By Graham Oxley, Project Manager – Digital Engagement
Whether at work or at home, we often hear about unwritten rules. These are the norms, behaviours or actions that people are expected to follow or do even though they are not written down anywhere in a formal rule book or culture document. We encounter these unwritten rules every day and get annoyed when people don’t follow them – think of every time you have muttered under your breath when the person in front of you doesn’t hold the door for you. But beyond merely being frustrating, in certain contexts, such as corporate culture and sports, unwritten rules have the power to create a vastly different reality to the intended rhetoric of written rules. Often, we see that once a written rule is created, various factors go to work to change, reinforce or undermine it, until the unwritten rules that have been created hold more power than the written rule that they have emerged around.
One place where unwritten rules are in abundance is sports, and this has been making the news recently. Firstly, there has been fierce debate in cricket this week around Ravi Ashwin, the Indian all-rounder playing for Kings XI Punjab, who performed a ‘Mankad’ dismissal on England batsman Jos Buttler in an Indian Premier League match against the Rajasthan Royals. This is allowed in the official rulebook, but a large number of ex-players and pundits have condemned him for contravening ‘the Spirit of Cricket’, which is a set of unwritten rules that many cricketers subscribe to. On the same day, on the other side of the world in Miami, Nick Kyrgios, an Australian tennis player, served underhand in beating Dusan Lajovic. The reaction towards this has been more balanced; Judy Murray labelled him a genius afterwards, but during the game a spectator ran onto the court to remonstrate with him for the tactics. These are two examples in just the last week, which show that unwritten rules are rife across the sports world; footballers put the ball out of play when the opposition has an injured player, rugby league players do not contest scrums and baseball has so many unwritten rules that people lose track.
The question that follows here is: how do unwritten rules relate to my business? Organisations operate as complex systems of (1) formal, interdependent processes – such as pay, performance and training; and (2) informal practices and behaviours operating under the radar, such as ad hoc flexibility in work schedules, or the prioritisation of presence over performance. The latter are the ‘unwritten rules of the game’ and they exert a strong influence over employee behaviours and have a significant impact on the success or failure of any new intervention implemented. Here is an example: your organisation may have set up a generous parental leave policy aimed at improving engagement amongst families. However, if the culture and leadership of your organisation signals, through non-verbal or verbal cues, that anyone who takes up their full parental leave will face a delay in getting a promotion or pay rise, the reality of that decision looks very different to what the written rhetoric intended.
Clarity on the unwritten rules of the game that are shaping behaviour is therefore key before launching any new initiative. This exercise allows businesses to understand how any intervention will influence and be influenced by other factors at play, giving an early indication of any unintended consequences that you need to consider and plan for.
So how do we find out the unwritten rules of the game? The answer lies in engaging your employees in an open dialogue. Taking the time to truly listen to your employees to understand their diverse motivators, enablers and triggers will pave the way forward. We have worked with a number of clients on this challenge; you can see a snapshot of who we have worked with here.
I would be happy to have a further discussion about how you can go about uncovering the unwritten rules of the game and ensuring that your organisations’ reality is truly representative of the rhetoric. Just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy new year! January 2019 is in full swing and we should all be two weeks in to our new years’ resolutions (…or not!). Whilst staying fit and healthy, saving money, and travelling remain high on the list of our top resolutions, for the last 5 years, getting a new job is approximately 15% of the nations’ main focus – quite a scary statistic for HR professionals trying to hold on to great talent.
Our research suggests that there are three new years’ resolutions that organisations should consider in order to hold on to the great people that drive their performance:
- Build a Narrative around The Future of Work
Employees are anxious about the future of work and what this means for them, and they’re looking to their leaders for direction. In increasingly uncertain times, it is essential that your organisation and leaders are informed about the trends shaping the future of work and have a well-developed point of view to communicate to their teams. We’ve been working with 30 of the world’s leading companies to help them understand what a strong narrative looks like and how it can be developed. We’ve also worked with companies to engage their employees on the journey – tapping into their insights and experience to create a narrative that really resonates.
