Category Archives: Employee Engagement

Fancy Language

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I rang somebody instead of emailing them today. (Very proud of myself). It went to voicemail, “My apologies, I am unable to speak to you at the present time”.

I don’t have a problem with big words if they’re the right words. If word choice is purposeful, efficient, clear, unambiguous and helpful for the other person, that’s great. There’s a lot of criticism of emoji use, text-speak and so forth for being unprofessional. That’s an argument for the history-writers of the future to decide. I would argue there’s almost the same problem / criticism but in reverse with many people deliberately choosing to use overly formal, professional-sounding terms from habit or what they think they’re supposed to say.

Using “with regards to” instead of “about” is the verbal equivalent of wearing a top hat, monocle and cummerbund on casual Friday. Maybe once but not now. Also, I just discovered I’ve been spelling ‘monocle’ incorrectly forever.

I get that you’re “unavailable to speak with me at the present time” but I would get it a lot quicker if you said “now”. I’m guilty of this myself but I’m trying. What are some of yours?

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Back To Work Because Blurryface Needs The Money

blurryface

Unsustainable stress in the workplace and its physiological consequences have certainly had a much greater focus in the last couple of decades. Health and safety legislation has had an impact in driving behaviour change by employers to prevent and mitigate stressors to employees. High blood pressure can be independently measured and monitored and is one of those flags that may indicate aggregated stress exposure is having a deleterious effect on an individual. You can graph it.

Less easy to measure but still something we all experience is something delightfully called ‘brain fog’. You know the feeling – inconsistent memory, difficulty keeping your attention on what matters, and fighting your own tongue to speak with clarity. Our brains are the size of our fist, roughly two to four percent of our body mass, yet our brain consumes twenty four percent of our body’s energy every day. It’s a hungry little critter. At times of brain fog, known in those soup commercials as ‘3 o’clockitis’, our laser-like focus is diluted, distracted and distorted. The effort and energy to get back on track just isn’t there, and if you’re relying on soup to sort it out, you might be waiting a while.

The frustration piles on and it becomes a death spiral of an afternoon from a productivity and self-confidence perspective. Worse still, and not nearly acknowledged enough, there’s an accumulative effect.

A couple of years ago, I spent a while in the US. A big hit on the charts at the time was an album by ‘twenty one pilots’ called ‘Blurryface’ from which the biggest hit was a song called ‘Stressed Out’. Front-man Tyler Joseph said, “Blurryface is this character that I came up with that represents a certain level of insecurity”. Despite not existing in reality, Blurryface’s Twitter account has 194,000 followers. That hit song ‘Stressed Out’ starts out as a lament for the simpler times earlier in his life and ends up with the singer getting into a slanging match with Blurryface who insists he gets back to work because “Wake up! We need to make money”!

Alt-rock rap crossovers aside, the message in the lyrics is one of great relevance to employees and those employers with responsibilities for workplace wellness. (Full credit to twenty one pilots for their wisdom, especially as it’s super likely they never had a real job). There is an inherent conflict within us to knuckle down and get the job done, to muscle through the hard parts. Plenty of leadership books speak wisdom similar to Covey’s “Sharpen the saw” in his ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. Essentially, take a break!

It’s hard to argue that a saw that never gets sharpened quickly loses its ability to saw wood swiftly and cleanly. Real saws do get sharpened by people who are reliant on saws. Covey’s metaphor means we should take breaks so when we get back off break, we’ll be more productive. Tru dat (alt rock rap term).

However, if saws were sentient, had mortgages and wanted a promotion with commensurate pay rise, maybe they wouldn’t let themselves be sharpened? Maybe they’d proudly declare how many hours they had sawed today, how much later than the boss they had stayed at work, and they could always get sharpened when they were dead. I have heard actual people say that about themselves in workplaces when told they should take a break.

So, there’s a battle overtly or covertly between some people at work and their bosses over taking breaks. And, if Blurryface is to be believed, there’s often a battle within ourselves about taking breaks too. We know we should, we probably will, just not right now.

