Category Archives: Absenteeism

10 Barriers to successful promotion

careerI see many people in transition who struggle to advance in their careers  internally within their own organisations, in almost the same way as if they were involved in an external job search.

Today,  many companies have very rigorous internal promotion processes which can be as daunting as looking for a position outside a current organisation.

However,  there are many common elements and they require the same structured approach to achieve success. Just like an external  job search,  the process can take up to a year, further complicated by competition against colleagues,   some of whom may have become friends. Some companies even go to the expense of conducting external executive searches to benchmark the quality of their internal talent pipeline.

Over the years I’ve noticed what has become an all too familiar pattern with ten barriers to success:

  1. Lack of expertise in self-promotion:  many are unused to dealing with this type of process and are simply confused. This is compounded by a refusal to ask for help. Many in established positions have no idea how neutral input can make a difference to the outcome. Very often organisations will fund transition coaching especially at a senior level. Ask, and if they say “no”,  don’t hesitate invest in yourself.
  2. Lack of self-awareness: most people make very little time to think about themselves – their skills, goals, achievements, vision and passions. Those who are still employed are equally as guilty as  job seekers of this, perhaps more so because they know the organisation and the players.  They think they can ” wing it ” on the day.  A thorough inventory of achievements and skills should always be made as part of any on going career strategy. Internal candidates quite frequently have less interview exposure than externals so their self presentation skills can be more rusty.
  3. Stuck in “yes / but” :  Many want to make a change and explore new methodologies but get stuck in self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours. They are unable to make that paradigm shift to get there.  As Einstein pointed out “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different  results.”
  4. Avoidance strategies:  transitioning professionally takes a lot of work and many are not prepared to run the hard yards.  They get caught up in the cyber black  hole of “busyness” , unproductive work on computers of all sizes,  convincing themselves they are working effectively, when they are clearly not.  Business plans have to be prepared, strategic value to market statements must be created, plus whatever other activities organisations demands  (personality and psychological testing for example.)  All of this is time-consuming.
  5. Low self-esteem and or anxiety:  these two psychological states are frequent bed fellows which feed on each other to produce the  “busyness” above. Fear of failure maybe at the root of these dangerous emotions or perhaps there have been some missed  or failed opportunities in the past. Falling into the low self-esteem cycle undermines productivity and ultimately success. Find a coach, a mentor or a neutral friend or colleague to support you.
  6. Poor time management: whether in employment or on a job search a structured approach to time management is critical. Goals should be set, plans made and implemented and time planned.
  7. Failure to set goals: internal candidates are well-known to their management which has  both negatives and positives. It’s not enough to pitch up, suited and booted to give a brilliantly polished performance on the day. Strategic preparation over an extended period is critical, including professional image management. If your appearance look like a sack of spanners most days in the office,  a one day transformation for the interview will not be enough.
  8.  Lack of both mentors and sponsors: for the necessary support. Implement some visibility raising strategies to  raise your profile within your company. It is really easy to neglect an internal network. Create some strategic alliances.
  9. Failure to evaluate the competition.  Is your manager sponsoring you? If so, is he/she also sponsoring others for the position? Find out what you need to do to get full and unqualified support. Be aware of who the other candidates might be and their relative strengths and weaknesses.
  10. No Plan B: in very  competitive internal processes which might have long-term career impact,  as part of the planning process ask yourself what you want to do if you are not successful.   Having a “Plan B” is key – will you stay on and try again? Does this mean your career will have stalled? It’s important to understand what your next steps will be and create a plan in advance. Knowing that a potential key resource may leave an organisation can be a factor.  Make sure your external network is in place too,  as your ” just in case” safety net.

So whether an external or internal candidate,  the career transition process carries many common elements! What would you add?

Good luck!

The downside of presenteeism

Presenteeism has crept into modern day business vocabulary and is now listed as a new word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, defined as “presenteeism (noun): working when sick especially to avoid the stigma of being absent. ”  Research about the negative impact of this trend is significant,  with an estimated impact on workplace effectiveness and productivity amounting to billions.

Missed point
The focus has hitherto been on the health aspect of the definition,  which is of course completely understandable.

But perhaps a little brazenly I think we’re missing the main point.

