The Challenges of Managing People in the 21st Century - Managing people was so much easier when you could just concern yourself with who they were from the time they walked into the workplace until the decreed knock-off time. Staff had each taken a vow to daily serve the organisation fully and faithfully "until home-time us do part".
Evidence of one's personal life was little more than the occasional family photo on the office desk. Personal calls were at best frowned upon and private matters restricted to lunchtime and morning tea (afternoon tea often being a luxury many organisations could ‘ill-afford'). "The floggings will continue until morale improves!" was one tongue-in-cheek observation of people management in those times. We accepted it as the way life was. Work was the centre of life and all else just had to fit around it.
How life has changed! And the fact so many of us can readily recall those earlier times shows how quick and dramatic the changes have been and continue to be. While work continues to be an important part of business and personal success, it has become just one of many factors to be taken into account in determining life's priorities.
The work life balance scales are now in the hands of the employee. The employer has to increasingly accept his (now increasingly her!) role as one of being less dictatorial and more as a facilitator, working feverishly to harmonise business and personal goals.
Employees are (they always were, but now its official) like ships passing in the night, each person traveling on his or her way from one place to another, one job to another and from a past life to a future life. Some of that travel involves spending time working for a succession of employers (often more than one at any one time) along the way. Everybody, including the CEO, constantly reviews where they want to go with their lives, why they are spending time in their present job, what role it plays in their life travels and for how long.
People management is now becoming an almost impossibly complex responsibility. Managers (especially male ones) who usually got where they are because of their professional and technical skills ahead of their people skills, are being dragged kicking and screaming to classes to learn about emotional intelligence. Women's more intuitive understanding of such matters adds strength to the case for more women to hold positions of power in 21st century business.
The search for people management solutions is now taking even the most conservative of companies and managers into the realms of what is broadly called "new age alternatives". Company-sponsored lunch time massages, fitness centre memberships and cooking classes (for bonding more than gastronomic purposes) are becoming increasingly popular as business courts happy staff who will stay longer, be more productive and attract happy customers (yes, there is more to it than that but you get the idea).
While business is busy trying to find ways of making people happy at work, they are missing a rich, unlimited, freely accessible energy source – having a freely-chosen personal interest that they passionately enjoy away from the work environment.
Recreation and fun are ‘non-words' in business because they have been seen as either having nothing to do with work or even as a competitor to work – something that people would much rather do than work. It's time to tap this rich energy lode, recognise its immense empowerment value and turn its energy-generation potential to business advantage.
The line dividing work and personal life has all but disappeared. Work life balance, as a time management tool, has become a battle between employer and employee competing for a share of the shrinking 24/7 day. Business hangs on to an outdated industrial age work ethic but the people who are the engines of business have individually moved on to a new "Life Ethic".
The answer lies in finding ways to harmonise work and personal life interests so that each benefits the other. While business still relies on time management for the allocation of priorities, the individual looks to prioritising the allocation of his or her energy. Time management cannot be deficit budgeted and chokes on an increasingly fast treadmill that people want to get off (as seen in the rush for seachange, downshifting and treechange). The inevitable direction of time management is to become increasingly time poor.
Energy management however offers flexibility in how energy is expended and how energy is generated. This opens choice-based, rather than time-based, options. We prefer choices that make us life rich rather than time poor. Business needs to pick up on this approach and build a workplace culture that recognises development and enrichment of "the whole person" and not simply "the work person".
This opens the potential to attract, retain, nurture and sustain their "ships in the night" to stay on longer, increase their commitment to the organisation, be less prone to suffering stress-related illness (or undue absenteeism), and offer positive testimonials to potential employees that "this is a great place" in which to spend time during their life journey.
To call an employee ‘happy' is a vague generalisation. Of far greater value is an employee who has high self esteem, self confidence, self belief, a sense of self worth, who projects a positive, enthusiastic and optimistic outlook on life, is a creative, innovative, lateral thinker, who inspires and motivates others and who sees value in commitment to the organisation. Now that's the sort of person you want to attract and keep! They seem to always have unlimited energy and energise others by their very presence.
Such people will almost always have another interest outside of work – an interest that totally absorbs their mind, body and spirit to an extent that time seems to stop still and the problems of the world seemingly vanish for a while. To call it a recreational interest, let alone fun, seems to trivialise it in the minds of many business people.
The benefit of enjoyable personal interests is a fact that has been lost in generations of the supremacy of the work ethic, but which is re-emerging as we seek to have more ‘flight' to energise our ‘fight' in this constantly stressful world. And the costs are borne by the individual rather than the employer!What can a manager do differently to enable staff to tap such energy? Here's some quick tips:
- Like any other culture change, it has to start with the CEO. There can be no more powerful testimonial than for senior managers to experience the benefits in their own work and personal life and say to staff, "it works for me and, for the success of the organisation, I want it to work for you!"
- Call for – and publicise – anecdotal stories from staff members who feel their work is already being energised by a passionate personal interest (not necessarily physical – mine is singing in a choir). Ask them to explain the benefits they feel and perhaps even what life would be like for them without that interest.. It's all good news stuff – and that alone energises staff morale.
- Organise round-table discussions, mixing staff and managers, to identify barriers in the present workplace culture ("the way things are done here") to staff feeling energised in their work and what measures are needed to break down those barriers.
Life has changed dramatically but people haven't. The stresses, pressures and changes of 21st Century living are simply causing us to think more deeply about what means the most in life. Work is still vitally important to our dignity and sense of purpose. We have, however, begun to remember that it is a means, not the end, in our quest for life enrichment.
We want to enjoy life to the full and there are many ways to do so, not the least of them being through the multitude of opportunities available to freely choose interests for no other reason than the enjoyment, escape, release and personal growth they offer. When you lose yourself in an interest you love, you indeed find yourself. Businesses that recognise and embrace this philosophy will be the winners.
About Peter Nicholls ~ Director of Work Leisure InternationalPeter Nicholls, Director of Work Leisure International, www.workleisure.com
. Peter has long passionately believed that the work ethic has a lot to answer for, not because it emphasised the importance of work but because it demeaned leisure as being unimportant and even wasteful. His 30 years of professional work in recreation/leisure development proved to him many times over that a passionate personal interest adds mightily to a person's personal growth and development, generating a ripple effect into all areas of their life, including their work.