Features | 11.28.2016

HR policies then and now

In 2016, organizational productivity was the main talking point of many conversations. What were the key contributors to productivity? Did employee wellness play a crucial role in improving productivity? What role did work-life balance have in this? Was the open office a productivity thief? Amidst all this conversation we saw stress at the workplace emerge as a key productivity sapper. The World Health Organization estimates the annual cost of employee stress-related expenses at $300 billion. So what is wrong with the workplace today? Do productivity and efficiency have to come at the cost of wellness and personal happiness? Will taking personal time continue to derail employee success? Is walking out and quitting jobs the only option when employees want to lead an aesthetically good and enriched life? Does everything have to be an either /or option?

[ This post was originally written for hr.com ]

These are just a few of the questions that plague managers and human resources. Before we tackle them, let’s step back and see what has brought about this conundrum.

Just a few decades ago, to now

Work and life were simpler, say as early as 20 years ago. There was a distinct line between work time and personal time. While in the office, you focused on getting work done quickly so that you got to leave on time. And once out, you were free to do what you wanted; the time was yours. Time management was easier and simpler.

Of course, even then there are the two ends of the spectrum – the laggards and the over-workers. But that breed of worker exists even today, and we’re not here to discuss the exceptions.

Today the work landscape has seen a shift – a rather rapid shift. The simplicity of office space and home space no longer exists. The lines between work time and personal time are blurring. And there is a newer ideology in place that wants, no expects, people to stay connected all the time. The people who respected barriers of time, space, and geographies are being overtaken by those who live in an always-on state.

In a way, it does make sense. Organizations are no longer restricted by their local offices alone. The business has transcended geographical boundaries, and having global and offshore teams is more commonplace than one would’ve imagined earlier. The offshoot of this new work landscape is longer working hours to coordinate and collaborate with everyone, leading to overworked and stressed employees.

Did you know that research says more than 30% of employees are unhappy and stressed because of work? Technology is supposed to be making our lives easier, then why does it seem like it is taking over? Why is talent management becoming such a difficult subject?

Yes, these are difficult and stressful times. Disengagement and dissatisfaction are on the rise, while productivity is slipping. It’s not that managers are unaware of the situation. Most seem to be on the edge of this slippery slide, but there is still time to pull up.

Old policies in the new age

In this continually changing environment, the one thing that has remained constant is Human Resources. Most organizations are either unaware or loathe to relook at set ways of managing HR. However, to see change, the old HR policies need to be put away to make way for new ideas and a new way of doing business in the knowledge economy.

What matters more: time at work or time at work?

In the pre-digital age, with most people working a standard 8-hour shift, keeping track of employee hours was simple simply a matter of punching-in and punching-out, at the same time every day.

In today’s digital era, productivity isn’t about quantity (number of hours at the office), but the quality (how the time at work is being spent). It’s about the value that an individual brings which adds to an organization’s bottom-line. How do you quantify that output against a 40-hour week scale? Spending one minute on writing a code that saves an organization billions of dollars just cannot be viewed through the myopic scope of the number of hours in a day.

Moreover, as we’ve mentioned earlier, organizations are spread across geographies, and fluid policies such as work-from-home and flexi-hours make it increasingly difficult to capture productive hours.

Also, with the penetration of gadgets like smartphones, it is no longer possible to keep personal life outside of work life. And it is no longer possible to work uninterrupted. What are considered to be the best personal productivity tools are also the major digital distractions.

Unless your people are supremely focused and diligent, chances are, they are wasting time, knowingly or unknowingly. The distractions could be self-inflicted like stopping mid-task to check Facebook, to post a tweet, or to respond to an email. Research has shown that, on average, people switch between tasks every 3 minutes and five seconds. The same research also says that it takes approximately 23 minutes to come back to the original task. So, that ‘I’ll just check Facebook for five minutes’ is actually 5 minutes, plus 23 minutes.

What might appear to be small distractions very quickly pile up to become large chunks of wasted time that cannot be ignored. Research has shown that of all the time wasted about 35-38% is on the internet, 23% on emails, another 23% in meetings, and almost 50% on calls or texts. The amount of time lost in doing non-productive work (official or personal) can cause your organization to bleed financially.

