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March 2012

Work-Life Integrity: A Matter of Timing!

In my last blog I revealed the new (to me) term of ‘work-life integrity.’ I described how it was an eureka term for me and my chagrin at having failed to coin the term myself and why I felt it was a godsend. There is no question that it fits perfectly with the message I have been broadcasting for the past few years. But, even so, its immediate value was as a replacement for the more widespread term ‘work-life balance.’

For me the term ‘work-life balance’ is a dangerous distortion that leads to quixotic quest that you could compare to looking for the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end. I explained why before and don’t need to repeat my justification here. However, I would like to expand on it.

You see, it is not that I don’t understand what drives the concept of work-life balance or why it has become so popular and widely pursued. It is just that – as I also said in “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” – I see it as “generating a kind of schizophrenia that is hardly conducive to greater productivity and the development of self-esteem and ownership.” To put it another way, I see the effort to create work-life balance as causing and perpetuating a never-ending conflict between your work life and your non-work life. Of course you want to keep to a balance, but by making it an issue you risk making it a source of stress and so more of an issue than it needs to be.

This source of potential stress naturally has its roots in the fact that the common element is time. And there is no getting away from it, because time is the common measure of human life. However, it is one that is fraught with difficulties and one which I suggest we should be looking to minimise.

First, however, I would draw your attention to this article “Why we have to go back to a 40 hour work week to keep our sanity.” There is a great deal of common sense here and little to which any reasonable person could take exception. I am sure that, like me, you will agree with most of it. And possibly not least because it provides a solid base for the whole ‘work-life balance’ proposition.

Remedy iStock_000003856730SmallYet this is where we come back to the whole time argument. Just stop for a moment to think. Where does this whole idea of a 40 hour week originate? As the author points out, it has its roots in the trade union endeavours to improve working conditions in the industrial era of the late 19th and early and mid 20th centuries. And that was a time when labour was largely mechanical and regimented. However, how appropriate is it in today’s world?

Surely a key aspect of knowledge work is that it makes the difference between people starker? No two people will take the same time to perform the same task. So why on earth should you prescribe a standard 40 hour week? The most important thing has to be that the job gets done. So if your employee can do the job in 35 hours why expect him/her to “be a bum in the seat” for 40 hours? Of course the HR manual might decree it in accordance with the letter of appointment, but that doesn’t make the policy right. And the converse is equally true. They may do the job in 45 hours. So what does that matter, if they are happy and you don’t pay for those extra 5 hours?

If you think about it, the whole idea of measuring performance on the basis of hours spent is a habit – a legacy from a bygone age that may not always be appropriate. (Obviously it depends on the nature of the work.)  Yes, you may say, but you need something to have some sort of leverage over your employees. Only if you are steeped in the command and control style of traditional management, where trust is always an implicit issue.

The fact is if you replace the ‘work-life balance’ with a ‘work-life integrity’ mindset you can start to lift yourself out of the shackles of such historical thinking. Especially, when you take the next step and create that ‘work-life integrity’ through employee ownership that I described previously. This will:-

  • Align employer and employee and make value of work the key focus of the employment contract; 
  • Reduce or eliminate the potential for stress implicit in trying to balance work and life; 
  • Make it the individual employee’s responsibility to sort out their own life and remove the unnecessary management burden that you suffer at present and so help reduce your stress levels and improve the quality of your life. 

This certainly seems better than “going back” to a 40 hour week as the article suggests. After all, when in history has mankind ever gone back? Besides, making people responsible for their own performance might just be the antidote to Parkinson's Law that "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." Which makes it the panacea for productivity you seem to have been pursuing forever! Doesn't it? So you will consider it, won't you?

Work-life Integrity! Now you are speaking my language!

Yes!!! Of course!! I cannot believe that I didn’t ever use this term myself.

Work-Life BalanceFor years I have been telling anyone who would listen how ridiculous the term “work-life balance” is and how misguided attempts to champion it are. I even wrote about this in my book “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” and included this picture to illustrate my point!

My aversion to the term was never because I did not recognise the need for people to have interests outside of their work, but simply because it creates an artificial degree of separation. As I wrote, “It makes work and life appear to be opposites, and since the opposite of life is death, it effectively makes work synonymous with death and reinforces the perception that work is a necessary evil that deprives one of (a) life. Thus it creates an attitude whereby work is something that, wherever possible, is to be avoided.” Certainly it makes work something that you have to endure rather than enjoy.

So I disparaged the term because of the segregation it created. Yet, I never recognised that the answer was ‘work-life integrity!’ Doh! How stupid! Yet it all became so obvious when I read this article recently. 

But there is no point in beating myself up for my failure to come up with this improved explanatory term. Instead I am grateful for this new insight which will make my message so much easier in future. I am grateful too that there are others out there who are also banging the drum. And I am even more grateful for the proof of that and the opportunity to share this article with you. I trust that you find it thought-provoking.

And more than that, I hope that it will help you to see that your current initiatives to promote work-life balance are possibly misdirected. After all, it is always more difficult to come up with effective solutions when your initial premises are wrong. Hopefully your new insight will help you move in the right direction. 

Although right now you are probably asking yourself, “What difference does it make? Whether I call it work-life balance or work-life integrity, it is still something that I have to instigate, instil and inspire in my employees. That has not been easy. And the change does not make it appear any easier.” 

But that is where you would be wrong.

