With more people finding themselves out of work, or having their time at work reduced, the portfolio career is becoming more popular. Portfolio careers often entail bringing together lots of different jobs, anything from working as a temp to consulting to company director. It can also involve volunteer work and time for personal development, which can mean anything from travel to writing books to yoga or learning a language. This is not unlike the student who attends uni, works as a part-time receptionist and does volunteer work at the local mission.
This has been on the horizon for many years. In the early 1980s, management guru Charles Handy argued that workers would be more in charge of their careers by working a handful of small jobs rather than one big one. In 1994, William Bridges wrote the book “Job Shift: How To Prosper In A Workplace Without Jobs” where he said we are all temporary workers and that the time is right for portfolio careers.
There are many reasons why this is happening. First, the shift to service industries in the developed world means that fewer people have been doing hard, physical yakka in factories and mines and on farms and docks. We are not worn out after decades in the workforce. Secondly, the concept of retirement was originally designed around the notion that people stepped down at 65, and then snapped off this mortal coil shortly after. These days, they can be around 20 or even 30 years on from their 60s, and still be active.
Now a lot has been written about how people can choose portfolio careers and what works for them. But an interesting question that is seldom looked at is how managers should handle employees that are working across many different areas.
Talent management strategist Dorothy Dalton says companies need to be smart when dealing with a workplace full of people “moonlighting” and holding down a range of other roles.
“Flexibility for companies is key, of course, but if organisations aren’t careful, they can wind up searching for new talent in an alienated and demotivated workforce, which has struggled to gain skills in a wide range of unstructured and less professional environments,’’ Dalton writes. “It also means a quantum shift from lazy and uninsightful “copy/paste” recruitment methodologies, sadly relied upon by companies and some search consultants alike.”
This requires a different sort of management style at professional services companies. Lawyers have told the Financial Times that you need certain strategies.
Simon Harper from Lawyers on Demand told the paper that expectations on both sides have to be made clear right from the start. “Agree on the time your managers will dedicate to your business and clearly state that they must not be diluted with other projects,’’ Harper says. “Agree a trial period so that both sides can review progress, and address any problems as soon as they arise – there are bound to be bumps in the road. Finally, try to monitor output where possible. You might well find that your managers are as productive despite their reduced hours, because of their increased motivation and energy. This will help you establish a business case for any further requests.”
Rob Eldridge, an employment partner at Berwin Leighton Paisner advises managers to find out more information about the employee’s other business interests. “If it is a completely separate area from your organisation then that won’t raise a conflict of interest but if senior staff members pursue portfolio careers in similar sectors to their main jobs, that could have the potential to become competition for your business further down the line,’’ Eldridge says.
“It would be sensible to obtain information from the individuals about the nature and extent of these other businesses before giving consent for their involvement. In any event, this would be a useful opportunity to remind them of their duties.”
For the first time, we are entering an age where there will be five generations in the workplace: veterans, boomers, X-ers, Gen Y and coming up, Gen Z or what I call, the i-natives, kids now in their teens who grew up with the Internet, tablets and mobile phones. Each generation will have different perspectives and priorities. Different generations don’t share the same work styles. Each will have perceptions of the other, and each will go about their work in a different way. Older workers, for example, might be used to more meetings, younger ones might be content to sort things out over email or messaging. Older workers will have different views about their career paths to young folk. Boomers are more likely to expect people to pay their dues and do their time, Gen X are more sceptical and independent-minded, Gen Y tends to prefer more feedback and teamwork. And IT departments now are dreading the arrival of technologically in-tune kids. All this could potentially create tensions in the workplace. How should managers handle this?
The Wall Street Journal recommends training managers to become more sensitive to the different perspectives. They should learn how accommodate different learning styles, how to create recognition programs and they need to recognise employees’ different needs. Different generations of employees will be in different stages of life which may require offering some scheduling flexibility to manage for people to manage their personal time.
It is also important not to follow blanket stereotypes. As Catriona Byrne, the creative director at SageCo, a company that helps organisations navigate ageing workforce risks, told me: “If someone is a dud at 55, it’s quite possible they were a dud at 25. It’s not about age, it’s more about attitude.”
