Moonlighting – Is there a problem

Organizations have traditionally objected to employees moonlighting, believing that it can hurt their interests in the long run.

For one, moonlighting can lead to employees working on projects that are not related to their primary job. Thus they may miss important meetings or deadlines due to the time they devote to their secondary jobs.

Second, employees who moonlight are less likely to stay at the company for very long. These workers may feel neglected and undervalued by their employers, which could cause them to look for other opportunities elsewhere.

Third, it may also be difficult to monitor employees who are moonlighting. Unlike employees who remain at the company during the day, these workers do not have supervisors who can keep a close watch on their activities to ensure they are doing their jobs properly.

Finally, employees who moonlight may end up stealing proprietary information from their employers and selling this information to their competitors. This can threaten the survival of the organizations they work for, especially if they use the information to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Given this, organizations should consider allowing their employees to moonlight only if it can provide them with certain benefits. For example, such an arrangement could help an organization expand its operations and improve its bottom line if it is able to hire more talented workers with more diverse skills.

However, it is important for these organizations to take the necessary steps to protect their sensitive information and ensure that their employees are doing their jobs properly if they are to allow employees to moonlight. For example, these organizations should limit the number of hours their employees can work at their second jobs and ensure that they do not work on projects that have any connection to their primary jobs. Furthermore, these companies should monitor the activities of their employees to ensure that they are not in possession or have access to confidential information that could hurt the interests of their employers.

Organizations often prohibit their employees from moonlighting because it can be detrimental to their overall interests. First, it can be very time-consuming for employees to moonlight, which may cause them to neglect their primary jobs and miss out on important tasks and deadlines. Second, many employees may not be able to balance their two jobs effectively and end up neglecting one or the other. As a result, they may find themselves making costly mistakes in their primary jobs or failing to complete their secondary jobs on time.

Third, some employees may be tempted to use their access to confidential information at their primary jobs to obtain a competitive advantage in their secondary jobs. This could have a serious negative impact and could end up hurting the bottom line of their primary employers.

The reasons why employees choose to moonlight

  1. Financial prospects – When employees feel that they are underpaid or not able to meet their financial needs, they look for alternatives or side hustles that could provide them with much-needed support.
  2. Career prospects – When employees do not see career growth prospects or see that there are not enough possibilities or opportunities to expand their roles, then they may choose to find or work towards greener pastures. This they do to secure their future prospects.
  3. Workload – Employees may find that they are being overloaded with work and the financial rewards are not commensurate, then they may be looking at moonlighting as an option to safeguard their prospects in case they eventually choose to quit their primary jobs. It could also be that they do not have enough work in their primary jobs and would like to use their spare time to explore options outside.
  4. Learning opportunities – When employees find that there are not enough opportunities to learn and enhance their skills in their primary jobs, they would find gigs that would help them not just learn but also additionally give them some money as an added benefit.
  5. Lack of trust – When employees see signs that their jobs are not secure and their employer is laying off people and/or there is news/gossip that goes around about such an eventuality, then they may choose to moonlight as a defensive response to safeguard their own interests in case such an eventuality does occur.

There could be many more reasons unique to each employee. It is for organizations to be able to proactively deal with the eventuality of employees moonlighting and take corrective action that could help mitigate the business risks.

One must remember, that as much as organizations can look for a diversified business portfolio based on the changing market conditions, employees are entitled to do the same.

One can’t complain!

Exponentially Boost Your Employee Success

Looking to Boost Your Employee Success?

It could well be the game changer!

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Looking to exponentially boost your employee success? As a human resource manager and business leader, the one thing that runs in your mind is about boosting employee success which would eventually lead to your business success.

If that resonates with you, then you are also confronted with managing the critical balancing act on one of the ‘competing values’ as Quinn’s Model illustrates – that of ‘Results’ Vs. ‘People’.

You notice that when you fiercely drive business and that becomes your only focus, the people side of the story does get hit – though that is never your intention. The problem is that you are so intensely in pursuit of achieving the results that you almost always lack the time to invest in your ‘People’.

You may argue that you do have a strong employee engagement program in place.

Why then do we see an increasing rise in attrition and the level of stress in employees?

Why are more and more people looking for and talking about the need for work-life balance?

It’s time that you started looking beyond the obvious and the ordinary.

Employee Family Wellness Program

Families are important in our lives because, for better or worse, we often adopt the routines and demeanors of those who are close to us. They influence everything about us, including what we think, feel, and even do.

Therefore, incorporating the families of employees in those activities might be a wise option for those who lead employee wellness programs in organizations and are considering potential initiatives to help employees stay on the path to better health and wellness.

Why? Because absolutely nobody can better affect the physical and mental wellness of your employees than their family members.  No not even you or your employees’ doctors.

The effect of Family on Health and Wellness of employees.

Have you ever tried to kickstart a new habit, like an early morning exercise routine?  If you see your spouse or partner still in bed when you wake up, it will be much more difficult for you to drag yourself out of the house to exercise.  You may be tempted to stay back as well.  On the other hand, you’ll both commit to going together it may be a lot easier and you can push each other on days when one feels a little lazy.

The same is valid for other facets of well-being and health. Consider what happens if you advocate healthy eating at home but your spouse keeps bringing home ice creams and cheeseburgers for the kids.

