, I stepped onto the walkway with a lady who was facing the seemingly benign treachery for the first time. She took one look, said “Oh hell no,” and reversed back into the hotel to find a safer land-based approach to the convention center.
I totally understood.
And then I got to wondering…was this event venue chosen for this one design element alone? Was the master plan to make ALL WorkHuman attendees take numerous uncomfortable, sweat-inducing, heart-palpitating journeys in unfamiliar terrain?
In numerous sessions we’ve been talking about being brave. We’re chatting about having difficult conversations at work with our leaders and team members and co-workers.
I think this march across the spiraling-death-bridge/walkway has been one giant metaphor for the organizational journey to being a more human-centered workplace. And a testing platform for HR leaders to see if they’re up to the challenge.
Brackets? Meh. A few years ago I participated in a March Madness pool with not much interest in basketball and nary a clue about college hoops. It was a travesty of epic proportion and, as I recall, I ended up in last place.
Amy and Becky have adjoining cubicles in your Midwest Region Customer Care Service Center. They’ve sat within 10 feet of each other since 2002 and together have survived 2 CEOs, 3 Department Directors and 6 Supervisors. Amy took care of Becky’s dog when she and her husband Jeff went to that all-inclusive resort in Cancun for their 10th wedding anniversary. Becky helped Amy’s mom throw a surprise birthday party at Applebee’s when Amy turned 40.
Your Midwest Region Customer Care Service Center is located in Glendale, WI (just a bit north of Milwaukee; lovely suburb) and reports in to the Customer Care HQ located in downtown Chicago which, in turn, feeds up, (through various Regional Directors, VPs and a few SVPs), to the corporate office located in Atlanta on Peachtree Street. Well…one of the Peachtree Streets.
There are 327 FTEs toiling away (Monday thru Saturday; 7A-7P; 6 holidays) at the Midwest Region Customer Care Service Center in Glendale, WI. When it’s baseball season they have a company tailgate at a Brewers’ game. During football season, everyone wears Packer gear on casual Fridays. And when you need a custard fix? Jason on the New Accounts team is your go-to-guy for a Kopp’s run at lunch time.
No one at the Midwest Region Customer Care Service Center cares too much for the folks from Customer Care HQ in Chicago. (”Damn FIBs” as Jason likes to call them).
And those Corporate people from Atlanta? Seriously? WTF is up with them? Who can understand what they say? Why are they so….southern? Did you know they served grits for breakfast when everyone went down for training?
Same mission, vision and values. Same corporate web site and, of course, the same corporate career page with the same branding, videos, stories and “EVP.”
Yet each of these teams and locations has a distinct, specific and unique micro-culture. Heck…Amy and Becky have a vastly different culture than Jason and he’s just located on a different floor of the building in Glendale, WI.
And the three of them are most assuredly not having the same cultural experience that Rebecca and Traci are having down at the Atlanta corporate office.
Yet, as happens in organizations the world-over, when a rising star arrives via their promotional travels at a new location (requisite company newsletter blurb: “Meet Brandon Smith, our new VP of Special Projects! Brandon has transferred from the Akron, OH office!”), there’s tension and friction as s/he struggles to determine what, exactly, seems to be “off” about the culture.
There are different foods and rituals and customs. The Boston office is so ‘formal’ while everyone in the Hattiesburg, MS office is a bit too chummy and familiar with each other. (They call each other “sweetie!” Can you imagine?)
But guess what? Amy and Becky, in their micro-culture comprised of 10 cubicles in Glendale, WI, are not ‘wrong.’
They’re simply living the culture in a different way.
At the risk of sounding like the crabby old neighbor lady, waving an upraised fist and shouting “get off my lawn,” let me just say that I despise Twitter’s 280-character limit.
With a passion.
I’ve been hanging on Twitter since 2008, have participated in hundreds of organized chats, been known to tweet along at many a conference or event (one of my annual faves – #rexcomus – just happened), and have relied on the flow of my Twitter stream for both breaking news and levity.
But I am getting exhausted.
I jumped into a chat yesterday and quickly hopped off; I just could not even make the attempt to read the volumes of words flowing down the screen. There were WALLS of text as participants pontificated and wrote lengthy paragraphs when a simple idea or answer would have sufficed.
The fun of a Twitter chat, for me, has always been the fast-pace with quick-hitting (sometime edgy) comments; the platform was designed for rapid-fire banter and discussion.
When Twitter expanded the available real estate it simply led to more rambling. Gone are the days of users relying on brevity with the need to be succinct, clear and concise.
If you want to be verbose do it on Facebook.
Or LinkedIn; I don’t read much over there anymore either.
An elephant never forgets. We all know that saying. It implies, for some reason, that elephants possess some incredible long term memory. (Apparently though, there is some research backing this up).
There are also elephants at work. Which can be super awesome. Or sometimes quite dreadful.
On the plus side of the column there’s the “institutional knowledge” guy/gal. I can’t tell you how many times, upon joining a new organization, I’ve relied on the HR or Payroll lady who remembers (with amazing recall) the minutiae of an employee investigation that took place years before or can recollect, with incredible clarity, the ER/EE medical co-pay rates circa 2005.
But, more often than not, these pachydermian recollections are used for evil as opposed to good. Have you ever heard…
“Susie is inflexible” (Because Susie didn’t want to change the office hours and start at 8:30 instead of 8 back in 1999)
“Tom has a bad temper (That one time? He yelled at Stu in Receiving? Remember?)
“Trixie provides really poor customer service” (OMG! In 2010 Mrs. Szymanski called and she was so pissed it went all the way up to the CEO at magical-corporate-office-in another-state!!)