One means of lessening brain fog is to remove distractions. Declutter your desk, workspace and your life. Your brain will fire up enough distractions, you do not need to leave obvious visual ones lying around yourself. Some people might perceive a towering and unstable in-tray as a mark of honour. It isn’t, it’s a stressor. Put it out of sight.

The same goes for multi-tasking. Not actually a thing. The best our brains can muster on a good day is ‘rapid task switching’. This is energy inefficient for our brains, so one thing at a time. We need to have absolute clarity at the start of what is important and why, so when competing priorities start slapping you in the face later when you don’t have much resistance, you can fall back on first principles – what is important and why.

At the very least, we should each try to diminish the job stress that is of our own making. Some jobs are inherently stressful, such as the Automobile Association’s Roadside Assistance Officers. They’re constantly heading for a breakdown.

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UnFun

winter fun

New Zealand has a stretch between the first Monday of June and the fourth Monday in October when there are no public holidays. I’m not sure if there is any associated boost or drop in productivity during this period. Someone must know. They should do a graph. Maybe the department of statistics. I’ve always had a soft spot for statistics. It was the last remaining fraction of maths that I ever understood, and I have a pretty good batting average of pronouncing it without having to resort to “stats”.

I can’t speak for the nation but these are my peak times in my industries. But, winter is coming and it comes between those dates. It’s dark, cold and travel gets disrupted. Morale gets tested.

I love what I do, the results I get and the variety and ‘interestingness’ of the people I meet. Fun is often simply inherent in what I do. I’m well aware it is not in many workplaces. Engagement research and best-workplace-type criteria indicate the right amount of the right type of fun is conducive to effectiveness and productivity.

The article I’m linking to today has a few ideas around dealing with any dark or unfun downturns you might personally experience or encounter at work. It talks of “disconnection” and “feeling lonely without being lonely”. To what extent does this resonate with you and what can be done? Check it out.

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Everyone Has A Career Plan Until They Get (Metaphorically) Punched In The Face

fist punch

About two years ago in Wellington, I met Paul at a show in which I was performing. Backstage, we got to chatting. He was a man in his twenties with a job that perhaps many in their twenties might consider a snoozefest but a good job with prospects – a Government job. He’d just taken a step up and seemed settled in putting his artistic endeavours on the backburner into the hobbyist dilettante category and knuckling down to focus on his increasingly adult responsibilities. I was twice his age or thereabouts but could still vividly recall being in that situation myself and making similar decisions. Not that these things are one definitive decisions they’re more a series of decisions every day that you don’t make.

One day not long after (and I hope that I in no way influenced him), he made one definitive decision. He quit that job, disconnected his connections, sold everything he couldn’t carry and moved to Germany – a country where he knew no one and did not speak the language.

I’m prompted to write about Paul because today on FaceBook, he posted that his mission for 2018 was to do one new thing a day and he was asking the online hive mind for ideas. He sees this as a way to push himself into challenges and extend his personal growth beyond his comfort zone. I’m writing a book on much the same topic at the moment and have just developed a presentation on doing two dangerous things a year. Not so much Paul’s version of lots of little things but regular significant things with potential risks.

In this article as a provocative thought for my readers, I’m trying to contrast two distinctive approaches to proactive change. Most of the change we experience is probably happening to us rather than being initiated by us. That’s reactive change. We have our plans and we truck on until life sticks out a leg and trips us up or thrusts out a helping hand and gives us an assist. Plans are great but, as boxer Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. Plans are like the deadlines that author Douglas Adams wrote about, “I love the whooshing sound they make as they pass by”.

A thin slice of the population make proactive choices to change their employment situations. Brave souls. Do they make little continuous choices – like attending nightschool or starting a sideline online business? Or, do they pack it all in, quit the day job with no next gig in sight and see what happens? It’s certainly a wide spectrum. Where have you sat on that scale? Where do you sit on that scale? Where will you sit on that scale?