According to research, when one member adopts a healthy practice, the other partner is more likely to follow suit. For instance, the study discovered that about 70% of men were inclined to increase their level of activity if their spouse did the same. However, without spousal influence, only about 30% made such alterations.  That is almost 50% lower rate of success.

If your employee has a happy family life that is healthy, supportive, and strong then it is more likely to spill over to their workplace.    When employers are able to extend wellness programs to family members, it clearly demonstrates to the employees that their organization cares about their well-being which goes beyond the workplace.

Including families in Wellness Programs

Organizations must find ways to extend the wellness programs to include families which can be an important and very strategic initiative toward a happier and more productive employee.  When an employee knows that there is a whole ecosystem working behind the scenes to keep him and his family safe, he/she would be able to work at his/her full potential.

There is a lot to learn from the Indian Armed Forces in this regard from where my experience of such programs and the immense benefits that it has to offer.

One such benefit is definitely a highly motivated workforce that is physically and emotionally strong!

Interested in rolling out a comprehensive “Employee Family Wellness Program”
in your organization? 
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I can show you how to

“Exponentially Boost Employee Performance”

Toxic is your work culture?

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It is time to STOP living in ‘denial’

“The key to being a good leader is keeping the people who hate you away from those who are still undecided.”

HBR describes Culture as “consistent, observable patterns of behavior in businesses”. It affects the way we interact, communicate, and handle one another. Our decision-making processes, our tolerance levels, and our day-to-day emotions.

Toxic work culture

You’ll see that this definition excludes free lunches, endless vacations, and snacks. These benefits make it easier for people to put up with a bad culture. Driving continual disruption, transformation, digitization, and innovation as a business may seem fantastic.

Not so much, though, if the typical employee isn’t prepared to handle the challenge. Globally, businesses have expressed to us their concern that they are losing their culture. More workplace cultures are becoming a terrible mashup as a result of rising stress.

In my conversations with top HR executives in the last 30 years, I’ve posed the question regarding organizational culture, and they all seem to agree that over 80% of companies suffer from toxic work cultures.

If you were to ask employees privately to describe their organization’s work culture, more than a few might answer; high stress, overload, low morale, insecurity, and toxic leadership.  Though the executive leadership may almost always deny that such a thing even exists in their organization.  They would like to believe that all is hunky dory and would like to use the cover of ‘business results’ to affirm that all is well.

Studies have shown that everything from employee contentment, fatigue, and teamwork to objective metrics like financial performance and absenteeism is influenced by emotional culture.

Numerous empirical studies demonstrate the major influence of emotions on people’s performance on tasks, level of engagement and creativity, level of commitment to their organizations, and ability to make judgments.

Better performance, quality, and customer service were invariably linked to positive emotional cultures. Similar to how unfavorable emotional cultures were linked to high turnover, poor performance, and group anguish, despair, and dread.

When the subject turns to company culture, ongoing stress and negative emotions translate into people not treating each other well.  The leadership styles do have a great influence on company culture.  The question is do leaders influence the culture or does the culture influence the style of leadership?

If we believe that the company culture is made of consistent, observable patterns of behavior, then it is more likely that stressed-out employees and managers may contribute immensely to the toxicity of organizational culture.

In the face of a tough culture where “faster and cheaper” is the norm for businesses, it is easy for leaders to slip into styles that may not serve them in the long run and turn not just their behaviors but also the culture into a toxic one.

Leaders, therefore, need to urgently get out of ‘denial’ and become ‘mindful’ of the influence they have on building the culture in organizations.  They need to own up to the responsibility at all levels.

The problems of toxicity in work cultures are more pronounced than ever post-pandemic.

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What according to you is the fallout of a toxic culture and leadership?

  1. Low morale
  2. High stress
  3. High turnover
  4. Poor performance

Flexible honesty! – Dishonesty in ‘truth’

Is there something like “Flexible Honesty”? Why do people find it difficult to share significant bad news, when they know that it could lead to corrective action?

I don’t remember a time when tempers have not run high after I made the participants in my workshop play the prisoner’s dilemma. 

Powerful emotions rise up as post-exercise discussions veer around the idea of integrity and honesty.  Those who cheated, almost always get defensive and start to claim that in today’s competitive world, one must remain flexible in their level of honesty.  They insist and vehemently argue that if the business demands a certain level of flexibility, it is ok to overlook, and that one does not live in an ‘ideal’ world as I may be trying to suggest.

These incredulous arguments have at times been so intense that they turn into participants raising their voices in anger and moving menacingly towards those who make such a suggestion.

Flexible honesty
*Courtesy – Dilbert.com Copyright 2017. @ScottAdamsSays

You find often in organizations people get very angry whenever there is a discussion around ‘honesty and truth’.  The problem is that people find themselves lying to themselves and to each other.  They go through ‘cognitive dissonance’ as what they believe or value and what is expected from the role they play is often in conflict.  They are stressed as they are called upon to make such calls every day of their life. 

I remember the time when I started my career in the Software QA & Testing team, I was under tremendous pressure from the developers to let some of the bugs pass by as they had to meet the deadlines set by their bosses.  They used to try covert and overt means to persuade me in that direction.  Talking about how the release is important for the business and how we could not delay the launch of the product any longer as huge costs were involved.