It is actually dead simple. And the answer lies in employee ownership.

Think for a moment about employee ownership. It is widely considered to be the best method of engaging employees. Why? Surely it is because it does more than anything else to integrate a person’s work with their life.

That is why I can claim that, even though I never articulated it as such, work-life integrity is what has fuelled all my efforts for the past few years. Furthermore it underpins my whole model of greater employee engagement through employee ownership and is what inspired my whole new employee ownership model.

More significantly though, my model offers universal employee ownership. And because it makes all employees owners it not only offer something no other employee ownership model does, it also offers ‘organisational integrity’! And that is a term and a concept I have been promoting!

What is it about change? Running out of puff and how to avoid it.

Cameron & ObamaPerhaps it goes against the grain, but sometimes you have to feel sorry for politicians. It seems they can never really win.

Think for a moment about Barack Obama’s election slogan, “Change we can believe in” and the chant, “Yes we can!” Here you had a candidate who captured the nation’s mood for change and rode it to an overwhelming victory. Yet two years later he was lagging dramatically in the polls with a distinct possibility of being a single-term president. It would seem that the man billed in the press as “the most powerful man on earth” wasn’t so powerful. Or else the people decided they didn’t really want change after all!

On the other side of the Atlantic you had a different scenario. The UK electorate was so undecided that they couldn’t make a clear choice. For the first time in over a half a century the nation had a coalition government. Yet after the shock, there was a kind of national pride in the outcome, and the new government rode to power with a remarkable sense of goodwill. Yet here also the headlines are about a government that has “run out of puff.” 

So what happened?

You know as well as I do that change never happens just because someone in authority wants it to or says it must. To enable change you have to create an entirely new mindset that gives people a clear idea of how the change will affect them. 

Yet neither leader has understood this. They have not been able to convince people because they have not been able to create a vision that enables people to see beyond the existing model. It is what defines their mindset. It boils down to what Einstein meant when he said, “You cannot solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Paradoxically efforts to change the model simply opens them up to accusations of “lacking vision.” Neither leader has grasped that they cannot realise their vision within the existing model. It requires more fundamental, systemic change.

And as politicians they should know this. Shouldn’t they? So perhaps you don’t have to feel sorry for them after all!

Be that as it may, I am sure you are too busy to be concerned about politicians. However, before you move on, stop to see if there are any lessons here for you. Ask yourself, “Am I possibly guilty of making the same mistake?” You see as a leader or manager, change is the one constant in your life. Are you sure you are handling it any better?  

No, this is not a trick question. It just requires a simple yes or no answer.  And if you don’t know you can very quickly determine the correct answer by asking yourself a few fundamental questions. Such as:-
• How difficult is it for me to implement a new strategy or methodology?
• How much time do I spend sorting out people related issues? 
• Are things as good as they should be? 

If the answer to any or all of those is no, then the answer to the primary question is also a no. And if that is the case, then, by definition, there is a fundamental flaw in the way you are running your operation. You are likely to also be slicing and dicing with policy, looking to take more here and give a little more or less there, and failing to provide any lasting answers. You are addressing symptoms rather than causes. That is why you need a fresh look at the whole system.

Who knows, if you don’t your people may be thinking you are also “running out of puff.” And if they think that how long will it be before everyone else does too? So what are you waiting for?  

What a difference being sociable can make!

Being Sociable_000014783264XSmallWhere do you stand on social marketing? That is not an easy question. Even the term ‘social marketing’ invokes a multitude of different concepts.

That is partly why a blog “Why social business will be bigger than social marketing” by Anna Farmery at Engaging Brand caught my attention this week.

However, while I think Anna is spot on with the points she makes and the examples she gives, I cannot help feeling that there is a more fundamental issue here that we are all in danger of missing. And it is to do with the whole concept of ‘social business.’ After all, isn’t all business social?

Just think about it for a moment.

Any organisation exists to provide a service. Whether it is a ‘for-profit’ corporation, a public sector or NGO, or a charity, its ultimate purpose is to serve. It cannot survive if it doesn’t! It doesn’t make any difference whether it is serving a very small, clearly defined and closed community, a nation or a global market, it sustains its existence by meeting a need. This inevitably means it is making a contribution to society and so makes it social.

Then there is the fact that the interaction is ultimately human. There is an old sales cliché that “people buy from people.” This is a truism. But it has broader connotations and applies to all business. The essence of business is human interaction and that makes it social.

And that is not all. The law recognises this implication by assigning organisations a legal persona. This gives them the same rights and obligations that a human has.

On top of that an organisation is itself a collective of people. It requires any number of people to carry out its purpose. This also makes it a social activity.

So there you have it. All four of these factors mean that all business is social business. There is no getting away from it. Of course this is why a business has to focus on its people in order to optimise its performance and improve its results.

Unfortunately this is all too often neglected or forgotten. As Anna points out, things are changing and the recognition of social business is certainly a step in the right direction. But perhaps like me you can sense that this is still too narrow a concept. In order to align all four social attributes you have to create a social culture. And in order to do that you must put a greater emphasis on the internal social structure. To put it more succinctly, this means you must put a greater emphasis on your people and how they work together.

That is why I persist in promoting the concept of a universal employee stake in the organisation. It will certainly bring all these four elements together in a way nothing else can. And I don’t know about you, but I cannot think of a better way to align the organisational objectives with those of the employees than employee ownership. Can you? So what are you waiting for?