Marvin Zuckerman created a scale where we can complete an assessment and it’ll categorise our ‘type’ when it comes to sensation seeking – effectively our comfort and behaviour around change and risk. Whether this aspect of our character is genetic or learned is debated. Like everything else, it’s probably a bit of both. I chose to believe it can be a choice. Are you a thrill seeker, experience seeker, disinhibitor, or a boredom susceptible?

These questions are tough to answer off the top of your head and we’re often very poor assessors of ourselves. Track down those best friends of yours and ask them. Real best friends – ones who’ll tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. I send out an assessment to people after my presentation if they ask for it. (Everyone asks for it).

There’s a quick ‘n’ dirty way to know. Three questions. When going with a group to an exotic restaurant that wasn’t your choice, what do you consider when ordering? When arriving at 5pm on a business trip for which you’re fully prepared for a single night stay by yourself in a town you’ve never been to, what do you do that night? At a large gathering of staff, many of whom you don’t know well, what do you do during the scheduled break / networking time? See if you spot a pattern in your answers.

Or, you can look back on the changes you reacted to and initiated in your career to date and analyse those. The best predictor of your future is your past behaviour. And our past behaviour is exactly what got us to wherever we are today. If you’d like something different in your career, then proactively reviewing and adapting that past behaviour of yours is a necessary step.

I quoted Mike Tyson and Douglas Adams earlier in this article. Now, I’m going to quote myself. I have convinced myself I thought of this and I steadfastly refuse to google it in case 17,912 other people already did. So, at the time of writing, author speaker and trainer Terry Williams said, “People don’t resist change; they resist being changed”.


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Decision-Making: Deliberation Without Attention

doors-1767562_960_720 decisions

“Every thought on the wire leads to a fall.” – Philippe Petit, High Wire Aerialist

People feel much more responsible for their actions than their inactions. Joseph Hallinan says in his book ‘Errornomics – Why We Make Mistakes’ that at the moment you think you’re making a decision, it only seems so. It’s really long after the real decision was actually made.

This is an extract from my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’.

Most days are made up of a series of decisions. Some are like which of three cereals should you have for breakfast or which task to start next. Some decisions might be about buying a house or signing a contract to undergo elective surgery. Maybe you agonise over every decision or just the big ones or none at all? The rest you just go with your gut feeling. Sometimes you’ll regret the decisions you make, or choose not to make, and sometimes you won’t. What’s the smartest way to make decisions or help others make them? It depends on the complexity of the decision.

Ap Dijksterhuis out of the University of Amsterdam conducted several studies on just this subject. However, like many of the researchers I’ve read for this book, they used sentences like, “Because of the low processing capacity of consciousness, conscious thought was hypothesized to be maladaptive when making complex decisions.” And they’re right but wordy. In my words, it’s hard to think about a bunch of complicated things at once.

You might like to imagine you’re a rational, logical person who’ll weigh up the pro’s and cons of each decision you make, especially the big ones, and make the best decision you can with the information you have. But what Dijksterhuis proved was quite different. He studied consumers and shoppers in lab conditions and in actual sales situations – during and after. The ‘after’ is especially important, as that is when the true quality and impact of a decision hit home.

All participants were facing a purchase decision of varying sizes. Half were interrupted and distracted during their decision-making process. All were subsequently followed up on how they felt about their decision post-purchase. The thinking was that the distraction allowed the unconscious mind, which can handle lots of complexity at once, to process the decision. It hooks into the brains emotional centres. This is where ‘gut feelings’ may come from. Plus emotional responses to the decision choices are pre-rehearsed and emotional responses to each assessed by your brain with you not consciously aware of them.

His findings were that “simple choices (such as between different towels or different sets of oven mitts) indeed produce better results after conscious thought, but that choices in complex matters (such as between different houses or different cars) should be left to unconscious thought. Named the ‘deliberation-without-attention’ hypothesis, it was confirmed in four studies.”