Every day was painful as I had to fight the battle between honesty (the value I most dearly hold) vs. loyalty to the organization and its business goals.

Have you noticed that most of us are put in organizational structures where the need to be honest and loyal is in conflict?  The fact is that at some stage it turns into a battle of loyalties.  Do you remain loyal to your values or to your boss, team, or organization?

Why then do you think that ‘telling the truth’ is particularly difficult when you know that it will definitely lead to taking corrective action?

In the same prisoner’s dilemma exercise, I have seen that those who stick by their values and remain honest about their commitments made during their interactions with ‘so-called’ competing teams, get little support from their own team members.  Instead of looking at what the message is, people and organizations often choose to shoot the messenger.

All those who have ever raised significant bad news in organizations would easily relate to this one.  They never get much support from their own colleagues.  This forces the people who stand by their values to take the burden on their shoulders and try and solve the problem all by themselves.  That is an arduous task, to say the least.

When seeing and telling the truth is so integral to self-mastery, then why is it not encouraged, and bosses and organizations seem to only pay lip service?

Why do people face a lot of barriers to telling the truth?

What can you do to create conditions that reconcile loyalty and ‘truth’?

How can we ensure that people don’t get the idea that it is okay to be ‘flexible’ in their level of honesty?

Thoughts?…

*thought credit – The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge

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WFH – The Loss of Social Capital in Organizations

It’s time that organizations paid attention to the increasing loss of “Social Capital”.

In the last 6 months of my consulting work with organizations, the most commonly stated frustration of the senior leadership is ‘attrition’ and the challenges of ‘retention’ post Covid-19 and close to 2 years of WFH.

The problem is accentuated as organizations mull over the possibility of getting back their workforce to the office.  While some have mandated at least 2 days of work per week in the office, most are still tentative about the possible fallout.

As much as organizations were caught unawares dealing with the pandemic, most leaders are seen to be tentative in their approach towards getting work back to pre-covid times.  There is an increased level of social anxiety as a consequence of long periods of social isolation.

Organizations I presume were not prepared for the loss of social capital, which seems to have got systematically eroded due to WFH and the increasing use of technology-based interactions.

The biggest challenge is to rebuild the ‘Trust” in the workforce that seems to be currently unavailable due to the complete lack of informal social exchanges that was available pre-covid times.

Interactions that used to be face-to-face and based on long-established personal relationships are now being carried out over distance by automated systems, a process called dis-embedding. From this point of view, conducting more interactions using new technology rather than face-to-face can deprive leaders of opportunities to build trust.

To evaluate the potential of new technologies for enabling new forms of interaction without considering these undesirable consequences, trust and the conditions that influence it, can undermine the opportunities for development.

Inner conflict Anxiety, communication gaps, isolation, guilt, negative spillover between family life and work, and reduced productivity are some of the feelings employees are experiencing.  This is after the initial euphoria of increased productivity and flexibility that wfh seemed to provide.

Working from home does not facilitate the social and professional interaction of the employee, killing his/her most human quality. At-home workers can feel left out of interactions from office rumors to changes in company procedures, activities, or policies.

In a survey, it was reported that over 60 percent of respondents felt isolation was the major disadvantage of working at home. This physical separation reduces not only the amount of feedback that employees receive from clients, supervisors, or coworkers but also reduces its quality because non-visual communication reduces the nonverbal cues.  It has resulted in work from home employees missing the motivation of exchanging experiences and ideas with their colleagues.

The negative influence that work-from-home had on peer interaction and communication with managers and coworkers contrasts with the view of organizations as social systems whose basic structure is made of relationships among individuals. 

Employees sharing the same physical location develop alliances, learn through communication, and foster creativity through communication with coworkers through casual encounters around the coffee machine and elsewhere.  That is sorely being missed. 

Studies show that using e-mail and other electronic means to socialize was positively related to social isolation, depression, and loneliness, indicating that e-mail is not as good a communication channel as it is face-to-face. 

Face-to-face or organic systems involve more managerial information, two-way communication, and advice rather than instructions, decisions, and orders that electronic media ends up with. 

The fact is that organizational leaders were not prepared for the problems arising out of increasing levels of interactions through the electronic medium.  Their communication styles via email or other online mediums did not account for the ‘lack of’ personal face-to-face interactions and the benefits that used to come with it.  In a substantial portion of the communication, the personal touch went missing – eroding ‘trust’.  Employees started to receive more instructions and one-way communication and were subjected to increased levels of monitoring by managers which led to social distancing.  The result – is a more emotionally drained employee leading to erosion of the social capital in organizations.

Organizational leaders need to take a long hard look at their work culture.  It is a key component of why people stay at workplaces and the social capital gained from formal and informal gatherings is priceless.

It’s time that organizational leaders paid attention to the extent of their social capital.  You don’t want to be caught unawares!
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ARE YOU A VICTIM OF WORKPLACE HARRASSMENT?

The problem of consistently associating workplace harassment with sexual harassment at the workplace does not do justice to rid our workspaces of both. 

That most harassment has been linked to women at workspaces, ignores an important fact that workplace bullying and harassment is not gender-specific and encompasses the whole working class.  Bullying and harassment are often so underrated by most as the signs are very subtle and often look like you are dealing with work-related stress.

