Monday, October 20, 2008

Say Buh-Bye to Flexibility and Hello to Longer Hours

I went on eBay the other day to try and purchase a crystal ball. Unfortunately, the ones that were available didn't come with a guarantee, so I decided to pass.

I mean, who wouldn't want a crystal ball to see into the future -- to see how we're all going to survive this mess and whether or not the Rays really can go from being the worst team in baseball to winning the World Series in a year's time?

OK, so when the crystal ball thing didn't work out, I decided to just talk to a lot of different people about the situation on the job today. I didn't talk to just experts, but also regular folks who worry about their jobs, who wonder if their bosses are telling them the truth and if they need to be looking for a second job.

While this is unscientific, this is what my gut tells me -- after decades of covering the workplace -- what you may see come to your workplace:

1. Less flexibility. Companies already are operating lean, but because of the nervousness about how deep and long the recession will last, employers will want employees to really buckle down. And that means that bosses or companies offering flexibility options such as working certain hours or working from home may start to cut back those choices because they want to stick really close to workers right now. So that means where and when the boss works -- so will you.

2. Less tolerance for whining. Bosses are tense. I mean really tense. Maybe they're not showing it to employees, but trust me, they're very stressed by what is going on. They want to be there for employees who are worried about their jobs or the economy, but they can only take so much whining. Those workers who don't recognize when to suck it up and just shut up and work are going to put themselves in jeopardy. Remember: There are lots of great, qualified people out of work right now, and the boss's pickings to replace you have never been better.

3. More generational conflict. Things between older and younger workers have sometimes been tense, but there's always been the argument that baby boomers are going to be retiring in droves soon, so employers will be forced to pay attention to what younger workers want. But with so many baby boomers seeing their portfolios and 401(k)s tank, chances are good many of them are going to stick around much longer. And that's not going to sit well with GenX and GenY, since it mucks up their plans. Employers are going to have little patience (see No.2) for workers who can't get along.

4. Longer hours. Maybe you thought your workload couldn't get any worse. Guess what? It can.

5. Fewer benefits. Those goody packages used to attract and retain top workers are going to start drying up. Companies have pretty much cut as many bodies as they can, so they're going to look for other ways to trim costs. So, if you're thinking of using your company's tuition reimbursement, adoption assistance, gym memberships, etc., do it now. Before too much longer, they may be gone.

What other trends do you think we'll see -- or already are seeing -- in the workplace because of the struggling economy?

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Determining if a company is family friendly

I’ve been covering the work/life debate for the last 20 years, and the one thing that gets on my last nerve is some of the “best of” lists that come out every year, touting the most “family friendly” companies or the “most flexible” workplaces.

The reason it irks me is because I spend a lot of time hearing from the employees of some of those companies, and what they tell me is this: what actually goes on in the workplace is sometimes a whole different ballgame than what is portrayed in those lists.

Lori Long, a human resources management consultant, and author of “The Parent’s Guide to Family-Friendly Work,” says she has heard many of the same stories, and that’s one of the reasons she wrote her book. She agreed that there are “canned” responses to questions about family friendly workplaces, and many employers do not actually make sure those policies are being carried out by managers.

She says that while those lists can be helpful, anyone relying on them as their sole piece of information on a workplace is making a big mistake. The key, she says, is that anyone wanting to find a truly family-friendly employer has to do a little detective work.

In her book, one of the things she suggests is evaluating a potential boss. This makes a lot of sense, since even if a company makes the top of the “best of” list, it doesn’t mean the boss you work for has to follow any of those practices. (A public relations person once told me that the big project for her department that year was to make sure the company was on one of these “best of” lists – even though the employer didn’t really use family-friendly policies on a consistent or widespread basis. The company did make the list, and everyone in public relations had a big celebration because the top brass was so happy.)

So, here are some ideas from Long’s book if you’re considering a job offer and want to make sure the boss is really going to walk the talk regarding a family-friendly work environment:

How is performance measured? Long says “if you get a response such as, ‘well, as long as I see everyone here working every day, I know everyone is doing fine,’ run!”
Is overtime work common? Is so, how much notice do you give when overtime work is needed?• How do you communicate with your employees? Do you need to meet face-to-face with the boss every day? Can employees work independently?
What traits do you value in am employee? If the boss focuses on showing up on time every day, the he or she may not appreciate the person who gets things done, but on a more flexible schedule.
How would you describe your management style? If the focus is on rules and compliance, the boss may not be capable of being flexible.
What kind of benefits does the company offer? If the company offers family friendly benefits, and the boss is aware of them, that’s a good thing.
Why did the person who held this job before leave? It’s a good sign if the person left for a promotion within the company, and a less favorable one if the boss doesn’t have any insight at all. It could show he or she doesn’t have good relationships with subordinates.

Finally, as Long pointed out, flexibility in the workplace will only come about when companies can’t get qualified candidates to come on board without it. Read the “best of” lists to keep yourself informed, but know that the real answers will come with some informed sleuthing by you.

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