2. Upgrade your company culture
Shifting a company culture can be daunting – but not as daunting as not changing it at all. According to research by Robert Walters, 73% of professionals in the UK have left a job because of an outdated workplace culture. With every organisation having a culture, and every employee experiencing it daily, it’s something which needs to continuously transform to reflect your organisation, its people and the modern day. There are many ways to get started on this, including identifying who the real influencers are within your organisation; harnessing the power of positive sub cultures within the company; and changing people’s micro behaviours in order to bring about larger scale change. Click here to find out more about how you can shift your company culture in 2019.
3. Stay Agile
Flexible working and work-life balance are the at the forefront of workplace agility. As technology improves, so too do our means of crafting agile people strategies that give people more freedom to decide how, when and where they work. Staying agile means building adaptability, fostering speed and dynamism, and enabling fluidity, all of which will be critical to mobilising talent in a changing world of work. We’ve just completed a fascinating piece of research on the benefits and unintended consequences of agile ways of working. One key revelation was the need to ensure that agile and activity-based work environments provide enough team continuity to ensure that people do not end up feeling lonely or isolated.
To find out more about any of these topics, please contact email@example.com
This is not another horrid example of mixed metaphors but what sprung to mind when I read a recent contribution to the 100-Year Life website, which we created for Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s book The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. We ask website visitors to submit their stories about either how their longer lives are panning out or how they expect to see them pan out.
The contribution that sparked my Dinosaur in the HR Room reaction was as follows:
“I am an IT Consultant. I have just been asked to go back to a client I worked for last year doing the same job with the same people. It took me four hours to complete the HR pre-employment questions and evidences.
I have worked for almost 40 years and have three degrees, completing my last one over five years ago.
I can now afford to retire and do not need to work just for the money. As well as taking time for holidays and family life I do some voluntary work.
For any gaps in my employment record of more than 2 weeks they want me to provide details of a friend that I have known for more than five years who can explain these gaps.
They also make it mandatory to provide at least one lecturer reference and one academic qualification from the last five years.
I am afraid they the corporate world in the UK certainly has no understanding of a flexible life so far.”
I thought this was a painfully clear illustration of why as organisations we need to do more than talk about engaging easily with new ways of working, from contractors to freelance workers. We would be wise to appreciate that it’s no longer ‘the future’ – it’s happening now, and by making engaging with our organisations cumbersome for freelance talent, we stand to lose out on great individuals, or at the very least, appear like dinosaurs and as such send the wrong signals.
Here at Hot Spots Movement we call these cumbersome approaches ‘sunset processes’ – that is, processes that were established possibly many years ago when the nature of work and workers was different, or perhaps came with an acquired company and were deemed too complicated to discontinue it at the time. These ‘sunset processes’ have reached the end of their valuable life and the challenge for HR is to remove them so that they do not end up constraining the business.
In short, people processes can be illustrated by showing an excavation site where you can see the different archaeological ages, layer by layer.
Removing sunset processes is just the start. As HR professionals we need to decide rather urgently if we want to lead how our organisations engage with freelance talent. If the answer is yes, then we need to design the engagement journey for freelancers with two important outcomes in mind: (1) ensure that freelancers want to work with our company (yes, you will want to be a freelance ‘employer’ of choice) and (2) ensure that the company benefits in all respects from engaging with freelance talent.
If HR doesn’t take the lead, line management will procure freelance talent directly, and our organisations won’t benefit from a signature ‘Freelance Experience’. Over the past years, HR functions have spent much time designing their Employee Experience, with the smartest companies appreciating that this experience begins well before the first working day and all the way through to how their people leave the company. I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t put as much effort into designing the Freelance Experience as you do for the Employee Experience. The reward – and the risk – is no less substantial.
Maybe now is the time to let the dinosaur move to the museum and say goodbye to processes that are not fit for purpose, or plainly unnecessary, for the age of agile working and longer careers.
Henrik Ibsen’s play, Master Builder, tells the story of a self-made architect, Halvard Solness, who is increasingly afraid of the young displacing him. As I was watching the piece in the Old Vic Theatre a few weeks ago, one of Halvard’s lines caught my attention: “The young are waiting. In all their power. Knocking on the door.” This made me wonder whether Halvard’s fear is actually real. Will older workers be made redundant by young upstarts? Does the mature workforce need to step out of the young’s way and give them space? And what are the implications – positive and negative – for organisations?