In fact, if you are feeling stressed at work and find it difficult to get yourself out of bed to go to work every day or the first day of every week, then it’s time you understood the underlying cause.  It could just be that your lack of motivation is an early warning signal.

Workplace harassment is real – it’s time for us to get real!

Most people want to believe that their workplace is free from bullying and harassment, but our own estimate is that at least one in five workers is dealing with workplace bullying.

To understand this in a bit more detail is to know for a fact that Workplace bullying and harassment is a pattern of persistent mistreatment that you experience in your workplace. It has its effects on emotional and/or physical well-being, and the mistreatment could range from physical abuse, verbal or nonverbal, and humiliation. This leaves a deep psychological scar on the people who are at the receiving end of such mistreatment.

The problem is that people do not realize that they are being mistreated or harassed.

WHAT THEN ARE THE SIGNS OF WORKPLACE BULLYING?

In a workplace, it becomes increasingly difficult for people to identify bullying as is often the case the boss is the perpetrator from which arose the cliché “people leave their bosses and not companies”.  This could be the case because of the authority they come to possess that at times even denies the managers themselves an opportunity to know when they are overstepping their boundaries with co-workers leading to bullying.  It does not mean that there are only bosses to worry about, even co-workers may turn into bullies usually when there exists an underlying conflict or some sort of jealousy or when they jostle for recognition and rewards.

How then can you identify that you are being bullied which is resulting in your anxiety and stress?

Given below are 9 signs that will be useful in identifying if you are a victim of workplace bullying.

EXCLUSION

When you find that you are consistently being excluded from crucial team meetings, discussions, conversations, decisions, or work-related activities. Or you find that your contributions are deliberately being ignored making you feel isolated or ignored.

RECEIVING UNDUE FLAK

When you are at the receiving end of unreasonable flak which imposes a feeling of guilt or shame then it is a sign that you are being bullied. You are made to feel that your output is not worthy enough despite you doing the best in your team. You will find this form of bullying is done by providing a low-performance appraisal rating in comparison to other members of the team.

NEVER GETTING CREDIT, ALWAYS RECEIVING BLAME

In the face of failure if you find that the blame is consistently falling in your lap, even when you are not directly responsible for the outcome, then it sure is time to take notice that you are being subtly bullied. It becomes more evident when the credit that you deserve is stolen from you and handed over on a platter to other members, right under your nose. If you always end up being a scapegoat during team failures, then you are bullied.

UNDERUTILIZATION

When you are constantly underutilized and end up getting the least favored responsibilities, tasks or jobs despite the fact that you have a high level of competency.

WITHHOLDING INFORMATION

When you are deliberately miss informed or information relevant to your work is being withheld or someone is providing you with false information then it is a sign that you are being bullied. Frequently being lied to is another indicator. Sometimes, providing false hope is also a form of deception or abuse of information to underplay your relevance to the team.

BLOCKING PROGRESS

When you find that your progress is being repeatedly and intentionally being blocked by providing flimsy reasons then it is definitely not a good sign. When promises made to you about your career path and growth are overlooked and promised roles and assignments are deliberately assigned to someone else.

CAUGHT IN CROSSFIRE

When you find yourselves being consistently caught in the crossfire of workplace conflict of which you have no idea. When rumors about you are circulated and you find yourselves being backstabbed by those who you trusted. When you become the victim of revenge just because you were found to be close to a colleague who was on the wrong side of your boss’s ire, or just that you were considered belonging to one of the warring factions.

UNREAL EXPECTATIONS

Bullying may also involve setting unrealistic expectations or hard-to-reach targets that at the outset are not possible to achieve. When it becomes far-fetched and much higher than your fellow co-workers and you are deceived into believing that you are being given such targets because of your competency.

FREQUENT CHANGE IN ROLES

When your roles and responsibilities are frequently changed without giving valid reasons or when you are not allowed to settle in any one role then you are a victim of workplace bullying. When you are also put in roles for which you do not have the necessary skill sets, you must beware!

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Post COVID-19 Recovery – A Challenge for Leadership and Corporations

With the relaxation of restrictions by the governments to stimulate economic growth; businesses slowly crawling back to normalcy and recovery. While business activity seems to be gathering speed, there is little sense of relief amongst the corporate leadership as the scars left by the pandemic will take a long time to heal.  Post covid-19 scenario is posing some serious challenges for the business leaders to manage not just business recovery but also emotional recovery of their employees. 

I do believe that the business story will go to script, the people side of the story can have a lot going on below the surface.  All might not be hunky-dory after all.  Let’s look at some of the possible challenges which leaders might face while navigating the post covid-19 scenario.

Mental / emotional wellness

This fact cannot be denied that the lockdown, work-from-home, recalibration of work relationships, fear of losing jobs, lowered income, uncertainty, loss of someone dear and fear of continuous monitoring and scrutiny not just of work but in personal life has taken a toll on the mental and emotional well-being of employees. Though it could possibly be a stretch to imagine that people may exhibit signs similar to PTSD, it could be closer to that.  Its like the soldiers or the doctors who find the normal life to be so inconsequential compared to the combat like situations they have seen on the field.  Many would have encountered life changing moments which would have made them significantly redraw and recalibrate the way they would like to lead their life going forward.  Now, with normalcy returning the fear that things would go back to old ways and drudgery, will be weighing heavily in the minds of the employees.

