Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Five Reasons To Offer Two Weeks Pre’cation Before the Start Date

Rocking Chair Crayon Box by Andrew Morrell Via Flickr CC

Rocking Chair Crayon Box by Andrew Morrell Via Flickr CC

Recently I published a post on the Pre’cation, the most innovative employee benefit I have seen in years. The pre’cation offers employees two weeks paid vacation before the start date. My post on the Pre’cation stirred up a serious debate on LinkedIn.

Any company that is serious about building a long term relationship with employees should consider offering a pre’cation; not as a feel good measure, but as a serious business investment. Here are 5 benefits for the employer of offering pre’cation:

  1. New employees will come to work rested and recharged. Many people changing jobs are leaving stale or toxic environments. It takes at least two weeks for the body to physiologically reset from a state of high stress.
  2. Pre’cation allows the employee to catch up on other parts of life that may have been neglected. This could range from laundry to a trip to Mexico with the significant other. As Barbara Fuchs pointed out on LinkedIn, a new employee is usually looking at months without significant downtime. Why not let them come in with a clean slate, without those nagging loose ends that can add additional stress to an already stressful life transition?
  3. A company offering pre’cation will have a significant competitive advantage in attracting top talent over a company that does not.
  4. Pre’cation sets the tone that employees are expected to take care of themselves. There will always be more work to do, but the best employees will make time for a healthy life outside of work, a source of strength to get through the challenges of the job.
  5. For people used to high-paced environments, a pre’cation can make them hungry for the excitement of the workplace, and they come in roaring to go.

Ray Lindberg, an employee relations expert, gave a spirited endorsement of the pre’cation concept on a LinkedIn discussion.  “Pre-cation is also a statement that the organization has high expectations and standards…which is also the case with all signing bonuses and robust employment contracts. It brings pressure to perform and deliver, no doubt, but I would argue that in many cases, it’s good pressure.” Interestingly, Ray also likes to tip his bartenders before they make him the drink. He sees it as a vote of confidence, and more than pays off in better service and free drinks.

The same concept holds for employees getting a pre’cation. Why not give them that vote of confidence? Companies that don’t really give a crap about their employees need not apply.

Who Else Wants Two Weeks Paid Vacation Before the Start Date?

Turpin-Chaplin-his-new-job_02

Chaplin should have taken 2 weeks off before starting his new job

I heard a crazy idea the other day: Offer people two weeks of paid vacation before they start work. Literally before they start work. After you finish your previous job, your salary and benefits begin two weeks before you come into the office. It is called a Pre’cation, the brainchild of Jason Freedman, who wrote about it on his blog 42Floors.com.

Freedman has an aversion to vacations. He is a serial entrepreneur, going from startup to startup. He gets into each company so much that he never wants to take a vacation. He ascribes this behavior in part to the very nature of a startup. He writes, “Startups are a mission; a belief that something impossible is actually possible.” But he also noted “that doesn’t mean startup people don’t need vacations – we clearly do.  If for no other reason than our best ideas come when we’ve been able to disengage from the problem in front of us.”

Freedman started offering new employees two weeks of vacation before they start, as a way to make sure that everyone has some time off and arrive rested. In some ways, a Pre’cation is no different than a signing bonus: a company expense that comes prior to an employee doing work. While the Pre’cation isn’t mandatory at 42Floors, there has been 100% adoption of the practice so far.

Who wouldn’t take this offer? (In fact, I’d worry about someone who didn’t). The real question is, what type of company would offer Pre’cation? A company that wants to attract the best talent, and a company that wants employees to bring their best to work.

I think the Pre’cation is exactly the kind of radical new idea that we need to make the corporate world both more efficient, and more humane. It is easy to dismiss this idea as something that could never happen in your industry. However, imagine that your biggest competitor adopted this policy. Which of these three best describes your reaction?

  1. Good! Let them waste their money.
  2. Crap, this will help them attract better talent.
  3. Hmm, I wonder if there is a job there for me.

