By Nader Sleiman
Questions of Time
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has moved us into the future of work far earlier than anticipated. In the absence of physical presence in the office, we now have an opportunity to reflect on how we think of time in the workplace. Key questions we will need to ask are: Is the 9 to 5 system still working in what has become a predominantly service-based economy? Will the 4-day workweek become more prevalent following months of virtual working? How do we measure productivity without office time as a factor?
The History of Time in the Workplace
The 8-hour workday we have settled into as the standard norm was not even imaginable in the nineteenth century. The thought of reducing workhours from what used to be around 100 hours a week to a maximum of 48 hours did not become a conversation until 1890 in the United States. In 1914, Ford Motor Company announced that it would cut the workday to 8 hours while simultaneously doubling wages. This move, shocking to the manufacturing industry at the time, brought in higher productivity despite the reduction in hours worked. The result was a replication of the Ford employment model across the world as global economies thrived and labour laws developed in alignment with our improved understanding of human rights.
Transitioning Economy with Ancestral Practices
Following the 1980s, the world is shifting from a product-based to a predominantly service-based economy. Despite this transition, the hegemonic ideology guiding our approach to people management remains ancestral. As machines have been gradually replacing the human workforce in manufacturing, more people have made career transitions into service-based work. The sector itself, however, still manages employees the same way its predecessor did in terms of measuring time and attendance. When Ford implemented the 8-hour workday, he was guided by the precise time needed to produce car parts and the subsequent time needed to assemble a car. The measurement was directly related to the cost of output, and seldom could the duration of a particular step in the process be changed by an individual worker. For instance, if a worker’s expected deliverable was a car door, and the process of producing a door required 1 hour, the expected output per worker would have been 8 doors a day. What happens, however, when the deliverable is a PowerPoint presentation, or a strategic report? When the output can vary in quality, structure and completion time in order to tailor services to clients, how can the measurement of time as it were in production lines still apply?
The reality is that the 8-hour workday may not be fit-for-purpose today and may not truly reflect productivity. Research suggests that, for a number of roles, an 8-hour workday can, in fact, discourage productivity. If a high performer completes a task in 4 hours, rather than the expected 8 hours for an average performer, what should that employee do with their additional time? An Adobe study found that people spend (on average) 6 hours a day on emails. Further, a study of UK office workers’ productivity by Voucher Cloud found that the average productive time of employees was a mere 2 hours and 53 minutes out of the 8-hour workday.  The rest remainder of that work day is comprised of: meetings, office interruptions, and smartphone notifications.
How, then, can we develop a better view on people management without the 8-hour model?
Output versus Attendance
For people working remotely, it is challenging to monitor their attendance. Measuring remote team productivity is no longer concerned with clocking in and clocking out; it is concerned with outputs and deliverables. When SAP Labs India, one of India’s best employers, decided to stop tracking attendance, the Head of HR noticed a change in attitude from employees. He referred to the change as a developed sense of trust between the company and its 5,000 employees. Not a single case of misuse surfaced, and morale was boosted. As we shift to remote work, it is time to rethink how we measure performance and re-examine the extent to which office time plays a role in this measurement.
- Promoting effective communication: By setting clear objectives and checking in on deliverables (quality and processing time), output can be assessed, productivity can be measured, and coordination can be simplified.
- Developing training on quality: It is important to train your people on maximising output in minimal time without jeopardising quality. This also means on communicating their availability transparently and continuously with colleagues to ensure that coordination and teamwork are sustained.
- Understanding your processes and service delivery intimately: By understanding what tasks are required in each role and for each project, these task’s completion time can be measured using historical figures and assessed to identify bottlenecks and ensure that they are communicated with team members transparently. This allows leadership to create a clear direction towards productive delivery.
- Identifying and establishing measurable benchmarking: This requires transparent communication regarding expectations surrounding deliverables. It can be done by setting clear indicators of high quality and efficient deliverables. How much time is the task expected to require? Is the team member meeting or exceeding this target? If not, it is important to address the reason behind this delay.