Organizations need to look beyond a system that captures time for the sake of marking attendance only. In today’s digital and knowledge economy, organizations need a management system that will capture data for compliance as well as to increase employee engagement. Time and Attendance system should be a tool that not only captures data for time & attendance but can also be used by HR for driving employee engagement and productivity.

Why can’t people work from home?

Many people are consciously choosing to stay away from the bustle of the city. Unfortunately, most offices still reside within these commercial districts. How, then, do the two meet? By giving employees the flexibility to work from home. The time and effort saved in just the commute, not to mention the money, can be utilized to improve productivity.

Naturally, some organizations have reservations about the effectiveness of this system. Without constant supervision or the right working environment, would it be possible for employees to actually work and not fritter away time? Also, how does an organization track its employees’ time when they’re not in the office?

Yes, there are timesheets and manual registers that can be filled either from home or on days the employee is at the office. But these can be fudged– employees can allocate more hours than they’ve actually worked, use office hours for personal work, take longer breaks during work hours, and do excessive overtime. While it might not seem like a significant problem, these minutes and hours can quickly pile up. Not only is that a financial liability, but it is also a wastage of productive hours.

For employees who have opted to work from home, productivity software comes in handy, working independently and clocking in productive time. The data captured from these automated systems can be transferred to a centralized computer that keeps track of employee attendance, actual working time, and the resulting output. A consolidated dashboard gives managers a one-glance view of time versus productivity. This works in more ways than one. Organizations can not only track employee time when working from home, but they can also identify top achievers, study their successful work patterns and replicate those across the team, drive employee engagement and empower managers with the knowledge required to help employees.

Employee feedback – annual appraisals or regular, relevant feedback?

Every organization relies on its managers’ ability to assess and map employee productivity in a single session – the annual appraisal.

How is it humanly possible to assess a year’s worth of performance in one session, even if it lasts a few hours? Employees receive feedback on a project or task completed weeks, if not months, ago. Any feedback, positive or negative cannot be implemented in real-time and is, quite frankly, of no real use.

Ideally, employees should receive constant and regular feedback from their managers. This gives employees an opportunity to assess their skills, their strengths, and weaknesses in a real-life scenario and they can take action to amend their ways right away.

Employee Engagement – One size does not fit all

A report by Dale Carnegie Training shows that Indian employees are more engaged than their global counterparts, with the Indian figure standing at 46% while the global average is 34% and that of the US is at 30%. Before we take pride in these numbers, we must begin to think about the remaining are dissatisfied, disgruntled, and disengaged at the workplace.

In today’s dynamic, competitive, and complex business environment, organizations must realize that to stay relevant they need highly engaged employees to maintain high levels of productivity.

Before embarking upon any initiatives, organizations must understand that not every employee works in the same way. Productivity times, skills, and abilities, all vary, and engagement schemes must be implemented accordingly. Ensuring correct work allocation with realistic timelines, encouraging work-life balance, promoting employee wellness, and implementing a positive work culture are just some of the things organizations can do to increase employee motivation.

The following steps can help employers increase employee engagement in their organization:

Recognizing the efforts of your employees

Regularly recognizing efforts and the success of an employee keep employee morale up. The feel-good factor motivates them to perform up to their highest potential.

Removing roadblocks that hinder achievement

By monitoring employee performance, management can identify issues that employees are facing while executing their tasks. Eliminating these issues enhances the trust factor between the employees and the management, which eventually leads to better engagement at work.

Guiding the performance by effective feedback

Feedback must be utilized to chart the future of an employee’s growth. Used effectively, this is a transparent tool and offers nothing but honest and constructive feedback. In response, employees are more engaged and look for ways to enhance their performance.

Reward people to help them build better work habits

Use the failsafe R&R program. By giving public incentives and public rewards, it is possible to boost productivity. Organizations can announce monthly winners based on either one of these parameters:

  1. Maximum work was done during normal business hours: This can help cut down on overworked employees who cannot otherwise strike the elusive work-life balance.
  1. Reduced distractions: Employees will be incentivized to spend more hours on core activities instead of non-core ones.
  1. Use smart technologies: Companies can adopt software that will give data about how people spend their time at work, which in turn can be used to create customized L&D programs that will encourage people to adopt better work habits.

This leads us to conclude in an era of fast-changing global macro-economic-social scenarios, the modern enterprise would need to adopt progressive HR policies