Indeed, as Jennifer Deal, a Senior Research Scientist at the Centre for Creative Leadership in San Diego, California, says in her book Retiring the Generation Gap, we tend to make too much of generational differences. The generations, she says, are more alike than we think. Her research found that people of all generations want respect; they just define it differently. People in positions of authority want their decisions to be respected, older people want people to respect their experience, and younger people want their ideas and suggestions to be respected. And asking questions is not a sign of disrespect. Similarly, she found that no one really likes change. Analysis of the data showed that resistance to change related much more to people feeling threatened about the loss of power or resources, than it did to their age or generation. When it came to job-hopping, there was little difference. In fact, between the ages of 36 and 40, people changed jobs more frequently than younger generations did. According to Deal, the generation gap is blamed for conflicts that have nothing to do with generational differences. Bad and good behaviour exist in people of all ages. And the conflicts, she says, have everything to do with organisational power dynamics. “Most intergenerational conflict shares a common point of origin: the issue of clout – who has it, who wants it.
So managing a multi-generational workforce is not that difficult. It just requires common sense.”
HR specialists recommend creating workplace choices that allow the work to shape itself around what has to be done, the customers that have to be served and the people who work there. That will create more flexibility in management choices around the different generations’ working styles.
While mentoring could play a key role in bridging generations many companies are now using reverse mentoring where younger managers are mentoring the older executives. That could include everything from technology to work life balance. HR advisors point to examples like IBM which has programs that pair young, talented, high potential experts in social computing as coaches for senior executives. That in turn opens up unprecedented access for young Generation Y employees to top executives. It also allows senior executives to stay in-tune with new technological developments and it creates bridges across specialisations and generations. Reverse mentoring can build relationships that cut across age, rank and job function.
Diversity specialists say managers need to hold diversity and leadership training workshops to make younger employees aware and sensitive to older employees’ needs, strengths and potential contributions and, at the same time, give information to older employees to be more aware of their own actions and their impact on younger people. They also recommend finding out the kind of person each generation thinks is the perfect manager. What do all the profiles have in common? Where do they differ? And how does the manager apply these findings?
How would you manage multiple generations at your workplace?
There is now a growing demand for greater flexibility in the workplace. More people are expecting it with the business demands of the 24/7 global economy in combination with employees’ needs to meet work and family responsibilities. However, within many workplaces, flexible work policies and practices are only offered to professional, salaried workers, at the exclusion of workers in hourly jobs. This will need to change. What should managers do?
Flexibility is now in demand from everywhere. Whether it’s about getting some more work-life balance to meet family commitments, or to pursue other interests, it is now regarded as essential for every workplace.
One reason for this is demographics. As we learn here, 70 per cent of all mothers work, 24 per cent of families with dependent children are single parent households, 13 per cent of all households care for someone who is elderly or who has a long-term condition or disability and this will increase as our population ages. Also, there are now more part-time and casual workers and in Victoria alone, about 60 per cent of families with children under the age of 12 use work arrangements such as flexible working hours, shift work, part-time work, working from home, or job sharing to help them care for their children.
At the same time, workplace flexibility is now the key for attracting talented staff, increasing employee engagement and satisfaction, reducing absenteeism and improving the skills of managers as they will have to “think outside the square” more often.
It’s also important to note that the Fair Work Act requires employers to comply with the National Employment Standards. Here is the link to the section in the Act setting out the ground rules for employers. Employers and managers have to provide reasons for accepting or refusing to grant a request for flexibility. The maximum penalty for non-compliance is $6600.
So flexibility is no longer a “nice-to-have-feature” of the workplace. It is now essential. This means managers need to negotiate more arrangements where people can work from home or work remotely, take longer at lunch to attend to other activities like gym or catching up with family, job share and work part time. How do they do it?
Forbes says the first thing managers need to do is focus on the results that matter. It doesn’t matter how the job is done, as long it’s done and done well. Secondly, you need to tailor the packages to suit each individual. You also need to give them a whole lot of options to choose from and also set up systems to manage work-life issues.
The workplace flexibility site recommends looking at range of options like alternating start and finishing times, changing work hours over the month or through the year depending on the demands of the job, letting employee purchase annual leave so they can take longer time off work, letting people job share, work part-time or telecommute and annualising hours so that the company sets down the number of hours per year that people have to work instead of a number of hours per week.
Specialists in the UK say companies should have policies setting a range of flexible options so they’re ready when the requests come in.
And that’s the key for managers – be prepared for people putting in requests for flexible work arrangements. It will happen more often.
Coping with the increasing skills shortages is now the big challenge for managers. The search for quality talent is now more important than ever before. The problem, however, is that the talent pool is getting shallower and many people in stable jobs are looking at what’s around them and assessing their options. What are the best strategies for recruiting talent?