I don’t know about you, but I was tempted to look at the 42Floors jobs page, and I don’t even know what that company does.

What do you think?

Image Credit: Turpin-Chaplin-his-new-job_02 By alyletteri via Flickr CC

Not Ready to Pull a Greg Smith? Three Quiet Ways To Take a Moral Stand.

Anonymous Employee Review of Goldman Sachs from the website Glassdoor.com

Last week, I wrote Goldman Sachs Is Busted in response to Greg Smith’s public resignation from Goldman Sachs.  Smith declared in a very public way that  he could no longer identify with the company value system.  A reader commented after my post:

“Most people are afraid to speak up even when their lives are not in danger.”

The reader raises an interesting point.  There are over 30,000 employees at Goldman Sachs, but only one Op-Ed resignation.  Assuming Smith is making a legitimate point, why was he the only one to speak up?    Part of it is cultural – Goldman Sachs attracts and promotes people who share the company values.  Smith is at the other end of the spectrum.  And everyone else sits in between, including  the people quietly looking for a new career, and people who are afraid to speak up.

Needless to say, Greg Smith’s solution is not for everyone.  In my opinion, it would be unrealistic to expect that anyone who has doubts about his or her company’s values to immediately resign, and many people don’t speak out as much as they would like too.  In my opinion, one reason for silence is stress. According to the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, one third of US employees are chronically overworked and 41% say they they feel stressed during the workday.  When life is really overwhelming, taking a public stand against the company culture is a lot to ask.  At the same time, I think there is a price to pay for acting counter to one’s values.  George is in the financial services industry.  He saw practices that went against his values, and  spoke out “enough to be a little disliked but not absolutely fired.”  George shared the following

“I told myself this was a soul killing experience.  It messed with who I was fundamentally.  It did not make me happy.”

There is no substitute for leaving the company, which is what George eventually did.  But for people who aren’t ready or feel they can’t leave…

What to do?

I am a big fan of guerrilla marketing, that uses unconventional means to get a message across.  Speaking out against company culture is a situation where guerilla marketing can have a big impact. A frontal assault, the method chosen by Greg Smith, takes courage and a lot of resources.  It is also dangerous.  The objective here is not dramatic change, but rather a way to ease the conscience, and to nudge change in a slow incremental way.  The following “guerilla morality” tactics also help other people by providing the truth about the company, and the knowledge that they are not alone in their doubts about the company values.

Three Quiet Ways To Take A Moral Stand 

1. Speak Anonymously using social media to help get the truth out. Glassdoor.com describes itself as a career website that provides “an inside look at jobs and companies.”   Glassdoor.com allows its members to rate companies on a scale of 1-5 in 8 different categories, such as compensation, communication, and work/life balance.  In addition, there are open fields where each reviewer gives the pro’s and con’s of working at the company.  For example, there are 684 reviews of Goldman Sachs, one of which is shown above.  Glassdoor.com uses a “give-to-get” model, meaning that users can gain unlimited access to reviews, salaries and interviewing tips only after they share information anonymously about a current or past company.  A member of Glassdoor.com doesn’t need to make a big public statement to get the information about a company into the public view.  In my opinion, companies who treat their employees badly or that practice suspect values will be at a competitive disadvantage.

If you want to be a bit more aggressive, print a summary of the Glassdoor reviews and leave it on the printer.  (I always peaked at documents left on the printer.)  If I worked for Life Technologies, this document would get my attention.  If I worked at Hewlett Packard and felt demoralized, I might get a boost if I found this document and saw that other people felt as I do.

2. Withhold your public support by not attending company meetings.  In many companies, the quarterly company meeting is a “rah rah” event where senior management reviews development milestones and financial performance.  I have worked at companies where it was expected that everyone attend the meeting, and it was noticed is someone was absent. If you are concerned about getting in trouble, find a defensible excuse, like a doctor’s visit, or a call with a customer.