- Revising standard protocol continuously: It is important to constantly check in and identify possible improvement areas to optimise the use of talent in high priority tasks.
- Empowering digital project management: Consider project management tools that allow organisations to track individual tasks, manage responsibilities and accountabilities, and identify bottlenecks and speed of delivery.
- Preserving cultural connection: Aside from deliverables, productivity relies on psychological and emotional wellbeing. This means that ensuring that virtual employees are connected to their organisational culture and maintaining their organisational citizenship is crucial to instilling a sense of duty towards task completion and high-quality deliverables.
- Rewarding productivity: Intangible rewards, particularly through recognition, can empower employees in times of turbulence and disconnection. By developing clear benchmarks, assessing individual performance in comparison to those benchmarks, and providing feedback and explicit recognition of good work, employees are encouraged to meet productivity targets and exceed those benchmarks.
- Preventing underperformance: Early identification of missed benchmarks is key to preventing drops in performance. This requires transparent and open performance communication to set expectations, measure performance continuously and address any concerns before they become problematic to productivity.
- Understanding individual narratives: Get to know your employees and their circumstances. Are they parents with children at home? Are they in remote areas with limited access to connectivity? By actively listening to employees, their narratives can be used as tools to promote virtual diversity and effective communications regarding performance and output.
- Building trust: Once these points are established, trust is key. Ernest Hemingway’s advice: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” If your focus is outcome-based, the concern with clocking in and out needs to be shifted to a concern with deliverables. As long as benchmarks are being met and deliverable quality is being sustained and improved, trusting employees to do what is necessary for their task completion is crucial.
Let Us Know Your Thoughts
We have been working in a virtual world for over a month. We now know that people do not need to be in the office to do their jobs. It is of surprise to no one that the world of work will not simply return to the way it was prior to this experience. How do you think our measurement of time will change? Get in touch with Anna.
 Owen, R. (21 Nov. 2019). The 8-Hour Workday Is a Counterproductive Lie. Wired.
 Curtin, M. (21 Jul. 2016). In an 8-Hour Day, the Average Worker Is Productive for This Many Hours. INC.
 Bellos, I. & Ferguson, M. (2016). Moving from a Product-Based Economy to a Service-Based Economy for a More Sustainable Future. Springer Series in Supply Chain Management book series (SSSCM, volume 4)
 Naragon, K. (8 Aug. 2015). Subject: Email, We Just Can’t Get Enough. Adobe Blog.
 Foo, E.N. (24 Apr. 2019). The White-Collar Struggle: Productivity in the Information Age. The Economics Review.
 Glaveski, S. (11 Dec. 2018). The Case for the 6-Hour Workday. Harvard Business Review
By Tom Goulding, Analyst
It has been widely reported that stress is the “health epidemic of the 21st Century”. The latest statistics for the UK suggest that 12.8 million workdays were lost in 2018/19 to work-related stress, depression, and anxiety.1 The most commonly-cited reason was workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility. Evidence strongly suggests that stress impacts employee health2, job satisfaction3, turnover4, as well as productivity and profits.5
The resulting costs of a stressed workforce are significant, and employers have taken note. The Organisational Health and Wellbeing industry that seeks to reduce workplace stress was worth an estimated £526 million in the UK last year.6 However, the effectiveness of programmes in improving wellbeing is questionable. One study examined over 30,000 U.S. warehouse workers, finding those in wellbeing programmes reported no difference in absenteeism, healthcare spending, or job performance.7 Another study implies corporate wellbeing programmes are overwhelmingly taken up by healthy employees, and may even alienate those dealing with existing issues, meaning that programmes can screen out the employees that need help the most.8
The corporate approach to wellbeing evidently needs to be re-examined. W. Edwards Deming argued that “every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets”, and it seems clear that many organisations are currently designed to produce stressed workers. It seems tautological to say that people are stressed because work is stressful, but it is an important point to make. While theory and evidence both suggest some level of stress is beneficial for performance, too much stress is undoubtedly harmful, as shown in the graph below. If most people are more stressed than is optimal, this is because their roles are more stressful than is optimal.
