Category Archives: Unscheduled absenses

Grown up gap years: avoiding burn out

Mid career breaks. How to stay sane and avoid burn out
Just before Christmas I had an email from Thailand from an ex business associate. He was in between jobs and had negotiated a six month career gap. At 45 he had been working his socks and body parts off for over 20 years and needed a time-out to re-charge the flagging batteries. It was the best thing he’d ever done he claimed, wished he’d done it earlier and felt it should be mandatory for all executives. “You don’t know how tired and under performing you are until you actually stop. I also realised how worn out many of my team and peers were too, especially after the last 2 to 3 years fighting for survival during the recession. It’s not good for concentration, impacts the effectiveness of both the team and decision-making process and ultimately impacts the bottom line.”

Voluntourism
Another colleague is about to take off on a gap period to do some “Voluntoursim” a relatively new concept where individuals combine voluntary work with travel. One site describes this experience as .. “The conscious, seamlessly integrated combination of voluntary service to a destination and the best, traditional elements of travel — arts, culture, geography, history and recreation — in that destination

He had no specific job lined up for his return, but his employer had agreed to keep a position open for him “Yes “ he said ” there’s some risk, there are no guarantees that any openings will be in line with my expectations, but I wanted to do something different, give back and travel. This seems ideal. I’ll take my lap top and i-phone with me, keep in touch, but I just need to clear my head. I also want to do this while I’m physically fit and intend to come back refreshed and ready to go! Savvy organisations will realise that this can only help them be more profitable

No longer retirees
When I looked on Google there are literally dozens of organisations, companies and blogs set up to cater for this new trend of older people taking career breaks and going to destinations as diverse as India, Ecuador and the Arctic Circle. These trips of a lifetime were frequently associated with post retirement plans ( or even post graduation), but as those days are being bumped further into the future by economic and social change and retirement may now not start until employees are in their late 60s, many want to take those trips while they can. My own father, sadly, was diagnosed with cancer the week before he retired and was never able to fulfill his dreams. Today, many are not prepared to wait and take a chance.

Flexible working
A new study (“Flexible Work Models: How to bring sustainability in a 24/7 world”) of 3,300 professional men and women published by Bain & Company on the adoption and effectiveness of flexible work models finds that a lack of availability of these programs, as well as their poor utilization, can dramatically increase the likelihood that employees stay with their current company and more effective implementation can improve retention of women by up to 40% and up to 25% for men.

Despite the fact that flex models are one of the hottest recruiting and retention tools, they aren’t sufficiently used at many organizations,” said Julie Coffman, a Bain partner and study author. “Companies can no longer get away with just offering cookie cutter options; they must tailor them to their employees and also provide adequate levels of support and resources to ensure better cultural acceptance.”

10 Steps to burn out
So what would cause an executive or any other employee to start internet researching and reach for their credit card, when to the outside world they have great careers. According to the Bain report, a combination of 5 of any of the criteria mentioned below, identify the hallmarks of a challenging work situation, which could lead to a need for a break:
§ Unpredictable work flow;
§ Fast-paced work under tight deadlines;
§ Inordinate scope of responsibility that amounts to more than one job;
§ Work-related events outside regular work hours;
§ Expected to be available to clients or customers 24/7;
§ Responsibility for profit and loss;
§ Responsibility for mentoring and recruiting;
§ Large amount of travel;
§ Large number of direct reports;
§ Physical presence at workplace at least 10 hours a day

When employees work in excess of 50 hours per week, that can also contribute to a feeling of burnout. This is of course without factoring in any of the usual domestic pressures or any other specific difficulties, which routinely crop up in most people’s lives and contribute to overall life stress. Not surprisingly, by mid – career many wish they could take a break. Seemingly, those that can, are actively trying to make that happen in ever-increasing numbers.

Organisational view
One HR Director I spoke to said ” At one time it was mainly women who wanted flexi-time arrangements or sabbaticals to extend their maternity leave, so that they could stay at home with their children. Now, leave of absence requests are becoming increasingly common from both men and women of all ages, as employees seek not just challenging careers, but opportunities to take breaks and recharge their batteries. Our top executives are entitled to extended leave periods every 5 years. For both younger and older non-executives sabbaticals tend be the best-fit flexible work option. They very often choose to travel or do voluntary or project work. Others use a break for child or parental care, or even to pursue further education. Some organisations are also offering employees the opportunity to buy additional holidays, which effectively means that they take a salary cut in exchange for additional time off. In some functions this can be easily arranged. In other more operational areas it can be more difficult.”

As all Gen Y research has indicated, Millenials will demand greater flexibility from their organisations in the future. So flexi-time options previously associated with supporting women to take care of their children, will move further into mainstream cross gender HR policy. This will mean organisations will be pressed to consider the provision of a full menu of flexi-time options including parental leave, flexible hours or remote working as well as extended leave of absence.

I’m already looking at the map!

So how about you? Would you like to take a mid career break?

 

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 ..no!

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! ”

Fun!
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. www.duvetday.org 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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