Naturally, most of these stories are based on ancient information and, more often than not, very few data points. Any self respecting statistician who claimed to draw meaning from such lackluster numbers would be drummed out of business.
Trixie, (as just one example), in the course of her career with ACME Corp, may have dealt with 20,000 customers. But it’s the 5 (.00025% of customers who asked to speak to a supervisor (or, in 2018, left a comment on the company Facebook page) who have become those data points.
Of course, it’s today. We can use technology and gathering of e-scores to determine exactly what Trixie’s deal is. We do pulse surveys and NPS and whatnot. Can’t we?
But not all organizations have that technology at their disposal.
Sixty years ago Douglas McGregor from the MIT Sloan School of Management presented two theories of workforce motivation he named “Theory X” and “Theory Y.” Over the intervening decades these theories have been used by leadership teams, HR professionals and OD folks as they craft and create HR policies, performance management programs, rewards and recognition, and work space design.
If it’s been some time since you gave much thought to McGregor’s work, here’s a refresher:
Theory X assumes that:
people dislike work
people want to avoid work (i.e. “people are inherently lazy”)
people do not want to take responsibility
Theory Y assumes that:
people are happy to work
people are self-motivated to pursue objectives
people thrive on responsibility
In a Theory X organization:
management is authoritarian
control is centralized with a belief that people must be coerced
a reward and punishment style (i.e. “carrot and stick”) is used; financial incentives (or financial punishments) are believed to the best motivator
In a Theory Y organization:
management is participative; employees are involved
feedback, especially positive feedback, is continuous
it is assumed that control, rewards and punishments are not the only ways to stimulate people
people have self-direction and self-control
Simplified perhaps. Because, of course, we all learned in our earliest forays into leading others that management of a team requires some combination of Theory X and Theory Y style. Every employee is unique. Yet “simple” is helpful as we tackle what we consider to be the nuanced and complex workplace issues today; decades after McGregor first shared these theories in 1957.
So as I sit here, day-in-and-day-out, and think about the employee experience (which, let’s face it, is merely an amalgamation of previous terms and is now the trendy catch phrase/buzzword for everything else that has come before it) I often find myself stripping all the glam and sexy stuff down to a pretty basic question… “Do you provide an X or a Y experience?”
For therein lies the problem; without asking that question and truly examining a few key principles about how people are viewed, numerous organizations continuously circle round and round in a never-ending journey of futility. They may telegraph to candidates, applicants and new hires all the Theory Y things they do when, in reality, the policies, rewards and management style exhibited by the vast majority are most assuredly Theory X.
Not to mention there’s a real danger of ongoing confirmation bias; a Theory X organization which operates with control and coercion may find, as time goes on, that employees become so accustomed to punishing behavior (“you’re 5 minutes late! Here’s your penalty!”) that they do, in fact, exert minimal effort and thus confirm all the assumptions that managers have had all along. “See how lazy they are! You can’t trust people to show up on time. We have to punish them or no one will come to work!”
Let’s be real though; there is not one single HR pundit or “Future of Work” speaker out on the vast global conference speaking circuit touting “Top Ten Ways to Motivate Your Lazy Unwilling-to-Work Employees!” Nope; that wouldn’t sell a lot of tickets.
Instead, managers from assorted disciplines attend their specific professional development conferences, sign up for the “HR Track,” and take copious notes as some HR consultant/speaker talks about “The New Way of Work.”
And then those very same managers head back to the office, roll up their sleeves, and bust out the Theory X.
The internet, magazines and even the backs-of-cereal-boxes are filled with inspirational messages, stories and exhortations. Quotes abound as HR bloggers, career coaches and life style experts share words of encouragement:
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” Les Brown
There’s big business to be had by inspiring others, pushing people to develop good habits, live their authentic lives and clarify their goals and aspirations. Depending upon one’s outlook it’s easy enough to find motivation of the spiritual, religious, financial or career-focused type. Future focused human beings, with a desire to improve their lives, may set goals and dream big as part of a deeper search for personal meaning. People may have aspirations in order to overcome adversity stemming from the death of a family member, the ending of a relationship, or the loss of a job. Sometimes it’s just a bit of restlessness or a lingering feeling that they can find enjoyment and fulfillment by doing something ‘more’ than merely holding a spot on this whirling planet we call Earth.
Positive thinking is great; much better, in my opinion, to look for opportunities than employ a “woe is me; I can’t change things” mindset.
But after a recent conversation I got to wondering if there is any validity to the opinion that there’s a shelf-life on dreams.
“You don’t have that many years to work before retirement; perhaps you just need to be happy where you are.”
“What more could you want? You have a pretty great life.”
“Isn’t your current life enough to make you happy?”
“You’ve accomplished a lot; isn’t it time to take it easy?”
I know a lot of dreamers. In some cases I could refer to them as idealists or even visionaries. I run into numerous early or mid-stage career HR professionals who know, with certainty, their desired career path; moving into a CHRO role or shifting from a generalist path to a specialization in OD or Learning and Performance. I recently met a guy who wanted to be a professional musician but put that on hold in order to take over his family’s business a few decades ago; but now he’s gigging with various bands and the plan is alive to work towards a recording contract.
Is there an expiration date on dreams? I don’t think so.
“I’m going to dream. Maybe one day I’ll be disappointed that things didn’t work out exactly
as I’d planned, that I didn’t get to write for National Geographic, pen a bestselling novel
or win a literary award, but I will have challenged myself to reach a level that I didn’t
think I could. I would have enjoyed the process, had fun, and even for a little while,