Social wellness

One of the positive fallouts of the pandemic was that the social wellness quotient seems to have significantly improved.  The upheaval had caused the society at large to collaborate and support each other to face the challenges posed by covid-19.  People demonstrated more empathy and care for others as they handled the crisis as a team.  They reconnected all those relationships which they had long forgotten.  Discussions moved away from just work and productivity to the well-being of self and others.  Increased use of digital platforms and social media networks during the pandemic helped increase the level and frequency of communication.  Keeping people connected 24X7.  There was a level of honesty and transparency and people felt comfortable being vulnerable with each other as they knew that all of humanity was going through this emotional upheaval.

So, what then is the challenge for leaders?  Employees are wary that they will no longer be able to spend that much time in self-care once they get back to the routine working patterns of the past.  They are wary that they would not have enough time with their family and relations and the balance they were able to achieve working from home will be lost.  More like an opportunity cost.  There is a danger of people now getting back to their competitive ways and away from looking at the larger good.  In the light of renewing face-to-face contact, people would again start drawing up their defensive walls in order to protect themselves.  Fear of being vulnerable at workplace will reappear in the minds of employees.  That would mean that leaders may find that people are suddenly withdrawn and cagy.

Team wellness

Informal networks, quick decision making, effective and efficient meetings, clear and concise communication and high level of collaborative work, absence of subjective judgments, were some significant outcomes, thanks to the pandemic.  Getting back to work team members would fear all that would vanish and the conflicts which were rested or forgotten because of the crisis would resurface once they join regular work. Team members during the pandemic could act independently and were given the freedom to decide and act on their own as long as they delivered results.  With the return to work the fear is of the hovering boss, the competitive colleague and limited freedom to operate.  The team and its members will be anxious about their future.  Businesses would possibly try to cut down expenses or would have planned for recalibrating teams that could impact negatively.  The uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity would add to the woes of the team members and negatively impact the overall mental wellness of the team.

Leadership wellness

The leaders themselves would have gone through great emotional upheaval due to the pandemic.  They would have seen several senior leadership positions being done away with already in order to cut costs.  Some positions were also made redundant thanks to the digital driven monitoring and control of performance.  Leaders themselves would be highly anxious about their jobs and their future.  This could significantly impact the way they would receive their teams when they return to work.  Leaders would also be susceptible to significant trust deficit with their team members as they would have unfortunately been tasked with relieving a lot of people from their jobs.  Team members would be tentative in all their interactions with such leaders.  Leaders would also have in their own anxiety been possibly insensitive while dealing with team members during the covid-19 period.  They would have become intrusive and overbearing towards their team members, thereby negatively impacting the relationship. Rebuilding trust will be a significant challenge for leadership while navigating the post covid-19 recovery.

How can a leader navigate the post covid-19 recovery phase?

Leadership needs to realize that it is not going to be as easy as it looks – getting back to work and start doing what they were doing before.  They may have to take a long hard look at the old habits of leading businesses and teams.  They have to re-prioritize, re-plan, adjust and redirect their resources for managing the recovery process. Leaders need to focus once again on the four key dimensions of high-performance teams – the S.T.A.R™

Stimulating Communication

In order for leaders to address the emotional and mental wellness of their employees, there will be a need to stimulate a communication climate which will be based on feedback, listening and more importantly sensitivity.  Teams would have to again go through with the forming, storming, norming and performing stages of development which comes with its unique set of challenges post covid-19.  They will be tasked with the need to hold ‘the critical dialogue’ or difficult conversation with their team members which would involve communicating new roles and responsibilities, work processes, performance goals and metrics.

There should be regular and extensive use of feedback in order to create the much-needed buy-in for the renewed work process.  The social distancing norms of a physical workspace would mean that people might not be as comfortable in each other’s company as they continue to grapple with the anxiety of the “what if”.  During the pandemic because of the remote working environment, there was a forced need for regular feedback, as that was the only way you could keep up to speed with what your colleague was doing.  The interdependencies were visible and clear.  That will get blurred as when leaders return to work, they may withdraw to old ways of working where ‘feedback’ would have often been minimal. Seeking feedback from ‘Employee Mental Wellness’ surveys will be an important step to take before getting the wheels of office work in motion. 

Leaders must encourage employees to speak up as often and as frequently as was the case while working remotely.  They must ‘actively listen’ to their concerns and seek to address them before they snowball into another crisis, this time driven by employee anxiety and emotional wellness issues.  They will have to put in the extra effort to have their eyes and ears to the ground and pick up even the slightest sign of distress amongst co-workers and deal with them immediately.  Remote working had helped employees to put their thoughts in digital form without any fear as they didn’t have to come face to face in meeting rooms with their leadership.  The small group side-conversations to discuss each other’s problems online was what helped many deal with their emotional issues in the safety of their home.  Leaders must provide the space and time for people to engage in similar conversations in the office to reduce stress.

