The Tide is Turning – the Old Ways of Managing a Workforce Are Evolving

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Aug 31, 2015

These were recent headlines that came across my news feed:

These were headlines that made me go, “Yes, Baby!”

I speak at a lot of colleges in the Middle East, specifically to the HR programs, and one thing I tell them is that the workforce needs you. Your generation is going to bring some organizations out of their industrial stupor.

Begrudgingly, some will make the move and some will keep their heads buried in the sands. The ones that take the step and enter into a new world where every rule and workplace policy is reviewed will stumble at times — but in the end they will win.

The tide is turning

The tide is turning, folks. The recent Amazon article in The New York Times caused a huge uproar for and against the company’s workplace policies regardless of which side you took. I was amazed at the number of HR folks who immediately called the article biased and did not want to believe it, but then again, that is HR.

Having previously worked in a “brand” culture, I witnessed going from an unheralded level of engagement to a lot of the same stories and patterns like the stories about Amazon. So yes, I was on the side that I believed every word from those unhappy  employees. I sat in my office and the complaints, tears, and rumors flowed. I noticed a pattern, and as I managed by walking around, my fears were confirmed.

But from another vantage point in this age of culture in the workplace, this type of article would have not been a blip on the screen if it were written in year’s past. As a matter of fact, the writer would never have been assigned that type of article

But as I read the headlines above [thanks to Google alerts], I get a daily flow of HR articles about engagement, and the flow is changing.

Shaking in your boots

If you are “old” HR, you are fretting and talking about coddling employees, making up for out of control managers, and handling a host of the things that got this profession into the non-respected funk that it is in.

We did not just wake up in this stupor. No, this downward spiral had been going on for a while.

While our older brethren were content in the process-driven world, the landscape around them was changing. A new type of CEO was looking for more. In this ultra competitive environment, talent is and will be the differentiating factor.

The HR leader that welcomes this challenge and thrives in this environment will do well.

The three day weekend

I read this particular article and was very excited for the retail industry. Scheduling in retail environment has always been difficult and workers have historically complained about the type scheduling that is done.

You never knew from week to week when your off days will be. Some brilliant HR person came up with the technique called “On Call.”  What that means is that you did not have a specific schedule or guaranteed hours but were “on call” as needed.

I wondered when I heard this from my retail friends whether the workers had any input into this decision. Probably not; it is called “management by conference room.” If anyone would have asked their employees, they would have known that this would not work. Bravo to Uniqlo for doing something about it.

In the Middle East, the weekend is Friday/Saturday. On top of that, it was OK in years past for lower level workers to have only one day off per week. A new company came in and challenged that by giving workers two days off, which was met with joy within the company but the competitors complained.

Eventually it caused the vast majority of the major players to do the same. There was no choice — they had to compete.

Calling out your industry

Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz was interviewed and he said that the tech industry needs to change. Amazon isn’t the only company that should re-evaluate its work culture: The whole tech industry needs to.

“As an industry, we are falling short of our potential,” said Moskovitz said. He declared that tech companies are not benefiting from intense work environments that leave employees stressed and burned out.

“My intellectual conclusion is that these companies are both destroying the personal lives of their employees and getting nothing in return,” he wrote.

In years past I would pride myself on how many hours I worked and if it was a badge of honor. While telling one of my old mentors about coming into the office on Saturdays and sometimes Sunday, he asked “What do you want, a medal?

My daughter got her first job out of college and worked in advertising/media. I noticed that she would arrive home at 10-11 pm and was back out at 7 am the next morning. When I inquired about whether this might be because of a special project that had to be completed, she said no. This was an industry thing.

If you were to leave at, say, at 6 pm, you would be viewed as not carrying your part of the load. In other words you were a “slacker” if you wanted to have a normal life. We all know of some many people today that are just stressed out from work.  This is why the “work-life” balance issue is so prevalent.

 Changing old ways to attract young workers

A good friend of mine who is a CIO boasted to me that “our systems are totally locked down. We do not allow our people access to social media during work hours.” Another company told me of how they were more lenient in that they allow open access from the hours of 12-2 pm. As I laughed, they accused me of “coddling employees.”

Folks, in order to attract not only young workers but more importantly a young mindset, you have to focus on the mindset.

As I read daily headlines, I am happy because the stench of workplace policies of yesteryear is finally evaporating. I am also happy for the students in colleges studying HR, and some of the new blood that is coming into the profession that is chafing at the bit to try some new things. I caution them that you may luckily get a job with a progressive HR organization that has  sound, exciting leadership.

But on the other hand, you could land in a department that from the outside looks like a good fit but is actually an empty suit, saying all the right things but afraid of being found out.

Do not fret because they WILL be found out, and in a lot of cases, asked to move on because the organization wants and needs more.

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