For me, the key part of the definition is ” to avoid the stigma of being absent“. This extends the insidious and more extensive reach of presenteeism beyond macho, masters of the universe,   boiler room cultures,  into business practises, which many of us encounter every day, as organisations become  “lean, mean and keen”.

  • Not taking vacations  – despite all the occupational health information about the value of annual holidays, even in countries with statutory entitlement provisions  – many still don’t take their full quotas.
  • Staying late when there is no work to be done  – I have much first hand anecdotal evidence to suggest that this practise is rife and that employees who work their contracted hours are viewed negatively, even if there is no specific deadline to meet.
  • Working to unnecessarily tight deadlines set by disorganised management or power playing superiors.
  • Working late and at weekends to avoid seeming uncommitted.  Technology has created a culture of 24/7 availability and those who don’t respond to messages on their iPhones within nano seconds are perceived to be “slackers”.  I have one contact who stores his emails and sends them out at what would be post business hours in various global time zones,  to give an impression of super  diligence.
  • Skipping lunch  –   the ” lunch is for wimps” mentality is prevalent in many organisations, with one connection fainting with hypoglycemia after working for 9 hours without eating.  Many eat unhealthy snacks at their desk which drains energy and reduces output.

The fallout from this culture reaches and impacts entire workforces and in particular those who can’t subscribe to this charade and for any number of reasons have to work their contracted hours.  Working mothers are one category to feel the judgement heat.  Anyone who knows any working mum  (or who has been one)  understands all too well,  that even if they work part-time,  this phrase generally refers to compensation,  rather than the hours worked, while the workload managed almost certainly hovers around 100%.

Victoria Pynchon  highlights this in her  Forbes  piece where she boldly talks about the amount of  “face-time ”  wasted in her career,  suggesting that having a family  might have forced her  “  … to work in a more focused manner, to organize myself and my working teams better”  But truthfully having  children isn’t a prerequisite for being focused, although it is certainly necessary .

But on a general workplace level isn’t it time to over turn this outdated culture , which  all research suggests leads to a  dramatic decrease in individual and therefore organisational productivity.  Or as Brendan S  maintains  that  as offices are inherently inefficient places   we should be measuring productivity by the results obtained and not the hours spent at a desk.

The irony is that “presenteeism ” does eventually lead to “absenteeism”,  with stress from heavy workloads and job insecurity fears,  being the highest causes of  sickness absence.

Or will we reach a situation such as we see with the Apple manufacturers in China where shamefully,  a new spin on workplace Health and Safety  is to install safety nets  around their buildings to reduce the suicide rate.

Being present isn’t a barometer of value.

What do you think?  

Running late – Life as a bus

An epidemic of tolerance as though being late is always outside our control

Poor timekeeping
I have to confess that in my time I have indeed been guilty of some erratic time keeping. I was very much  ” a one more thing before I go”  type of girl  and a great subscriber to the phrase “fashionably late“.  But then I worked for a manager who would monetize  the communally wasted time whenever any of his team was late for a meeting.   It was actually quite shocking. If we had all been held financially accountable,  our pay cheques would have been significantly lighter.   When I transitioned into sales I had to replace ” better late than never ” with  “never late is better”.  Arriving late isn’t actually a recognised commercially winning strategy.

Running late
I have become acutely aware in recent weeks how erratic general timekeeping seems to have become and how easily  the phrase  “running late “,  has slid into our daily business and social vernacular, including my own. Very often people apologise, (sometimes they don’t), explaining that either they, someone, or something else was “running late“, as though they were a bus service,  entirely passive and had nothing to do with it at all. Clearly there are always unforseen circumstances. Only recently I scooted into an important meeting with only  minutes to spare,  because a journey scheduled to take 10 minutes,  took 45,  due to traffic congestion.  But, I wondered, are we all becoming more tolerant of  poor time keeping,  as if  we are communally raising our hands saying ”  I know life is tough for you  – but it’s Ok – I don’t mind waiting here wasting my own time….. I’m a bus too ?”  Whatever happened to William Shakespeare’s “Better three hours too soon, than one minute too late?”

A candidate was recently late for an interview. He hadn’t properly checked the company’s address the night before and arrived 15 minutes late,  having been to the wrong building at the designated hour. What should have been a walk in the park (he was the preferred candidate) became an interview nightmare, as his anxiety levels rose and he fluffed even routine questions. A hiring manager similarly kept a candidate waiting so long that she eventually left and then withdrew from the process.

Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management From the Inside Out,  tells us that the first step is to make promptness a conscious priority,  but also we need to  gain an understanding into why we’re always late.   Poor timekeeping can  be very costly, both directly  but also via damage to our reputations suggesting we are unreliable,  untrustworthy and/or disorganised. The reasons she maintains tend to fall into 2  categories: technical or psychological.

Technical Difficulties

Life as a bus

If we are always late but at different time then, the likelihood is that it is the result of  bad planning and under estimating how long things will take.

Morgenstern advises establishing patterns by keeping a time log of all tasks and finding out exact how much time each task takes. Then factor in a margin for some unforseen contingency.

Inability to say no
Linda Sapadin, PhD, author of Master Your Fears believes there are deeper underlying implications of poor timekeeping,  which are linked to procrastination. Very often many of the difficulties come from lack of confidence and an inability to say no,  or even to tell another person we have another appointment in our diaries.

Do you choose to be late?
If we are always late by the same amount of time, there could be a number of reasons – but no doubt, it’s about us!  We might be:

  • Rebellious   – not doing what’s expected
  •  A crisis maker   – need an adrenalin rush to get going
  • Attention seeker  – which comes with being last through the door and going through the apology ritual.
  • Power playing  – I’m more important than you are,  sending a message of disrespect
  • Avoider – you don’t want to meet the person, or attend the meeting, so leave it until the very last-minute.

During a recession when employers are tightening up on time keeping with threats of dismissal after the second or third offence, there are so many challenges in the workplace, it seems crazy not to take responsibility for the things we can control ourselves. It’s also really rude!

So next time instead of saying something ” ran late“, perhaps we should all just be honest and admit to being bad planners,  power players, attention seekers or avoiders.

Or is the alternative to opt for carrying on living our lives as buses?

The season of discontent: Singles speak out

Workplace flexibility for all
I spent some time in the autumn with a mixed group of younger high-powered professionals. What they all had in common was that they were either single, or if they were in relationships, they had no children. Young and fancy free – sounds fun right? Well!

Chat moved on to their plans for Christmas. There was more than a little disgruntlement about the issue of how their offices would be staffed during the holiday season. Some companies now close completely, but others expect a level of skeleton manning. There seemed to be an unwritten expectation in all their organisations (cross sector) that when it came to allocating holidays there was a pecking order: employees with children would be given (or take) priority and then the singletons, would be expected to volunteer to organise cover amongst themselves.

These guys were not happy! Not just because they wanted to go skiing or the Maldives (although a few did) but because they had their own obligations and commitments which they considered to be equally important. In recent research I carried out on the priorities of Gen Y women, I saw that they were somewhat intolerant of workplace flexibility for women only and advocated flexibility for all.

Other obligations
David, a Consultant with a major audit company fumed “My parents are divorced and I need to make 2 family visits. It’s just not possible to do that in a few days. All I want to do is take my vacation time when I want it. Last year I provided weekend cover and worked late in December, so that the parents could go to school concerts and do Christmas things with their kids. Parents assume they are entitled to take the time off between Christmas and New Year. I will be expected to work. It’s not that I begrudge them flexi-time – but I think it should be offered to all

There are also many different types of care and domestic or family responsibilities. Susan is single in her early 50s and has strong obligations to look after her widowed mother, now in her mid 80s. Peter’s wife has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and requires additional support. They claim , that the fact that an individual has no children doesn’t mean their commitments are necessarily any less demanding. In a C.C.H. survey carried out in 2007 in relation to unscheduled absenteeism, more than 60% of unscheduled absence is related to non sickness reasons, resulting in huge costs to companies.

Responsibility to and for self
But what about the employee who has no responsibilities for others, but simply wants workplace flexibility to allow them to look after themselves? As working days and commutes become longer, technology now offers many options to facilitate that. Workplace stress also causes significant organisational and health issues, so shouldn’t employees be encouraged to give their own needs priority?