More than 11 years ago, the consultants at McKinsey called it The War for Talent. They found that getting in more talent increased profits, in some cases more than doubling the returns. But they foreshadowed that it would become an acute problem with more baby boomers retiring. How right they were! The skills shortage is an illustration of how that’s happening right now.
So what can a company do?
According to The Wall Street Journal, smaller companies have certain advantages over the big end of town when it comes to recruiting the best and brightest. They’re usually less bureaucratic. Relationships between leaders and employees tend to be closer. Employees at smaller companies tend to cover more territory in their work compared to their counterparts at larger companies who tend to be more specialised. Many small business owners treat their workforce as if it’s an extension of their family, they tend to offer more flexibility and are in a better position to tailor jobs to individual’s needs. So if somebody wants to work from home on a Friday, it’s more likely to be accommodated in a smaller company. If you are managing a smaller company, you can use these as attractors for talent.
Recruiting talent means thinking strategically. As Australian Institute of Management VT chief executive Susan Heron told me here, you first need to identify the skills the company needs. “Before you even start hiring, you have to look at where the business is going. You need to look at the skills you need to bring into the organisation and what skills you will need to beat your competition,” she said.
According to recruitment specialists, flexibility is now the biggest drawcard for attracting talent. We’re talking here about initiatives like job sharing, flexitime, work-at-home programs, shorter work-days for parents, compressed working weeks and phased retirement. Flexibility is no longer a “nice to have” program. It is now absolutely crucial, and not just for women balancing children and careers. It’s highly sought after by Gen Y employees who tend to blend work and life together.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Sylvia Ann Hewlett says that apart from flexibility, a culture of recognition is an important non-financial attractor of talent.
In my piece here, I spoke to accounting firms in Western Australia who are really struggling to recruit talent because mining companies are poaching the best number crunchers. What some of them do is get their younger managers to mentor Gen Ys, act as big brother and big sister to them. They become their sounding boards, and also feed the information back to senior management about what needs to be done. It makes these firms more attractive places to work. Maybe it’s a model managers at other companies could use.
What strategies would you suggest for recruiting talent?
Age discrimination is the elephant in the workplace for managers. It’s unlawful but we all know workers, both young and old are being discriminated against. Examples of age discrimination can include advertising for someone to join a “dynamic, young team”, not interviewing a person because they are too young or too old to ‘fit in’ with other employees, refusing to employ younger workers because of assumptions they’ll quickly move on to another job, not providing training opportunities for mature workers because “it’s not worth it”, selecting older workers for redundancy, or forcing someone to retire, because of their age. Everyone knows of cases where this sort of stuff has happened. How should managers handle it?
To begin with, this is not allowed under the Age Discrimination Act. It is against the law to discriminate against an employee because of their actual or assumed age. But still it keeps happening.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, for example, one in five unemployed people were 45 years or older at July 2005 and half the unemployed people aged 55 years and over said that their main difficulty in finding work was that they were “considered too old by employers.”.
It occurs at the other end too. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission says that young people also face employment discrimination and are assumed to be unreliable, incompetent and lacking in the skills and confidence to deal with
other people in a range of situations.
Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan has described it as a waste of human resources. She says managers should look carefully at their workforce and introduce changes, including more flexible work practices as many of these workers have caring responsibilities, for a frail parent, or grandchildren, or an ill partner, or an adult child with disability. They should also encourage orlderder workers to retrain.
“This is a wonderful opportunity, for our economy, our society and for all of us alive in Australia today,’’ Ryan says. “Instead of wasting millions of potential contributors to our economy, we can and must develop a new and relevant concept of the typical length of the working life. We must find new ways to provide capable individuals with jobs into their seventies and beyond if they choose.’’
The Wall Street Journal says managers can try a range of innovative techniques for managing different generations in the workplace. It’s not that hard. They key is not to assume blanket stereotypes. They should facilitate mentoring between different aged employees to encourage more cross-generational interaction with younger employees seeking the experience and wisdom offered by senior employees. At the same time, older employees should be getting the fresh perspectives offered by younger employees. Managers should also offer different working options like telecommuting and working offsite.
Other solutions include examining the company’s recruitment policy, employment terms and conditions, promotions and transfers, training, redundancy and dismissals as well as policies and procedures to identify areas of age bias, such as sick leave, annual leave and flexible working. They also need policies for age discrimination as well as reporting and grievance procedures and making sure the leaders are on board. Training managers, encouraging mentoring and rethinking promotion and training so that promotion, job-related training or other development opportunities are available to all employees regardless of age are also recommended as measures to address discrimination.