3. Try to influence the company using a Business Case For Good,  which is a financial forecast or other business case to support “the right thing to do.”  Often, a company needs to choose between two courses of action, where one course clearly seems to be the right thing to do according to personal values.  In my experience, advocating a business decision based on “the right thing to do” is an uphill battle and usually loses to an argument based on “the best thing for the company.”

Business Case For Good Template

Business Case For Good Forecast Template

The key to a Business Case For Good is a financial forecast like the example to the right, that compares two alternate scenarios.  In this example,  the right thing to do corresponds to Scenario 1 that brings in $123 million dollars additional revenue over five years.

Here is the secret to effective forecasting – make a picture, with red bad and blue good.  The numbers can tell any story, depending on the assumptions.*   (One more suggestion: never say that Scenario 1 is “the right thing to do.”  It will undermine the financial argument.  If someone brings it up, look confused and move on without comment.)

There are a lot of places to get data to support a Business Case For Good, such as a customer complaints database, performance data from product development, or cost-related data from manufacturing .  Things get changed by coalitions of people, and the data may open a door to win over someone in finance or marketing.

Could this hurt my career?

The short answer is yes, following the tactics above might slow down your career in the short run.  The sad reality is that on average, people who are more closely aligned with the company values (whatever they may be at your company,) will advance more quickly than those who are not.   This is a post with advice on how to quietly take a moral stand, not a post on how to get promoted more quickly. There can only be one top priority, and it is a personal choice whether values or career comes first.

It is impossible to predict the future, and a quiet moral stand might help your career in the short run.  I am convinced that a strong moral compass will help both career and company in the long run.  I think Greg Smith would agree.  His resignation letter ended with the following:

“Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm… People who care only about making money will not sustain this firm — or the trust of its clients — for very much longer.”

 

Apple Wins The Corporate Idol Award For February

Apple is not evil.

Apple is not good.

Apple is an Idol.

As shown in recent articles in the NY Times and elsewhere, Apple is a corporation with a value system that makes rapid manufacturing a higher priority than safe and humane working conditions.

As a loyal Apple customer, I was shocked to read about the horrific conditions in the Chinese factories where iPhones and iPads are manufactured.  As a student of corporate culture, I can understand how it happened.

 

To summarize the news accounts:

  • Hundreds of people injured by chemicals or explosions at iPad manufacturing plants over the last few years, even after repeated warnings about safety issues
  • People living in overcrowded dorm rooms, working seven days a week, and having pay withheld as punishment.
  • Former consultants and employees at Apple assert that the company is more concerned with continued product delivery and avoiding embarrassment than solving the problems

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple responded to the stories in the Times in an internal email, published by the website 9to5MacAs a company and as individuals, we are defined by our values. Unfortunately some people are questioning Apple’s values today… We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us. 

I agree with Mr. Cook – this is an issue of values.  But values are measured by actions not feelings.  I take Mr. Cook at his word – they do care about the people.  But they care more about delivery times and costs.  The NY Times quotes a former executive who describes an internal debate. “Executives want to improve conditions within factories, but that dedication falters when it conflicts with crucial supplier relationships or the fast delivery of new products.”  This illustrates something I learned from interviewing many people in the corporate world: when the rubber hits the road decisions are driven by the overriding value system of the company. Apple’s true values are revealed by the decisions of its employees.

Mr. Cook’s goes on to describe Apple’s ongoing efforts to make changes.  For example it now will allow independent auditing of working conditions in its supply chain.  Apple’s changes are described in terms of the advantages to the business, not in terms of human values.

Apple was in a unique position to lead the industry by taking this step [to allow outside auditors]… These are the kinds of actions our customers expect from Apple.

What we will not do — and never have done — is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain.  I was really surprised as I read the last sentence.  I thought he was going to say “turn a blind eye to human suffering.”  I guess that is why I am here and he is there.

The email never says things like “we are doing everything we can to correct safety and labor issues as quickly as possible.”   It doesn’t say “We need to do more for worker safety, even if it means things need to go more slowly.”  The Times quotes a former Apple executive who says “We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on.  If half the iPhones were malfunctioning, do you think Apple would let it go on for four years?”