Wellbeing initiatives often focus on individuals, aiming to improve their resilience or boost the sense of satisfaction employees get from their work. While there is a growing ‘job crafting’ movement9 in the Human Resources world, the power to redesign roles generally belongs to organisations rather than employees. Individual resilience is just one half of the picture. The focus on individuals is particularly convenient for employers, as it precludes any scrutiny into how they are contributing to the problem. This oversight likely underlies the previously discussed ineffectiveness of many wellbeing initiatives.
Furthermore, shifting responsibility from the least powerful part of the system (individuals) to the most powerful (the organisation) magnifies the potential impact of interventions. To take an example that has likely impacted your own life, consider plastic straws. You can choose to personally avoid plastic straws, but it would be impossible for an individual to match the impact of Tesco’s recent decision10 to remove one billion pieces of single-use plastic from their stores by end of 2020, or many retailers’ decision to remove plastic straws altogether.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach but, ultimately, a large portion of the responsibility must lie with the organisation to listen to their people and act to make changes to the system. Some situations can be remedied by increased flexibility of working hours or location, while others require more clearly-defined boundaries between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’. Some companies would benefit from having wellbeing sessions during the workday, while others would generate yet more stress as employees try to find the time to fit these in among their schedules. Offering free gym classes or fresh fruit and calling it a day simply are not enough, and often miss the mark entirely. Organisations must develop a signature approach to wellbeing that is tailored specifically for their people and environment.
Of course, it is still up to employees to engage with wellbeing initiatives once they are deployed, but deployment of genuinely effective initiatives is only possible once organisations accept their responsibility and start making systematic changes to address their specific issues.
If you’re interested in developing a clear picture of where to begin within your own organisation, or want to discuss your own experience with health and wellbeing initiatives, please feel free to get in touch with me.
- Health and Safety Executive. (2019). Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain; https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2019). Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behaviour;
- Ismail et al. (2015). The Relationship between Stress and Job Satisfaction: Evidence from a Malaysian Peacekeeping Mission.
- Lu Y, Hu X, Huang X, et al. (2017). The relationship between job satisfaction, work stress, work–family conflict, and turnover intention among physicians in Guangdong, China: a cross-sectional study.
- Denning, Stephanie. (2018). How Stress Is The Business World’s Silent Killer; https://www.forbes.com/sites/stephaniedenning/2018/05/04/what-is-the-cost-of-stress-how-stress-is-the-business-worlds-silent-killer/#706b6546e061
- IbisWorld. (2019). Corporate Wellness Services in the UK – Market Research Report; https://www.ibisworld.com/united-kingdom/market-research-reports/corporate-wellness-services-industry/
- Song, Baicker. (2019). Effect of a Workplace Wellness Program on Employee Health and Economic Outcomes: A Randomized Clinical Trial
- Jones, Molitor, Reif. (2018). What Do Workplace Wellness Programs Do? Evidence from the Illinois Workplace Wellness Study.
- Lee, Louise. (2016). Should Employees Design Their Own Jobs? https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/should-employees-design-their-own-jobs
- Tesco news bulletin. (2019); https://www.tescoplc.com/news/2019/tesco-to-remove-one-billion-pieces-of-plastic-from-products-by-the-end-of-2020/?category=packaging
By Ellen Kwan, Analyst
3 Unexpected Insights on Dynamic Workforce Planning
At the end of last year, Future of Work Research Consortium delegates came together for HSM’s Dynamic Workforce Planning Masterclass, which was full of insights, activities and cross-industry collaboration. Through conversations and live polling with consortium members, we have gained some new perspectives on Dynamic Workforce Planning. As it is often the case, learning was a two-way street at the Masterclass – we have also walked away with unexpected perspectives on Dynamic Workforce Planning.