Conscious thought focuses attention on whatever factors manage to squeeze themselves into our limited conscious mind at the time. That distorts perception and can over-inflate the relative importance of certain factors.

Researcher Loren Nordgren joked about Rene Descartes’ famous quote, “I think therefore I am.” That was all well and good but was he always happy with the shoes he chose to buy? Over-thinking doesn’t make for good decisions when it’s not a simple decision.

I’m not suggesting that lack of attention is a good thing. Otherwise we may as well put teenagers in charge of all the important decisions. Most can usually (always) be relied upon to provide the ‘without attention’ component! No, it has to be a bit more structured than that.

Both studies look at what might be called intentional self distraction. They contrasted three approaches to decision-making: make an instant choice, long list of pro’s and cons, briefly distracting the conscious mind. The latter was the most effective and, down the road a bit, evoked the least regret.

If you just skim read Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink’, you might assume that instant decisions are often best. But on closer examination, I reckon Gladwell agrees with Dijksterhuis. Both reject the supposedly time-tested tradition of logically weighing up over a period of intense concentration a list of pro’s and cons. It takes ages and delivers a poorer result.

My shorthand version of a useful process is:

1. Introduce the problem and range of solution options

2. Carry out a pre-set 3 minute distraction activity.

3. Return to the problem and / or the options. Make your choice.

4. Live with it.

So, what?

I had it drummed into me and I subsequently preached to those I trained about the commonsense of structured event interviewing as a tool for recruiting. I was schooled on the value of decision matrix spreadsheets when evaluating complex contract tender responses. Does this research mean those formal processes have no value? No. Recruiting and big contracts are expensive and the consequences of mistakes are significant. At the very least, you may need to retrospectively justify your decision. (ie Cover your butt.) I think the lesson of deliberation-without-attention is that it pays to try both approaches. If they don’t match, you might need to do some more research and ask some more questions.

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Two Leadership Guru-Speak Terms That I’m OK With

guru

I talk / preach about ‘behaviour-based core values’. I’m not generally a fan of leadership guru-speak but two terms I think that deserve keeping are that and ’employer brand’. I once got headhunted for a job and subsequently discovered the organisation would never use their name, logo or any identifiers in their job ads as “it would put people off”.

That’s probably a sign of a problematic employer brand and disconnection from desirable core values. So, yeah, I think they’re valid and timeless concepts. Even if an employer doesn’t know the meaning of the terms and has never done anything about them, they’ve got them…

I got booked to present to a conference of hirers. Blue collar, grass roots business people. I gave the booker three options for topics. He ran the options past a selection of his people and the chosen topic was unanimous – building a positive and productive team culture. It seems they had a shared problem and that problem was people. Except, of course, the problem wasn’t people. It was their lack of a plan. And THAT was my key message to them.

Part of what attracts and retains talent is behaviour-based core values and employer branding. Both are components of the team culture whether it’s positive and productive or not. With a plan, you have a chance of getting to where you want or at least moving in the right direction. I do not particularly care if they remember or use the terms behaviour-based core values and employer branding, as long as they draft a plan to deliberately develop their behaviour-based core values and employer branding.

You can keep your leveraging, go-forward and so forth, but I’m sticking with the these two concepts. They’re magnetic and like magnets, they can both attract and repel.

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If In Doubt, Leave It Out

if in doubt leave it out

One of the workshops I run is business writing for professionals. It’s hard to avoid getting a bit English-101 so we do dabble in some common errors of grammar, syntax & misused or confused words. (Are you disinterested in this topic? I suspect you mean uninterested but hopefully not that either).

I raise a few ‘rules’ of English & the inevitable myriad of exceptions. It’s not for academics or novelists. It’s for practical business communicators concerned with impact, risk & reputation – all of which can be effected (I think you mean affected) by our writing. So, I get the groups to generate their own rules / guidelines / principles for the real world. I’ve done this dozens of times & the results are always similar.