What steps would you take as a manager to end age discrimination?
The economy might be dawdling for many sectors, apart from mining and perhaps health care, but managers these days need to juggle more than just finances and work coming through. More than anything else, they need to retain talented staff. There are several reasons for this. First, there are skills shortages in key areas like IT and finance. Secondly, changes are happening all the time. Companies are being acquired, and software and technology are developing at a dizzying pace. Companies need more in-house expertise. So what are the best ways to retain staff?
Writing in the Huffington Post, Geoff Williams says it’s important these days to keep employees challenged. Give them stretch goals so that they feel they have achieved something and learned new skills. He says it’s also important to pay them well. Now if you can’t afford it, there are other ways to do it, he says. Benefits like flexible work patterns and family time can be as valuable as cash. Also, don’t micromanage. If you hired them for their talents, they don’t need anyone looking over their shoulder and constraining them. You also need to make the work environment and facilities as comfortable as possible and finally, if you can’t give them shares in the business, at least make sure there are career paths so that they feel they are getting something out of it.
Forbes expands on these points, saying you need to at the very least challenge them weekly. It also says the company should try to position itself as the employer of choice. Think of Apple, Google and Facebook. They find it easy to attract and hold on to their talent. Forbes says you also need to give employees autonomy to make their own decisions and be responsible for the outcomes. And it’s important to recognise that employees have their own goals and managers should work with them to help them accomplish these personal goals alongside the business goals.
The Wall Street Journal suggests doing things like providing free bagels on Fridays and laundry pick up services, promoting from within whenever possible to give people a clear sense of career progression, putting in programs to help them develop new skills, creating an open dialogue with managers and getting managers to coach them.
One of the landmark studies done on employee retention was done by Kenneth Kovach at George Mason University in the US. As reported here, Kovach got 1000 employees and 100 of their bosses to list the things that they believe motivate employees.
The interesting part is that bosses thought employees would be motivated by good wages and job security, but employees listed factors such as participating in interesting work, feeling appreciated at work and “being in on things.” They ranked job security and good wages as important but lower on the list.
In other words, the key factors for retaining quality staff have little to do with money. It’s more about having the kind of managers that create a place where employees feel challenged and valued.
Any other suggestions? What do you think should managers do to retain the best employees?
Work life balance is now a huge management issue. The end of the nine-to-five working day and the number of women pouring into the workforce are two of the forces that have transformed work. There are now more choices in work and life, and they are coming from many more directions. Globalisation and technology have created the syndrome of 24/7 availability, culminating in what has been described as “four in a bed relationships” – two people, two iPhones. I have always felt that the notion of work life balance work-life balance is a misnomer because, frankly, it’s never in balance. These days, it’s a total blur. First, let’s look at the way workloads have changed. Workplaces these days are characterised by the fragmentation of work.
According to a recent KPMG report, employees are now expected to work anywhere, anytime, using an array of technologies. Employees and employers now have to juggle the costs of 24/7 accessibility with the benefits of making better use of time.
How exactly can you get some sort of balance with that? In the new workplace, the lines are blurred and that’s created a challenge for managers because employees at all levels can get burned out.
In one report, we’re told some industries do it better than others. Education, public sector, fitness and the information technology industry are better at running flexible work practices that allow people to build their work time around family and personal time.
Mind you, that doesn’t stop employees who have full time jobs from negotiating things like flexitime and job sharing with their managers. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Sue Shellenbarger says there are ways this can be done. She suggests anticipating the employer’s potential objections. It means discussing how your performance will be measured and how you will maintain client and co-worker contact. You should spell out the business benefits of a more flexible work pattern. You would have to discuss improved productivity, the prospects of getting a home office with a good computer and high speed internet. You would also need to set out a plan of how you will stay in touch with them, maybe even suggest a test run, preferably a day that’s slower at the office. Most importantly, you will need to earn trust from your boss.
Work life balance, or to put it more accurately, work life merge is an issue for all managers if they want to keep their organisation competitive. It ensures employees are happier and more productive and helps recruit better people. The Society For Human Resource Management spells it unambiguously:
“As the economy, and the employers and employees that comprise it, move forward through a time of ever greater work and home-life demands, workplace flexibility becomes more than a favour or benefit for employees. It becomes a strategic necessity to keep employees and employers working and living well.”
How important is work life balance to you and your organisation?