The new balance: work-health and not work-life


Photo credit: British Columbia University web site

An SHRM survey recently reveals that employee preferences toward health are fast changing. Employers witness a rapid shift of employee preferences toward gym memberships and subsidies, yoga and dance classes, and health monitoring gadgets. Millennials in the workplace are leading this trend and employers are responding to these by increasing the scope of health benefits to include them as part of an employees’ overall compensation, even though fixed pay scales in the market remain fairly stagnant. While work-life balance has been spoken about for several years, the world is still debating about it. Many argue that the correct term in today’s work environment is work-life integration. Others are still struggling to find the sweet spot where work and life balance each other out. With leaders talking about holistic talent management and about the business of talent more deeply, the answer to the question of work-life balance may finally be revealing itself.

The employer should drive work-health balance- for its own good

As the trend of offering augmented health benefits is still in primitive stages, participation to company-sponsored health programs (such as gym memberships/subsidies, dance classes, fitness competitions) is optional and voluntary in most companies. While the number of employees opting to utilize these benefits has increased, many employees still choose to stay out of them. How many times are we guilty ourselves of justifying why work kept us from visiting the gym or taking the routine evening walk? How many of us have signed up for gym or yoga classes, only to drop out after 2 or 3 sessions because it felt like the investment was just too demanding? Here arises another crucial question, who is accountable for driving work-health initiatives- the individual or the enterprise? Has the enterprise done enough by provisioning these benefits to employees? Research indicates that in order to realize the full benefits of providing health benefits to employees, it makes business sense for an employer to also drive them. Here are some findings that support why an employer should drive work-health benefits for its own good.

  1. EY research indicates that work-life flexibility is the third highest driver in candidates evaluating a potential job after fixed pay and benefits.
  2. A survey by Quantum Workplace says that companies with company-sponsored programs have 44% more engaged employees compared to the ones that do not.
  3. Companies who proactively drive wellness save substantially on employee health costs. For example, J&J saved over $250 million in healthcare costs between 2002 and 2008 since the time the company invested in driving employee wellness among employees.

Change the buzzword: Work-health balance

Companies that change their employer brand messaging to reflect their commitment to employee health and wellness are able to build a much more emotional connection with future and current employees. It sends the comforting message across that the employer cares about each of its employees. Most talent strategies focus on the outcomes from surveys that indicate employee satisfaction. Gallup’s “Customer satisfaction doesn’t count” article indicates that satisfaction is useless without making an emotional connection. Investing in employee health and wellness is about just that- the emotional connection.

Employees too, can stop worrying about how to balance their work and life and instead focus more on balancing work and health. After all, it is always about simplifying life into “the one thing” that makes everything else easy.


Boston Bombings: Do you really care? Or are you merely paying lip service?

Organisational events can provide great insights to managers about how team members are engaged or disengaged

“Friends in Boston, be safe” read a status message on my Facebook newsfeed this morning. There was a downpour of status messages, twitter hash tags, and official statements released on social media in the last 24 hours expressing solidarity, and condemning the terrorist attacks in Boston. What strikes most to social media lurkers like me is the demographic distribution of people and entities who have posted solidarity messages on social media. A closer analysis of my newsfeeds after the Boston bombings reveals three distinct sets of social media citizens— the deeply concerned, the pretentious opportunist, and the openly unconcerned.

In many ways, this is how organisational employees behave whenever an organisational event occurs. Many react favourably or disprove of an organisational event such as a merger announcement, compensation changes, or senior leadership movements.  Needless to say, the perceptions about an individual are greatly driven by the reactions and behaviours that s/he projects to the world either intentionally or unintentionally. Here are the characteristics of the three organisational stereotypes and the consequent perceptions that the individual portrays. While not definitive measure, these behaviours may provide some predictive indicators about an employee’s commitment and engagement within an organisation.

Behavioural scientists recommend that managers should look out for some suggestive indicators in an employee’s behaviours whenever any disruptive organisational event happens.

The deeply concerned

The deeply concerned are the people who are truly and deeply affected by an organisational event either because it directly affects their everyday existence or out of genuine empathy toward the development.  On social media, some of the most emphatic messages on social media post the Boston bombings were from people who had friends or relatives, or who were emotionally affected by the loss of life.