Reading efficiency, consistency, the writer should do the heavy-lifting for the reader, reader centricity, ambiguity is the enemy (97% fat-free & gluten free, anyone?) & my favourite: if in doubt, leave it out. Whom would have a problem with that?

How does your writing measure up?

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Who Puts The ‘FIT’ In BeneFITs?

fit

I picked a survey online at random that supposes to know what the employee benefits are that are most appreciated by, you know, employees. According to that survey, the top five were health care, paid time off, performance bonuses, paid sick days, and retirement savings contributions. If that’s accurate, that’s good to know, but of course being a survey, it’s aggregated and averaged and, at best, indicative. We talk a lot about ‘employee fit’ these days in building teams and driving employee engagement. Fit applies in a lot of situations and benefit offerings should be one of those. Just because you think something is an incentive for you doesn’t mean everyone, or possibly anyone, else does.

I, for example, would include in my top five, support for and contributions to, my personal and professional development. That might include directly paying for or subsidising training, as well as time off or time flexibility to attend lectures. That has always been and will always be major for me. If that previous survey is to be believed, I’m in the minority. I was coaching a senior manager recently. Afterwards, they negotiated a benefit with their employer that effectively set them on a low-risk path to being able to work on their own quite separate business whilst remaining employed – win:win. That is not a common benefit yet made a major positive difference for both parties.

I subscribe to Daniel Pink’s mailing list. He has a micro-podcast called ‘The PinkCast’. (At some point, I am going to work out how my boring name can be twisted into some kind of pun-based witty publication name. How about ‘Conspiracy Terry’? Yeah nah). In a recent episode of ‘The PinkCast’, Dan tackled one of the critical issues of the day – how best to choose what gift to give to people for Christmas. It seems most people imagine the best gift to give would be a uniquely tailored surprise that captures the essence of the person to whom you are giving it. It showed that most people thought that asking people what they wanted or, horror of horrors, giving them cash or vouchers would be perceived as lazy, insensitive and insulting. Perhaps surprisingly, when questioned further about the reality of having received novel, high-effort gifts, very few ever hit the mark. And, shock of shocks, in retrospect, most people most of the time would’ve preferred to have been given the gift of choice and flexibility via being asked what they wanted or the cash or vouchers.

Personally, I like to hedge my bets and try to use both techniques. The big swing for the ‘wow’ gift doesn’t pay off often but when it does, it knocks it out of the park. After watching the video, I reflected on my own gift receiving experiences. I could recall three over my moderately lengthy life that even the memory of still chokes me up a bit.

Let’s slide this gifting thinking back to our topic of employee benefits. They’re not gifts. They’re not entitlements. They’re part of a remuneration package with some elements possibly at risk. Not everyone is so high up the food chain, nor confident enough or special enough to negotiate an array of shiny benefits into their contract at the point of employment. Let’s go back to first principles – what is the point? What are we trying to achieve or support via the mechanism of whatever form of employee benefit? It’s that whole attraction, retention, engagement, loyalty, morale thing, right?

That top five from that original were health care, paid time off, performance bonuses, paid sick days, and retirement savings contributions. On average, you’ll hit most people’s hot buttons most of the time with those. But how can we fashion into our processes some means of capturing outlying benefit possibilities? How might my own desire for personal development support as an employee benefit for me have been captured? As a young person starting out, even if a genuinely altruistic employer had asked me, I might not even have known myself at that stage.

How about a menu like at a restaurant? (And, by ‘restaurant’, I mean one with a drive-through). A simple-to-read-at-a-glance listing of the employee benefit options that most people choose in descending order of popularity. You could choose to combo some perhaps. You might cash in others. There might still be the option to make them your way off-menu.

Employees don’t know what they don’t know and neither do employers, so diminishing those blind spots around what particular individual employees value in a benefit would be valuable. Asking people is fine but not exhaustive. Asking individuals is better but not exhaustive. Having some flexibility at various points to review and introduce new offerings seems smart.