Upskill and Reskill for Social Mobility
“Automation presents an interesting counterintuition in shifting people whose skills are in decline into higher paying jobs.”
While the advent of the digital revolution presents an opportunity to overcome challenges in social mobility, the same opportunities could instead be barriers to those without existing digital skills.
As noted by the Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation 2018-19 report, “being born privileged in Britain means that you are likely to remain privileged. Being born disadvantaged, however, means that you may have to overcome a series of barriers to ensure that your children are not stuck in the same trap”. The UK’s social mobility has been reported to have remained “virtually stagnant” since 2014. This phenomenon can, in part, be attributed to the “virtuous cycle of work training and pay rises” available to high-skilled workers. While almost a third of employees in managerial and professional occupations took part in training over the past three months, only 18% in routine and manual jobs had the same opportunity. According to Dr. Lunchinskaya from the Institute for Employment Research, these findings show a vicious cycle of learning “whereby those with low or no qualifications are much less likely to access education and training after leaving school than those with high qualification.” As a result, the low-skilled are unable to upskill to meet the needs of the digital future, continuously preserving low-skilled employees at lower paid roles.
Automation presents organisations and governments with the opportunity to shape how their workforce and social landscape looks. When CEOs were asked to list the most important measures of success in 2019, the number one measure was “impact on society, including income inequality and diversity.” Rather than upskilling or reskilling employees to similar roles which would be future-proofed, organisations could play a key role in displaced employees’ social mobility by identifying roles with the most skill and task adjacencies that offer higher pay. Therefore, as automation and digitisation become an increasingly prevalent phenomenon across different types of work, organisations can either become active shapers of the social landscape, or lose part of their workforce to the increasing digital divide.
Reframe the Language of the Future
“The way we speak about the future can bring joy to encourage people to embrace those ideas of the future.”
What immediately comes to mind when you hear terms like “automation”, “Artificial Intelligence”, or “human-machine collaboration”? With thoughts of Skynet and Elon Musk’s warnings on humankind’s future enslavement to machines, it comes as no surprise that over 65% of Americans fear automation.
Consider Daniel Kahneman’s research on thinking fast and slow. While thinking fast (system 1 thinking) relies on first impressions and ‘gut-reactions’ to make decisions, thinking slow (system 2) relies on reflection and logical analysis. Our tendency to make gut-reactions first can be attributed to the fact that when we have capacity for rational information processing, we have little authority to use that information for making decisions. In the deeper part of our brain where system 1 thinking takes place (the Vagus nerve), we have no rational processing capacity, but more authority in using system 1 to make decisions. Therefore, when employees are told that technological change is coming, system 1 could already be operating before employees can consider benefits of the change. Instead, fast thinking relies on heuristics and mental biases to create conclusions about the technological change – fear and anxiety.
An example of a mental bias that fast thinking falls victim to is availability heuristic. The availability heuristic leads people to assume that information that is readily available is valid. A study in 2010 found that people who watch violent media gave higher estimates of crime in the real world than those not exposed to violent media. In the context of automation and digitisation, the barrage of media reports on job losses from automation, film adaptations of robotic overlords taking over humanity, and stories or anecdotes about others whose jobs have been displaced can cause employees to overestimate the threat of automation.
While thinking fast can lead us to conclusions of doom and gloom around automation in the future of work, organisations and leaders can work to shift emotions of fear into excitement. Research has found that certain fearful situations can activate the reward centre in the brain under specific conditions. Klucken (2009) recommends creating situations for predictable fear, rather than unanticipated fear. When we can anticipate the fearful situation, humans are able to activate the limbic system, allowing us to feel alert and excited without concern over actual threats.
In summary, when framing language of the future, leaders should ensure that their message fulfils the following three requirements:
- Widespread and readily available in a number of different formats for employees (e.g. videos, learning journeys, blog posts)
- Positive and focused on potential gains for employees
- Transparent about next steps and implications on employees’ roles
Renaissance of Work
“Let’s start calling the future of work ‘The Renaissance of Work.’”
