Technology alone cannot transform work or improve the human experience in the workplace. We need to change the unhealthy behaviours and beliefs that have created this monster of our own making. A great place to start is by banishing some of the ridiculous badges of honour we have allowed to be worn so proudly in the workplace.
Most organisations are involved in a constant battle to attract and retain top talent, and to ensure that their people are highly engaged and productive. To help them in their quest, there is some amazing HR Technology, as well as numerous consultants and change management specialists who are managing any number of digital and other transformation initiatives aimed at creating the ever-elusive ‘amazing place to work’.
I am a huge fan of technology, and a major proponent of the automation of mundane and repetitive tasks and data-driven decision making. But I have also been in this game long enough to know that the only way we will truly transform work for the better is if we change the underlying beliefs and behaviours that still permeate corporate culture the world over. It starts with banishing these totally bogus and BS badges of honour that have dominated the workplace for the past 40 years or so and replacing them with much healthier and more sustainable behaviour.
- Banish Busy, Replace with Flow
Cue the 1980s image of the Type A business exec, working 80 hour weeks. Always busy, always rushing, always stressed. They’re in the office super early, and they’re the last to leave – and they somehow think this is an achievement and something to be proud of. This mistaken belief is of course partly our collective fault, because we perpetuated the cycle for so long and kept on rewarding this behaviour with promotions, salary increases, bonuses and stock options. There is a plethora of research out there showing that this model is simply unsustainable and downright unhealthy. Productivity levels are not maintained, mistakes increase, and physical and mental wellbeing is negatively impacted, leading to deteriorating interpersonal relationships and, eventually, absenteeism and burnout.
It is a human impossibility to remain 100% productive and focused for eight straight hours or more. Create a workplace where this notion is embraced and encouraged, and where your employees are provided with all the tools and support they need to function at their best and to truly deliver value and derive meaning from their work. Ensure that your people are taking regular breaks and not working ridiculously long hours as a rule. Recognise and reward true contributions instead of mere ‘busyness’, and emphasise quality of work over number of hours at work.
- Banish Burnout, Replace with Balance
Another BS badge of honour that we have allowed to get out of hand is the employee who is so super busy that they ‘cannot afford’ to take time off work, or they ‘have to work’ instead of taking a sick day. This doesn’t make them any kind of superhero, and it perpetuates unhealthy behaviour throughout your organisation – not to mention the negative impact on productivity and absenteeism as sick employees make others sick and the entire office ends up suffering.
Encourage your employees to take mandatory time off at least once a quarter, and ensure that they don’t think it’s an achievement to attend the office and spread the flu like the Outbreak Monkey. Provide support for mental health issues, including stress, anxiety and depression, and ensure that your employees don’t feel that it would be a career-limiting move to admit that they need help or some time off.
- Banish Always On, Replace with Mandatory Radio Silence
Remember the days before email, cell phones and being able to work from home? The days when work ended at 17:30 and whatever happened after that had to wait until tomorrow? Ye olden days when being off sick or on leave actually meant that you were uncontactable and actually had to rest and recuperate?
We cannot erase the amazing technology that we have today – and I wouldn’t want to. We can, however, bring back those ‘old school’ values and behaviours, and we can drive those from a leadership level. We can also start using technology to our advantage by scheduling correspondence or drafting mails and saving these to be sent at a later time.
Encourage people to take time off. Don’t inundate them with emails, calls and DMs unless it’s an absolute emergency and the world is legit about to end if they don’t intervene immediately. Take away the anxiety that your employees are feeling and the pressure to be ‘always on’ by introducing mandatory radio silence from the end of your office hours. You may even have to go as far as incentivising this mandatory radio silence to embed the behaviour in your corporate culture, but your employees (and their friends and families) will thank you for it.
Changing the mess we have created with our outdated beliefs and badges of honour is going to take time and effort in terms of creating new ways of working, new vocabulary and new standards of ‘high performance.’ If you would like to learn more about how you can help your employees get into their ‘flow’ and live a healthier, more balanced, productive and engaged life, contact People First.
Deborah Hartung is a Consultant, Coach, Author and Speaker based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
She has spent almost 20 years advising corporates on matters relating to employee relations, corporate culture and leadership development. Deborah is passionate about people and technology, the human experience in the workplace and the opportunities for the advancement of humanity in the digital age.
Especially popular with young or first-time leaders, entrepreneurs and women in leadership, Deborah encourages all those she meets to align with their purpose and to be brave enough to be authentic in all their interactions. She writes about life, love, leadership, workplace culture, the future of work and the importance of making the world a kinder, more tolerant place.