If you hire someone and tell them their pay is $20 an hour but in three months it’ll be $22.50, when you ask them when they want to start, don’t be surprised when they reply, “In three months”.

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Time Is The New Currency

5pm

I have a friend who is a professional comedian. Being an HR soul through and through, I asked him what the remuneration and benefits were like. He said he did it for the love. He then added that once a client actually offered to pay him with love. They finally agreed on a dollar figure and a couple of free beers.

It is all too easy to assume people are little economic robots making purely rational decisions like we were all encouraged to believe at school. There’s the old adage about the shipwreck where an engineer, a physicist and an economist were marooned on a desert island with only a crate of tinned food to sustain them. The engineer said, “I’ll build a raft.” The physicist said, “I’ll construct a fire.” The economist said, “Assume a can opener…”

It might make theoretical understanding of economic concepts easier if we limit things to two variables, assume people are rational and spout, “Ceteris Paribus”[1] but we all know people aren’t always rational. This is even true of their choices and reactions to remuneration and benefits. Sepia-toned men with clipboards and stopwatches in lab coats in the 1950s no doubt made many graphs showing some kind of cause and effect between money paid and productivity. Perhaps that was true (or at least truer) back in the day?

Further back in a more distant pre-industrial day, issues of remuneration and benefits were more clear-cut. A subsistence existence will do that for you. You produced or you perished. You ate, wore or lived in what you yourself produced and the benefits you received were ‘not dying.’ Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it and with the economy the way it is, you may be trying it sooner than you think! Relax – I’m talking about growing your own vegetables not anarchic tribal feudalism, although that would probably make a great reality TV show. Our nomadic and early farming societies made or traded for what they needed. As productivity expanded they could elevate themselves to what they wanted as well, not just what they needed. Those economists again would refer to ‘Need Hierarchies.’ Traditionally this would have the basics at the bottom of a visual pyramid like food and shelter. Nowadays, I suppose that includes ultra-fast broadband and high-def TV?

I suppose the point I’m making is that once to encourage productivity in another you could offer an extra couple of chickens. We got to a point where that offer could be made in a medium of exchange we call money. I am proposing that the new (well, new to most of us) economic recessionary climate calls for a mixed approach. What is the new money? What can be dangled in front of those of us left with jobs to encourage and inspire us to bust our humps to be more productive? Not that we’re not already busting our humps but it’s generally true that we keep a little spare hump-busting capacity just in case. It’s only human.

I’m a firm believer in time as a new currency. It has value and limited supply. The Government can’t print any more time like they can money. The average life span of a kiwi woman is 81 and a kiwi man is 78. We can argue about why that is later but whatever your number, that’s all there is. If you knew what that number was for you, how differently would you live your life?

Reward talent with time. Maybe they ‘spend’ that time with their kids and society benefits? Maybe they ‘invest’ that time in a moonlighting sideline making macramé sandals that turns into an export boom that revitalises the economy but in an environmentally friendly way? What other innovative remuneration avenues can we develop?

The iconic New Zealand game show was ‘It’s In the Bag.’ If you’re over 30, you must remember that show. (If you’re under 30, this is what a recession feels like. How’s that carefree Gen Y attitude of yours now punk?) In the ultimate round of the show, the host would entice the ‘winner’ to choose between a known amount of prize money and a bag in which resided a mystery prize. There were a number of bags. Some contained a voucher for an awesome appliance of much greater value than the money. Some contained booby prizes. The host would cajole the ‘winner’ with small incremental increases in the offer whilst shouting to the audience, “What should they do New Zealand – the money or the bag?” How cool would this be come remuneration review time at your organisation? Sure some people lose but if Barry gets that state-of-the-art barbeque then everyone wins. And if you get the booby prize of a packet of vegetable seeds, then you’re all set for the post-apocalyptic anarchic tribal feudalism the media is hyping up.