Back to physical workspace would demand a high level of sensitivity from the leadership in dealing with employee emotions and understanding their mental state.  People would have redrawn their family roles and responsibilities and were just about getting into the comfort zone of collaborating on chores on a daily basis.  Help was ready any time any family member wanted; right from helping with the dishes, children’s study, tidying up the rooms – all pitched in. Leaders must understand that when you call the employees back to work, they not only have to deal with the renewed work process but also with the emotional pain of redrawing their familial responsibilities.  People cannot simply switch on and off from work and family as you would tend to expect.  Heightened level of sensitivity will be the key.  There is a need to not just communicate, but overcommunicate at this point.

Trust

The pandemic also brought about in employees the trauma of losing jobs, reduced incomes, blurred lines of roles and responsibilities.  As businesses were trying to cut losses by reducing their physical office infrastructure, the casualty was also jobs.  Though it was the demand of the situation and a hard decision for many businesses, they had no choice but to relieve many of their jobs.  The problem was that those leaders who were tasked to communicate this difficult message have to face the remainder of employees.  They would always be suspicious about their leader’s intention and every conversation, each move, will be closely scrutinized.  The leadership themselves may be going through the anxiety as they must once again prove that they have and will manage the transition.  The stress of exposure and increased vulnerability impacts ‘trust’ greatly.

What can leaders do to rebuild the potential loss of ‘trust’ in teams? 

‘Openness and transparency’ in all transactions will be the key. Leaders must keep the employees engaged through dialogue.  They must enhance the level of transparency in decision making and keep the employees informed and involved.  Any closed-door meeting will be viewed with suspicion and should not be overlooked.  Agendas need to be shared and spelt out to team members and feedback must be sought regularly to increase the level of openness.

‘Integrity’ of leadership will be put to test.  Leaders need to walk-the-talk.  All the promises and commitments made in the last one year just to keep the team in good spirits need to now be followed through with visible action.  As the teams would have digital records of such conversations. 

This would bring in the dimension of ‘data privacy and security’.  Increased activity online during covid-19 pandemic also raised the concerns regarding cyber security.  As people moved completely to the digital world, they exposed themselves to potential cyber-attacks on their personal data.  As they heard how cyber criminals were taking advantage of the increase in online activity, now employees would carry forward such fears about privacy of official conversations as well.  Employees will be concerned that the ‘spoken words’ which could during pre-covid times be denied are possibly recorded on online communication mediums.  For example, a conversation regarding the boss in a chat room would now be vulnerable to exposure by any vested party.  Leaders must take any negative conversation / gossip emerging from such sources with a pinch of salt and put to rest the fears that employees would have regarding misuse of their personal data.

Leaders must ease their teams into post covid-19 routines by continuing the informal networks, collaborative digital spaces, social media use and other informal activities they would got onto during the lockdown.  An example could be celebrating the birthday or anniversary of a family member of the employee.  During the pandemic, lot of companies found that team members were able to participate in social events of co-workers, getting to know them more personally, which contributed to increased bonding.  The same in some form must continue once the teams return to physical workspaces.  There will be increased pressure on leaders to enhance the level of ‘Trust’ in teams and openness, transparency, collaboration and integrity will be the key to achieve that at workplace.

Accountability

When teams are faced with a crisis, the boundaries of work get blurred as everyone gets involved to ensure team success.  People may take up additional responsibilities and roles which otherwise they would be reluctant to do or may not be tasked to do.  This could also mean that they would have got a hands-on experience of working in a fluidic way.  Decisions were made without much fuss, agreements arrived at quickly, meetings became very efficient and effective and there was a visible increase in ‘commitment’ of employees towards the larger goal.  Discussions were no longer about “who will do what?” but “what can we do?” and “how to we get this done?”

With gradual return to physical workspaces, leaders will have to now relook and rewire the roles and responsibilities keeping in mind that they do not disturb the fallout benefits derived from the pandemic.  They shouldn’t suddenly start drawing boundaries around roles such that people get back to their silos.  The competency frameworks which existed pre-covid must be relooked at and employees must be coached to take on revised set of competencies which will help them in their way forward.  Independence and delegation with not just responsibility but authority should be the way forward.  Following through with employees on a regular basis must continue.  Leaders must get out and ‘manage by walking and talking about’.  Employees must be involved while redefining and redrawing roles and responsibilities. This will ensure ‘team wellness’ and increased level of accountability, leading to higher and sustained level of performance.

Results

Surveys done with business leaders indicated that there was an increase in productivity of employees during the lockdown and remotely working from home.  Employees were committed to deliver what was asked of them and did that by willingly stretching the working hours.  As long as the work was getting done, people unlike in the past, were not complaining about not getting back home in time to be with family.  The fact that they were with their family all of the time helped them to achieve the much needed ‘work-life balance’ or at least they could get a sense of the same.

In order for leaders to sustain the productivity levels of employees, they must be focused on providing the same level of balance to their people and create an environment where the focus is more on deliverables than on how many working hours is the employee putting in.  Organizations who were otherwise giving flexible working hours only to the few privileged senior employees must rethink and see how they can integrate the same for all employees.  Flexibility was one of the key factors contributing to employee productivity and that cannot and should not be taken away from them when they return to physical workspaces.  Processes need to be put in place which will ensure that employees don’t feel the pressure of close monitoring and have the fear of the ‘hovering boss’ once again.  Employees must be involved in re-defining goals and objectives to enhance “ownership”.