It turned out Halvard was worried about a myth. The reality is that your organisation will see teams in which employees like Halvard and the young will work together. The young were not knocking on Halvard’s door to take his job. Quite the contrary, the young showed up to take jobs his activity created. So how exactly can employing older workers help your organisation grow and create more jobs in the process?
Age diversity provides you with the opportunity to combine skills and characteristics unique to different groups and thus create an effective and efficient organisation:
- The equivalent to Halvard in your organisation has been building their network for more than 40 years. The young know well that they cannot compete with that. Instead, on one hand, their ambition and determination can keep Halvard motivated. On the other hand, Halvard can transfer his network to the young, so your organisation has access to it when he retires.
- Younger workers are often still trying to define their mission and passion, which can translate into higher turnover. Indeed, according to one recent study, Millennials expect to change jobs every three years. Chances are Halvard has worked for you for a while and he has stayed with the organisation through thick and thin. This means he has a deep understanding of the history and culture of your company that cannot be easily emulated by new entrants.
- In the past decades, work became part of Halvard’s daily routine, and all of a sudden he has 8 hours on his hands to kill. Flexible working is a good way of helping people like Halvard transition to retirement. In fact, there has been a 140% increase in over-65s running their own business in the last decade, revealing the many new ways in which organisations can engage with more mature workers. It’s a win-win as the organisation retains Halvard’s critical skills at a reduced cost, and he gets some help with his pension too.
So what can you and your organisation do to avoid a Master Builder-like frustration?
- Help the Halvards in your organisations continually update their skills to stay relevant in a new day and age. Organisations such as GE and HP use reverse mentoring to help different generations learn from one another and to enhance generational cohesion.
- Sense check the signals you are sending to older workers. Do your people processes and practices signal that mature workers are valued? Or do pension arrangements, performance processes and training budgets signal that careers have a hard stop at 65 in your company?
- Break the perceived link between age and stage in your organisation. Retaining older workers will mean people may be managed by someone younger than them. This can create conflict in organisations in which progression and seniority are strongly linked to age and tenure. Creating more flexibility in career ladders is one way to ensure that age and seniority are no longer considered one and the same.
So, what’s the conclusion? Yes, the young are coming and knocking on the door in all their power. Halvard however still has a great deal to offer. As his good friend and counsel, Dr. Herdal, tells him, “You are not laid on the shelf yet, I should hope. Oh no—your position here is probably firmer now than it has ever been.”
Find out more about the challenges and opportunities of longevity by pre-ordering your copy of Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s upcoming book, The Hundred-Year Life at www.100yearlife.com or contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org
 As written on the Old Vic Theatre’s website.
 Milligan, B. Older workers create extra jobs for young people – report, BBC – British Broadcasting Corporation 2015
 Meister, J. Job Hopping is the ‘New Normal’ for Millennials, Forbes, 2012
 Trends and Drivers of Workforce Turnover. Mercer Workforce Metrics Survey, 2014
 Altman, Dr. R. A New Vision for Older Workers: Retain, Retrain, Recruit, A Report to Government 2015
 Steimle, J. Reverse Mentoring – Investing in Tomorrow’s Business Strategy, Forbes, 2015
Imagine you were looking forward to working into your 80s. What sort of working life would you want?
My guess is few of us would want a life of relentless 9 to 5 or more likely 8 to 6 with a couple of weeks off for holidays. We know implicitly that this is a regime that would see our intangible assets denuded. How would we keep abreast of rapidly changing skills with such little time to step out and learn? How could we keep our health and vitality at its peak with such little time for rejuvenation? Indeed, how could we find enough time with friends and family?
Perhaps that’s why the gig economy is seen as such a promising development. Imagine selling your resources – house, car, skills, or time in a seamless easy way. Imaging having the ability to step off the corporate ladder and change the way you work at anytime, providing a window of different and more flexible work. The benefits certainly look appealing. But of course, the gig economy also comes with its challenges. Our society is still not quite set up to support people who do not have a steady income stream and permanent contract. Try, for example, applying for a mortgage without proof of future income. Or saving for a pension with an irregular cash flow and no employer contribution. These drawbacks mean that few people see the gig economy as their main work activity or as a long term choice – but view it instead as part of a wider portfolio.