[1] All other things remaining equal


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Age Diversity Will Be A Massive Source Of Strength

strength

Last weekend, I was skimming through some old papers I’d received at a Human Resources conference some years ago. I was supposed to be cleaning out the shelves in the basement. My possessions undergo a rigorous protocol to determine whether or not they remain in my possession. Items in constant use stay where they are constantly used, like on the bench. Items occasionally used get slotted into a cupboard, although a nearby cupboard. Items rarely used get posted to a distant cupboard up the back in the dark that you can only reach with a stepstool, a torch whilst dislocating vertebrae in the process. There follows a descending evolution of merit to the pile out the back of the shed in the garden which is a prerequisite to the local Council’s inorganic collection. (Oddly enough, many organisations have a similar descending proximity approach to their people, particularly the bit about the distance, the dark and the garden. Hence the term, “gardening leave.”)

So, I’m looking at the conference papers for the first time since the conference, not so much out of interest but out of a desire to avoid doing the actual cleaning. There was a list of the tools employers can use to assess the suitability of candidates for employment. Each tool was ranked in order of its proven effectiveness in determining the eventual success of candidates in the workplace. The number one tool had an effectiveness of 0.52 which places it fractionally above tossing a coin or picking red or black on a casino’s roulette wheel. Fortunately it suggested that combining a number of tools was the best way to increase the odds of selecting suitable candidates. Good advice – more people should read advice like that more often. But that wasn’t what caught my eye as I read the paper amidst the dust, spiders and unknown sticky floor stains covered in sawdust of my basement detritus. The lowest scoring determinant was age.

A recent Department of Labour report showed New Zealand is leading the way in employing more older people in the workforce. (Older? Older than what? Age is such a relative concept. Comedian Mitch Hedberg has a joke about someone giving him a photograph of themselves then said, “This is a photograph of me when I was younger.” Surely, every photograph of you is a photo of you when you were younger? Anything else is way too Dorian Gray for my liking.)

It is said that ‘older’ workers (55-59) are less likely to want to climb the corporate ladder, more likely to want to add value in a job they enjoy and are more loyal. It didn’t say if they were more prone to writing impromptu letters to the editor, criticising the haircuts of their younger colleagues or making constant glowing references to some unspecified semi-fictional period known as the “good old days” when it only rained at night, the All Blacks always won and everyone had two well paying jobs yet still had sufficient spare time to coach their local primary school’s rugby team that went on to produce several All Blacks who always won on gloriously sunny Saturdays.

Older workers do stand out though for other reasons. They have names like Stanley, Harold, Gladys and Edith. I have not once ever met a sixty-year-old named Kylie or Madison. Mind you, I’ve never met a five-year-old Gladys either. Perhaps I should search MySpace.com? Perhaps not.

Many employers would struggle today to survive without workers who immigrated here. From high tech companies to the local supermarket’s checkout, we are greeted by people with different cultures, languages and skin tone. Hopefully we generally try to accept those people and ease their transition to their new environment. If we do that for folks from another country, why wouldn’t we do that for folks from another time? (Which is effectively what older workers are.) They have a different culture, a different language and a different skin tone, no matter how much moisturiser they’ve plastered on themselves over the decades. Time travel is possible; it just happens to be one-way and a very slow process.

Older workers sticking it out have adapted to a changing work environment and so should employers. I was in Burger King recently and couldn’t help overhearing the mobile phone conversation of a lady at the table next to me – probably sixty (the lady not the table.) She was engaged in a blackmarket online exchange of knitting patterns, using a similar business model to the music file-sharing concepts of Napster. Wow, that is a successful collision of cultures. I almost regret turning her in.

People are not like household possessions. Employers should not shunt them down some informal ladder as they age until they lay unwanted on a pile behind the garden shed awaiting the employment equivalent of the inorganic collection to come and take them away. (Although if it’s the Council doing the taking, maybe they put them to work and that’s why my #$%@ resource consent is taking so long!)

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