As technological ingenuity has grown exponentially prevalent in the workplace, we now need to put a human focus back into work. With technology’s growing potential, leaders are now starting to see the role that humans can play alongside technology. From creating new jobs to manage and regulate technology (e.g. AI ethics engineers) to shifting focus from technical skills to uniquely human skills (e.g. creativity), the human focus is beginning to catch up to the digital boom.
Moving beyond human-machine collaboration, organisations will need to employ social ingenuity to truly thrive in the future of work. Demographic and societal changes, such as longer working lives and shifting family dynamics, requires organisations to reinvent the way we think about work and its role in identity and life. Organisations must begin thinking about what it means to put humans at the centre, understanding what the future landscape of work may look like, and identifying avenues to enable humans to thrive, rather than to be held a victim of the future landscape.
An example of social ingenuity needed now is the concept of retirement. Traditionally, people are recruited into an entry-level position after completing their full-time education. Throughout their careers, they climb up the promotional ladder, making occasional jumps across organisations. This eventually stops as people reach their late 50s or early 60s, as they prepare for retirement. However, as longevity increases, so does people’s desire to lengthen their working lives. While governments play a key role in mandating official retirement age, organisations play an active part in how retirement can be implemented. Too often, employees are offered a binary choice between full-time work or retirement. By doing so, organisations fail to tap into the crystalline intelligence typically held in experienced employees, which refers to the tacit knowledge of how to perform tasks. The renaissance of work calls for a mindset shift in how retirement is perceived, whether it continues to remain as a binary choice, or a flexible combination of work embedded within retirement. If the future of retirement does call for flexibility, what would it look like? These are questions that organisations should begin considering to leverage the skills and potential offered by retiring employees.
By redefining the concept of retirement, organisations can utilise the full potential of their workforce. In turn, employees can also craft the retirement lifestyle that best suits them according to their financial, emotional, and social needs.
As we reach the Renaissance of Work, leaders must put humans back at the forefront of work. Taking a human-focused lens moves beyond thinking about skills or jobs, but considers how to leverage changing human needs to craft a mutually beneficial future of work.
If you would like to find out more about Dynamic Workforce Planning, or how you can join Prof. Lynda Gratton’s Future of Work Research Consortium, get in touch with Anna.
 Kahneman, Daniel, 1934- author. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York :Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
 Riddle, Karen (2010). “Always on My Mind: Exploring How Frequent, Recent, and Vivid Television Portrayals Are Used in the Formation of Social Reality Judgments”. Media Psychology. 13 (2): 155–179.
 Klucken, T. et al 2009. “Contingency Learning in Human Fear Conditioning Involves the Ventral Striatum.” Human Brain Mapping 30:3636–3644
The advancements in technology, paired with globalisation have promoted a trend towards agile working, with workers free to work at a time and location which suits them. In the changing world of work, there is a growing trend for employees to work flexibly and not be required to be tied to their desks in traditional working patterns, with 70% of people globally working remotely at least once a week . There are multiple organisational benefits to agile working, including increased productivity, autonomy and the promotion of work-life balance for employees.
Recently, Microsoft Japan implemented a 4 day working week to much success. Offering its 2,300 employees a variety of agile working styles, Microsoft Japan launched a pilot programme aiming to increase productivity and morale, with a goal to realise the same results with 20% fewer weekly hours. The results appeared to be highly positive: a 40% rise in productivity, happier workers and a decline in days taken off. However, there are often unintended consequences of agile working which organisations should consider in their approach. The introduction of the shorter week came with the introduction of ‘strict new rules’, with managers being ‘heavy handed’ in their implementation, including employees being fined for taking too long on work-related matters.
Taking these dynamics into consideration, the pressure to output the same amount, or the resulting 40% rise in productivity in Microsoft’s case, in a shorter amount of time could have a detrimental effect upon employees wellbeing and long term efficiency.