The Poison Of Knowledge!

The value of ‘experience’ cannot be understated. In this day and age of instant information sharing using digital media, more and more people are being driven purely by knowledge and are living their life based on the information they receive in plenty on a daily basis.  There is no validation whatsoever of the information being downloaded and people seem to be simply trusting whatever is coming their way.  Especially so in the case of ‘health’ related information.  People seem to be taking most of the information on health which comes to them on face value and becoming victims of misinformation.

Even ‘education’ has become more of theory than practice.  In the quest for churning out ‘literacy’ rates, it’s become more an assembly line production of degree holders who have  no idea whatsoever of the practicality of some of the

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knowledge which they have gained.  This is amply evident even in the highly ‘knowledge’ and ‘analytic’ driven equity markets.  The so called high profile executive fresh out of college, armed with degrees have fallen flat in the highly volatile world of the stock markets.  Even today, you find that the good old traders with hands-on experience make a lot of money.

In hiring new managers (today’s fad phrase – leaders), companies were enthusiastic to get bright minds (educationally) laterally into the system and made them to lead teams of highly experienced professionals – who had been there; done that.  The result – a complete lack of ‘credibility’ and ‘authenticity’ in their leadership.  They find it hard to gain the respect of people who they lead.

The reason is plain and simple – ‘Experience’.

Chanakya in his ‘Arthashastra’ clearly states that there is no use of knowledge if it is not backed with experience.  It turns into poison.

It is time that we gave importance and respect to experience in all fields.  Because ‘experience’ it is that brings high level of ‘credibility’ and ‘authenticity’ in who you are.

Work-From-Home – A Test Of Trust!

The past couple of months caught everyone by surprise; businesses and employees alike. While most large businesses had their ‘business contingency plans’ in place: no one would have ever imagined that the shift to remote work from home will be so sudden and swift.

Our firm, Equinox Consultants, an Indian human resource consulting and training service provider with more than 25 years of experience in agile ways of working like everyone else, had to transform our business into a remote-only operation, virtually overnight.

The transition to a work-from-home context was a breeze, as we have been operating that way for over a decade. The only challenge we had to and continue to work on is to transition all our contact training modules to a remote delivery model. When I say all, I intended to say that most of our services were already prepped for remote delivery.

In over two decades what we’ve noticed is that there are cultural traits to our self-managing organization that lends itself particularly well to remote working. It boils down to what I see as the essential building block of all teamworking and collaboration – ‘Trust’. The need for trust-building is even more amplified when you have co-workers working remotely.

I would like to share our own experience of successful remote working which will help your teams and business organization build and maintain trust.

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What’s worked for us:

Communication – Speed, Clarity and Frequency

The biggest pain area for people who work remotely is when they do not get quick, clear and continual communication from the stakeholders with whom they work closely. The fact that digital communication makes one feel that ‘Once I have sent a message, it is assumed that the receiver has read and understood it’. The onus then quickly shifts to the receiver to respond quickly to the messages he/she receives. Any delay can lead to ‘negative’ and ‘suspicious’ thoughts in the minds of the sender who may be prone to ‘imagine’ and attribute agendas.

So the ‘speed of response’ is of paramount importance to build and and sustain trust. The other important factor is to provide clarity – not just once but on a continual basis. Therefore my take is communicate, communicate, communicate. Share important information (even if it’s incomplete) right away once you have it. This will especially hold true in matters of financial, strategic decisions, of policy, priorities, accountability and daily goals.

If you keep people in the dark during uncertain times it leads to needless anxiety and worry. People work better when they are less stressed. Sharing clear and timely information across functions, and giving everyone an effective overview, means people can take action to steer the business in the right direction.

Frequency of your communication matters too. The lag should be minimal. Your quarterly should turn to monthly; monthly to weekly and weekly to daily.  That’s the paradigm you need to shift towards.  The longer the gap the higher the chances of disruption and break in trust levels.

Decision making will move towards becoming an ‘in-the-moment’ process where you just cannot afford to call for virtual or physical meetings all the time to discuss and take important decisions. When everyone understands what’s going on they will be able to make smarter decisions. Do whatever it takes to get the message out there.  Encourage people to speak up and openly share problems and challenges and provide continual updates on workloads.

Leadership will be put to test in remote working setups. There will be an increasing load on the leaders to communicate fast, frequently and with clarity. The importance of communication ability of your leaders couldn’t have been more than in remote working situations.

Openness and transparency

There is chance that Managers feel an increasing need to micromanage. They may fear that employees working from home might be less productive and doing personal stuff than real work. This will be accentuated by a lot of social media posts which showcase non-work skills of employees.  Such anxiety can lead to excessive control measures which might lead to a lot of stress and feeling of dissatisfaction.

The way to deal with such anxiety starts with building openness and transparency in your transactions.

You must keep all your employees informed all the time and shouldn’t keep them in the dark. With team members working from home it’s easy to forget to relay important information regarding specific roles, expectations and task deadlines. Providing enough context and ensuring your team have access to all necessary information is a must. Communicating rules of engagement, setting boundaries, the rationale behind decisions, seeking and giving continual feedback can go a long way in building openness and transparency. When your employees see visible actions of your trust in them they will reciprocate the same in your leadership.   The direct benefit of trust based on the foundation of openness and transparency is ‘speed’ of work.