Apple YOU ARE BUSTED.   

Chris O’Brien wrote in the San Jose Mercury news, “Conditions have never magically improved on their own.  Progress happens because people demand it.”

A company is tone deaf to morality, but hears a threat to its profits loud and clear.  I am not tone deaf to morality, and my purchasing behavior will change if Apple doesn’t change the way it treats its workers.


Five Sides to the Volkswagon After-Hours Email Ban

 

Volkswagon recently announced that it is shutting down the BlackBerry server for email traffic 30 minutes after the workday ends.  This policy is only in effect in Germany, and does not include Sr. Management.  Is this the start of a new trend to get better work life balance, an example of heavy handed union interference, or a DOA proposal on par with the twin NetFlix fiasco’s of 2011?  Here are Five Sides to the issue.

 

1. It’s a real problem.  The email shut down is a baby step attempt to solve a real problem – the “24/7 on”, work-first culture.  It is neither healthy nor sustainable to be on call all the time, yet for more people every year, that is exactly what is happening.  Most of the after hours email is non-essential, but perceived as important.  From comment #49 on the BBC article “I know so many people who no longer have a weekend to relax and recharge.”  (Most of the following quotes come from the same forum.)

2. It’s a question of power.  The BlackBerry shut down was negotiated by the German Trade Union as a working-condition improvement for it’s members.  Volkswagon is not extending this shutdown to workers outside of the Trade Union, and would not have extended this one had not been forced to.  Many comments after these articles say that it should be up to each worker to decide what is best for them.  But for many people, making the decision to turn off is not allowed.  “Don’t have a choice – have to answer e-mail 24/7 or fired.”  It took the negotiating power of the union to stand up for the employees who did not have the option to say no.  Shutting down the email server levels the playing field for all employees.

3. Lost flexibility and perhaps less competitive.  The flip side is seen in the following posts.  “This is such a backward step – this should be about personal choice. With two young children I prefer sorting email at 10pm rather than being expected to be at my desk until 5 or 6pm and missing their bedtime. As a few people have said – you can turn these things off.”  I see the struggle whether to put the kids before work, or the work before the kids.  Either way, the self comes third.  In my opinion, people, both the kids and the self, need to come before the company.  It’s a values thing.

Another person said “Lucky workers. I wish I could just turn it off, however, my customers would not be too happy and i may lose them.”  Or, you may not lose them.

4. Management still plugged in.  Senior managers are not included in the ban, but these are the people who need it the most.  Management is expected to align itself with the company, and of course are not included in a Union benefit.  But the managers are people too, and often work longer hours with less down time. There is an expectation that the higher you go in a company, the more you need to be available at any time.  But that time comes from family, community, sleep, exercise, hobbies…

This is an opportunity for managers to look at their own values, and to begin to chart a healthier and more balanced life for themselves.  The BlackBerry Blackout invites the question, if for them, why not for us too?  The answer will come in the form of a business case – the company needs you to bla bla bla.  Come up with a business case for the outcome that is better for you.  An email blackout leads to greater productivity, less wasted effort, and  more effective management.

5. Doesn’t solve the real problem, but better than nothing.  In the short run, this ban is a good thing.  Although heavy handed, it will prevent people from checking email, and just as importantly, prevent people from sending email at night.  Unquestionably, this will decrease stress, which is great.

However, email at home is a symptom of a larger issue – a value system that puts the company first.  The ban doesn’t cover non-blackberry email, and doesn’t cover most VW employees.  And if the prevailing culture is company first, people will comply with the letter of the rule, but find ways to work around it.  Managers will phone or text.  People will stay at work later, or log in to their computers.

Values ultimately define the boundaries of behavior.  I hope this window of lower stress allows people to step back and re-engage with values that put people ahead of the company.  I hope that individual senior managers see the email blackout as a good thing for them too.  Less email for some can lead to less email for all.  And that would be a good thing.