Organisations such as Tiggertrap and the Los Angeles Times have also suffered unintended consequences when introducing an unlimited vacation policy. On the face of it, this seems like a positive idea which promotes high levels of rejuvenation, empowerment and autonomy. However, in practice often these policies push people to always be ‘on’ and connected, with a Glassdoor survey showing that 61% of workers admit to working despite being on vacation.
In many cases, one of the main disadvantages associated with unlimited vacation policies is that often employees end up taking less time off. Tiggertrap scrapped their unlimited vacation policy after results found that employees had reduced their average number of holiday taken from 28 days to 15. Factors such as unspoken expectations and nobody wanting to be the person who takes the most time off, contribute to spiralling behaviour in which employees take even less holiday than before. Adding to this, the advancement in technology has enabled new ways of working, but has also promoted the growth of an ‘always on’ culture, in which there are potential stresses of constantly being connected to work and never truly switching off.
So, after this reflection of the disadvantages of a more agile approach to working arrangements, why should organisations still consider this strategy as their most future-proofed option?
In the changing world of work, organisations need to adapt their traditional approaches to ways of working in order to attract and retain the best talent. By offering a wider menu of options of working hours, organisations should be able to attract a broader range of people and maintain a stronger talent pipeline. In confronting the unintended consequences, it is crucial that organisations develop policies that will not just allow employees to work flexibly or have time off, but encourage them to do so. If the aim of the policy is to enhance a less frenzied working environment, with reduced burnout and higher productivity, organisations need to tackle the culture in which these policies sit and support individual behaviour that does not promote employees to be ‘always on’ and constantly connected. To approach this, organisations could benefit from considering a more tailored approach, aiming to promote a culture which empowers their employees ‘to communicate when they need time to disconnect’, rather than rolling out a one-size-fits-all policy.
2 Kelly, J. (2019). Microsoft Japan Launched A Four-Day Workweek To Much Success: Is This The Key To Attracting Talent In The Tight U.S. Job Market?. [online] Forbes.com. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2019/11/05/microsoft-japan-launched-a-four-day-week-work-to-much-success-is-this-the-answer-to-attract-talent-in-the-tight-us-job-market/#4863cf6759ff [Accessed 21 Nov. 2019].
3 Unlimited Vacation Time Policy (2016), Hot Spots Movement. Available at: http://hotspotscdn.blob.core.windows.net/files/1247/unlimited-vacation-time-case-study-160915.pdf [Accessed 21st. Nov. 2019]
4 Future of HR Report (2016), Hot Spots Movement, Available at http://hotspotscdn.blob.core.windows.net/files/1267/future-of-hr-report-final.pdf
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
When we meet people, we often think that we can tell a lot about them by the occupation they have. “So, what do you do?” is probably the most common icebreaker I hear, as our work is often regarded as shorthand for explaining to people who we are.[i] But our work identity is not our only identity.
No one person has a single identity; we all have talents, interests, relationships with others, causes we’re passionate about and worldviews that help to make us who we are. In order to embrace our authentic selves throughout our careers, the question researchers are now asking is how to balance the multiple identities that we have. But, after exploring agile people strategies here at Hot Spots Movement, what I think we should be asking is how to integrate them.[ii]
We are increasingly moving away from the 9-5, from which people can clock off and assume their out-of-office identity. With technology enabling a 24/7 culture and people demanding flexible, agile ways of working, our work and our personal lives are becoming more and more interwoven. Instead of allowing our work to monopolise our time and become the core part of our identity (something psychologists call “work-role centrality”) or viewing our work as something that begins and ends and is entirely separate from other aspects of our lives, integrating our identities enables us to be our authentic selves at all times, living and working according to our values and passions.[iii]
The rise in thinking about work-life integration focuses on scheduling time to disconnect and break away from our desks at multiple points throughout the day to ensure that we are maintaining our vitality and sustaining our productivity. Perhaps this can be as easy as using our lunch breaks more effectively, for example, to go to the gym, attend a lecture or catch up on that tv episode you missed. It might be leaving work early to make sure you have dinner with your family or friends and making up that time at home later on.