Empower

An ability to decentralize the decision making process, letting go of hierarchies and giving your employees freedom to make decisions about their work is the key when you have your workforce operating from home.

When working from home, everyone’s managing themselves to an even greater degree as it is; it’s important to give everyone the full autonomy to do that in order for them to do it well. This is where situational awareness comes in: sharing objectives and goals is crucial. It makes it easy for people to manage themselves better in deciding what to focus on now and what to leave for later.

Set up communities of practice

An increased level of self-regulation would mean that your employees become more interested in learning how to do their work effectively. That would mean reduced need for a centralized training function to train the entire workforce or help everyone develop new methods for remote working. Instead, setting up of online communities of practice can help colleagues freely share tips and tools in a peer-to-peer network structure. Everyone is learning alongside one another

If someone is struggling with a particular task, it’s likely that someone else somewhere in the organization has already had that same problem and would have even solved it. The solutions to problems can then be shared freely across the organization which would mean that there is no time wasted in reinventing the wheel and all employees feel supported as they perform their roles. While most large corporations do have the knowledge management practices in place, our experience shows very limited use of such networks. The work-from-home scenario today helps to harness the power of communities even more and go on to increase collaboration leading to trust.

Digital socializing

Those moments at the coffee machine shouldn’t disappear just because everyone’s working remotely from home. Organizations must understand the importance of casual conversation and social connections. Use online meeting rooms for not just work but after hour hangouts as well. It’s a great idea to encourage people to come up with creative ways to build social bonds. It’s a great opportunity to involve families in the social events by organizing collective fun events and tasks.

It’s all a good time and keeps the socializing going. It’s important to check up on people too. During the pandemic, people will feel more anxious than usual, and there’s no way for your human resources team to take care of everyone. When people know everyone’s got each other’s backs, there’s less of a sense of isolation and more of a sense of trust: The feeling that, together, everyone will be able to continue doing a great job and achieve higher levels of performance even if it’s from the comfort of their homes.

Encourage ‘Doubting’ – a catalyst for progress

Doubting has been used and widely accepted as a negative term as its adverse effects are commonly acknowledged.  But by believing this and avoiding doubt is to choose not to think.  Doubt which is destructive is paralyzing.  It inhibits constructive thoughts and the power of will.  It blocks receptivity to the beneficent workings of the universe.  It produces a sense of hopelessness.  More importantly it resists progress and rejects ideas on the whims of ignorance, prejudice and emotion.

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But let us consider the constructive element of doubt.  The constructive element of doubt helps us  to question.  We doubt therefore we start questioning to know what is true.  Without this, if we merely accepted things as they appear to be, then would be no different than animals.  Ancient civilizations believed that the ‘Earth was flat’ till someone doubted this hypothesis and started to find the truth.  If man could not doubt, he could not progress, the world would have been mired in ignorance.  We would not be able to differentiate the theory or fallacious arguments from the truth if we did not question.  It is therefore important to apply reasoning.

In fact you find that it’s the doubt that decides the hypothesis.  Scientists take such theory and investigate.  Nothing is taken for granted.  The proposition is carried to a conclusion to see whether it works or not.  If it doesn’t then it is set aside and restructured.  Imagine if the scientists remained satisfied with the status quo of knowledge, there would be no progress.  That’s where the great lesson lies.

Doubt for me is a dynamic energy that should be properly harnessed to move us to progressive actions.  If by doubting we are able to destroy some of the most cherished and so called ‘normal’ we would be better off; than blindly following.  Doubt allows us to apply the test of reason.  If you can analyze ideas with unprejudiced respect and discrimination, you will more readily apprehend the truth and discern what is untruth.

Doubts can lead to ‘inquiry’, ‘questioning’, ‘deep learning’, ‘contemplation’, ‘comprehension’, ‘safety’, ‘problem solving’, ‘acceptance’, ‘ownership’ and many more benefits.

Doubt for me is the foundation of a #thecriticaldialogue which is necessary for enabling or facilitating change.

Imagine if someone tells you “I somehow doubt your intentions”  What would happen to you.  You would put in an extra effort to explain why you believe in the theory you are proposing.  In the process it may help you clarify your own hypothesis and learn what probably you would have missed.  It’s a great tool for enabling self-reflection.

It’s similar to someone in a team meeting stating “I have serious doubts whether this campaign or strategy will work”  It can trigger a very constructive debate and build greater conviction and ownership in the whole team.

But unfortunately, we have been from childhood conditioned not to doubt what our elders tell us, or the scriptures or community tells us.

I dread to imagine the world where no one would have questioned the existence of a higher power ‘god’ and the workings of the world as his doing.  Even today, I see some people have totally given up in life and stopped all progress, calling it their destiny or what a higher power has willed for them.

I’ve seen in organizations, some people are labeled as doubters and there is so much negativity against them.  People discount them and fail to get the benefits from a constructive dialogue with the ‘doubters’

I recommend that you must encourage or embrace ‘doubters’; for they are a catalyst to progress.

Do you doubt often?  Has it helped you progress in life and at work? 

Share some stories….