For those who plan to build this kind of portfolio in future, and benefit from the real value of the gig economy, they will need to take four important actions:
– work on transitional competencies. Moving from one type of work to another is not straightforward as it often means redesigning broader lifestyle choices and habits. These transitional competencies are developed through building a broad and diverse network – somewhere within that network will be people who have made the transition. Being surrounded by people who are similar to you will simply hold you back from changing. If you want to be part of the gig economy find others who are already there.
– build synergies between types of work. One of the joys of a portfolio life is variety – but this variety can come at a cost. When work activities are very different from each other then there is a ‘switching cost’ and cognitive abilities and working style have to switch between tasks. The more similar the task the less the switching cost. So try to build different job tasks from a platform of similar skills and competencies
– don’t build up tangible asset dependency. Working in the gig economy can bring variety, space and autonomy – but oftentimes people shy away from doing this type of work because they and their family have become addicted to a certain flow of money – holidays, cars, and general consumption. If you want to bring flexibility into your working life you have to ensure that you don’t develop spending habits at the top of your earning cycle. You must also be clear about what is essential for maintaining the standard of living you and your family need, and ensure that you are developing skills in lucrative fields that will deliver the commensurate income.
– realise you can’t have it all. There is much talk today that people (specifically mothers) can’t have it all – a family, big job, happy partner. Perhaps the same is true for putting together a portfolio of work. Most highly paid jobs come with 24/7 availability and pressured work. Gig economy jobs tend to have more autonomy and freedom. That’s why they tend not to be paid so well.
The gig economy has real promise to bring options to a working life. The question now is, are you ready?
Over the last decade, freelance work has continued to gain in popularity all over the world. In the United States, 53 million people are doing freelance work, with that figure expected to increase by 50% by 2020. In the UK, freelance work has grown by 14% in the last decade and in Asia, freelance jobs currently account for 12.5% of the workforce.
As a member of Gen Y myself, there are key advantages that I see with freelancing – the ability to work for multiple employers, maximise the use of my creativity and have autonomy over my own work. However, when considering whether or not I want to freelance myself I must also examine the downsides – lack of job security, the requirement for a high amount of self-discipline, the potential for less collaboration with others and more. With these advantages and disadvantages in mind, I began wondering whether people actually entered freelance work by choice or because they could not find permanent full-time employment.
In the United Kingdom, freelance work is increasingly being perceived as an attractive career choice. In fact, a study on freelance work by Elance indicated that 87% of students with first or second-class degrees found freelancing to be highly attractive. Interestingly though, they found that students with lower class degrees were less inclined to think positively about freelance work. Perhaps the risk that comes with freelance work and the need to seek ones own clients, makes those with lower qualifications more apprehensive to follow a freelance career path? That being said, the study highlighted the overall positive feelings towards freelance for the majority of Gen Y members. This makes sense to me as job ideals have shifted further and further away from the standard 9-5 in the last few decades. The popularity of entrepreneurial television shows such as ‘Dragon’s Den’ and ‘The Apprentice’ illustrate this growing desire for autonomy over one’s work for our generation, as well.
Freelance has a whole range of appeals for different groups of people. The 2012 Industry Report by the Freelance Academy examined differences between age groups, for example and found that respondents in their 20s found the higher income potential rewarding. For this age group, a regular company job would be very hierarchical, limiting them financially, because of their age and the societal structures around job progression. In turn, people in their 30s valued the flexibility of freelance work. One reason for this is that the lack of schedule rigidity allows people who have children to spend more valuable time with them. Those in their 60s articulated the importance of working from home which again demonstrated a different appeal of freelance work.
With gender, the study found that women enjoyed the flexibility and incorporation of passion in freelance work. However, men stated that the primary appeal was being able to be ones own boss. Living in a time where the gender binary continues to be challenged, I believe that these appeals by gender will become interchangeable over time, further increasing the overall interest in freelance careers.
The most conclusive statistic taken from this study was that only 2% of freelancers would take a full-time job over freelancing. In fact, over 50% of freelancers, wouldn’t want to give up freelancing, regardless of the alternative option. With these statistics in mind, freelance work is a very appealing career option for Gen Y members as well as everyone else in society. I think it is important for companies to consider how best to incorporate or compete with freelance workers, in the future.