To fully integrate our work-life identities, we should consider how to reignite or reinforce our connection with work. Instead of perceiving work as something we have to switch off from, how can we make work more meaningful and more aligned with our other identities?
Firstly, we can seek out new projects. When current work isn’t stimulating, we should find new ways to feed our intellectual curiosity. Seeking new challenges and a greater variety within our working day may help us to gain a whole new perspective on what work means to us and what really holds our interest. Similarly, pursuing new skills that we’re passionate about mastering or gain new knowledge on a topic we’ve always been interested in can raise both our engagement and sense of purpose at work.[iv]
Expanding our networks and meeting diverse people can introduce us not only to potential new friends but to potential new futures for ourselves, as these connections may be able to offer advice and guidance as we forge new career paths. Attending external conferences, lectures and events, or reaching out to colleagues from different internal functions are simple ways to integrate our work with our other interests.
To stop your work identity from becoming your only identity, find ways to integrate and align your work with your passions, interests and talents. To talk more about our identities at work, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] Al Gini, ‘Work, Identity and Self: How We Are Formed by the Work We Do’ (1998).
For somebody like me for whom time is a gift – not as extra years added to the later part of my life but right now in the form of an 8th day of the week, an extra hour every day – I’m keen to understand why time is so volatile. Why are so many people struggling to make ends meet time-wise at work?
When at Hot Spots Movement we speak to companies around the world, and again lately when we were in Australia, we hear from senior executives how stretched they are, with many requests on their time that are not to do with their ‘day job’. Of course, in a time such as this of increasingly fluid job design and project-based working, the definition of ‘day job’ is not a hard and fast one. Nevertheless, it seems that many of the requests are peripheral to people’s roles. You may ask why this is an issue – after all being useful is profoundly satisfying to most people, and contributing to the ‘greater good’ of the organisation by delivering input over and above your own projects surely is positive? It is, but not at the expense of preserving time to focus, to think, and to ponder longer-term strategic matters. When people are persistently stretched, and their time therefore is too fragmented, their productivity, creativity and wellbeing may suffer. Although a hidden cost for some time, it will eventually catch up with both the individual and the organisation.
So, what is it that is occupying the time of busy executives, and are these tasks really adding value? They seem to fall into two categories: reporting, and collaborative endeavours, such as attending meetings or reviewing others’ work.
Let’s start with reporting. One of the many great columns Lucy Kellaway wrote in The Financial Times was about why young people leave jobs. Her empirical evidence was that they lose the will to live because they were promised meaningful work, however, once on the job, they’re asked to produce reports and spreadsheets that are not being put to use. I’m not convinced this only happens to young people.
Next, collaboration. As the new and indiscriminately applied preferred working style in many organisations, there’s a tendency to over-collaborate and be too consensus-focused (or afraid of taking full accountability). Both lead to more meetings and more requests for input, where in fact one or two viewpoints would suffice. Of course, there’s a certain respect for hierarchy, and there are compliance-driven requests, but we could question more what is on our to-do list, be they legacy tasks or new tasks. And a bit tongue-in-cheek, see what happens if we don’t get around to providing our input. I’m not sure it would always even be noticed?
As companies move to designing work around projects rather than roles, I’m wondering if we should learn from freelance workers who work on discrete and time-defined projects, measured on outcome, and therefore can focus on these? Perhaps a zero-budgeting  based approach to how we spend our time may be helpful – regularly resetting the to-do list to 0. We need to be regularly asking ourselves, ‘what is it that keeps me busy, and is it really adding value?’ On that note, back to my to-do list, where the first point is to critically question the items!
 Where you have to justify what you need to spend, starting from 0 for every period, rather than assuming legacy spend requirements.