Madeleine was more direct and took a firmer view. “People with kids feel that their family status puts them into a special category. Having children is a lifestyle choice. Couples know what the issues are when they make the decision to have a family. My boss quite often asks me to cover for her when she has to leave early or work remotely to deal with childcare issues ( she has 4 kids) .I’m totally OK with that, but when I wanted to go to the gym in office hours, because fitness is a high priority for me and after a 12 hour day, I’m too tired, it was suggested that I go at lunchtime. Lunchtime is for eating! ”

The irony might be that working Mums, the group which cries out for work place flexibility the hardest, would actually benefit if that perk became standard for all. Leanne Chase of Career Life Connection takes the matter one step further and suggests that with regard to workplace flexibility “ for it to be universal we need to place a whole lot less emphasis on “family” “women” “care-giving” and “children.”

Could it be the protests from the singletons who want to look after themselves, or simply take time off at the holidays to relax and have fun, with no obligations at all, which will make a difference?

What do you think?

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Duvet Day….zzzzz! Benefit or Ruse?

Does a day in bed increase employee engagement?
There are a number of week days a year when truthfully, I don’t feel like getting my not so little bottom out of my bed. It’s not that I’ve had a wild party the night before, but it might be cold, raining, snowing or the day just looks as though it might be better viewed from a horizontal position. Regrettably, I can only put the alarm on snooze for 15 minutes max and I just have to get up and get on with it. I have clients, candidates and calls and I’m not sure how many of them would react if I just said “ Soooo sorry not in the mood today. No reason – I’ll get back to you tomorrow” I suspect I would go out of business quicker than you could say bankrupt! Or would I?

Duvet Day
Yet, we have a phenomenon which seems to be around in some organisations called a Duvet Day. define this practise as follows ” a term that has become synonymous with the act of taking a day off work or school when you ‘just don’t feel up to it’. You are not ill, you don’t want to lie to the boss; you just need a day in bed!! “ one of the upsides is seemingly reducing carbon emissions by cutting back on fossil fuels used up during a commute! Good wheeze!

How did this creep into organisational culture? It seems that it originated with US corporations, seeking to become enlightened employers and to foster employee loyalty. Early adopters in the UK include PR company Text100, in 1995. An allocation of several duvet days per employee is now becoming more widespread, reports suggest, as is the wider concept of helping employees maintain work/life balance.

Unscheduled absences
Unscheduled staff absence due to illness or other reasons can be very costly for employers, official statistics and survey data reveal. In the UK it was reported by the Health and Safety Commission that 36 million days of work were lost due to sickness absence in 2006 and 2007, and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) estimated the annual cost of sickness absence to UK employers to be £659 per employee. Previous studies found that employers significantly underestimate the costs to their organizations of unplanned absenteeism.

In the United States, research in 2007 by Mercer National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, found that the equivalent of around 9% of total salary costs were incurred due to unplanned absence although that does vary considerably between different types of organizations and is higher in the public sector. The CCH Inc. 2000 Unscheduled Absence Survey indicated that sickness absence accounts for only around 40% of all unscheduled absenteeism, with family factors also being significant. In the UK, a study by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health puts the total cost to UK employers of absence due to stress and mental health problems at £8.4 billion. Overall patterns of sickness absence are quite similar between different countries, being higher among women, than men and among older, rather than younger employees. .

Workplace informality
At the same time we have seen the general growth of US-inspired workplace informality; dress down Fridays ( where men are excused from ties and suits and women can wear jeans). In some organisations these are morphing into dress down every day. The dress codes of work places is becoming more casual, as employers recognise the connection between employees feeling comfortable while at work and the quality of their results.

Life style management services
Another growth area is so-called homing, where because of longer working hours and commutes, the office is made more like home with personal PA and concierge services (dry cleaning, car washing, laundry, groceries delivered to desks and general errand running) taking on the functions that many people need, but don’t have time to do themselves, so are happy to outsource.

Workplace flexibility: perk or placebo
So is this drive to give us more flexibility a superficial ruse to lull us into believing that things are better than they are and we don’t mind working all those long hours or as hard as we do? Is it all a con? Mike Emmott, employee-relations adviser at the CIPD, in a report, Flexible working: good business; How small firms are doing it, demonstrates the value – the economic benefits as well as less tangible measures – of flexible working, noting the common elements. “The managers were all “people” people; they were good at communication and fostered a caring ethos in their businesses. This meant they had low absenteeism, very high retention of expertise and experience, and workers who looked after each other.”

Emmott was particularly struck by how policies promoting work-life balance were “so intimately linked with business ideas about profitability. It’s about resolving business issues, not just about being lovey-dovey”.

I don’t know about you – but I’m going to take a nap!

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