While an individual may raise a vocal objection or word out eloquent praises about an organisational event, it would be wrong for a manager to brand an individual disengaged or engaged based on that.  The deeply concerned is one who understands and recognises the impact of the event in his everyday life and is prepared to take charge of how to deal with it. Rather than brand the deeply concerned as engaged or disengaged, it is important for the manager to identify if there are any concern areas and solicit the individual’s inputs to address them. The deeply concerned are perhaps the best resources to see an organisational change through to its logical and successful completion.

The pretentious opportunist

The pretentious opportunist is one who does not get affected by an event, but tries to portray an image of grave concern to friends and colleagues.  More often than not, it is likely that the pretentious opportunist is deeply disengaged but is trying to mask it with an external image that s/he is trying to portray.  The pretentious opportunist may also show concerned optimism/pessimism to portray an image of being “cool, likeable, and popular.”  A manager has to watch out for the pretentious opportunist as it is difficult to understand how the individual affects the morale of others in the team.

The unconcerned

A manager might easily misunderstand the unconcerned as the disengaged. The unconcerned simply can be an individual who has not been affected directly or indirectly by an event, and hence has chosen to maintain honest silence over insincere expression.  In an attempt to avoid portrayal as an unconcerned citizen, a few unconcerned ones might even have the tendency to migrate to the territory of the pretentious opportunist.  It is, therefore, important for the manager to avoid subconsciously labelling the unconcerned as disengaged.

While they may trigger varied reactions, a disruptive organisational event presents managers with the opportunity to truly understand the level of engagement in their teams.

Workplace gifting: Offering colleagues the option of choice

Gifting options that allow the receiver to exercise the option of choice reduce the risk of upsetting a colleague or an employee with the wrong gift

Many companies consider gifting an essential part of the organisation’s cultural fabric. New-employee forms in several organisations include details about the employee’s date of birth, anniversaries, and other personal information that have no direct relevance to the role, job profile, or employment offer. Beside record-keeping purposes, organisations typically use this information to broadcast and recognise small and large personal landmarks of employees through gifting initiatives.

Workplace gifting has become an integral part of engagement strategies in many organisations. While varied in nature and form, behavioural studies reveal that workplace gifts lead to sudden positive spikes in an employee’s engagement and motivation levels for a limited period of time.  While a numerical correlation between the nature of a gift and the consequent positive spurt in engagement is yet to be established, gifting between organisations and employees and between colleagues continues to be an integral part of organisational culture in most companies.

What constitutes the right gift?                  

While gifts at the workplace can drive positive motivation, empirical evidence also suggests that wrong gifts can result in adverse effects. Gifts can go terribly wrong! What works as a good gift for one individual can have the exact reverse effect on another. When Pratiksha Mishra, a customer-care executive in a global financial firm, received a musk perfume on her birthday from a male colleague, she was visibly upset. She interpreted the gesture as a crude remark on her personal hygiene. And all her colleague was doing was replicating the success of a gifting experience with another male colleague a few months ago.

Mr. Joshi, who is the General Manager at an international manufacturing firm, had to trash the “Diwali Gift” that his organisation sent him—a box of sweet biscuits. He is a diabetic and his wife would be terribly upset if she suspects that Mr. Joshi helps himself to sugar-based snacks during work.

The headache of collaboration

Added to that, it is often noticed that community gifting at the workplace becomes a Herculean task of management and collaboration. Soliciting individual contributions within a specified timeline and collaboration involved in arriving upon a mutually agreeable gift idea actually becomes a logistical nightmare for the individual who is tasked with it. The task gains an added layer of complexity when there is a cross-geography team involved.

Offer choice, do not impose

Behavioural scientists comment that the spectrum of “safe gifts” that can be based purely on gender, demographics, or age is rather small. While most rely on the above approximations, it is very hard to predict how person attributes value against a particular gift that s/he receives.

There has been an increasing trend of providing gift cards as a safe alternative for employee gifting. Gift cards offer an employee the choice to utilize the value according to his/her own discretion. Organisations and employees have many gifting options to choose from in this space. Some of the most popular ones are mentioned below.

Visa incentive card: This is a co-branded Visa card that a company loads with money and uses as part of the total rewards or employee incentive strategy.

Banking gift cards: This is a gift card that banks offer for enterprise employees and preloaded with a specific amount of money. An organisation typically uses these cards as a gift during festivals and special occasions. These cards usually carry the option for the user to load more money for later use.

Bitgifting: This is a virtual card offered by the incentive service company, Bitgifting. This is a virtual platform where colleagues and the employer can create gifting events for an individual where people can seamlessly contribute online. This eliminates the need for collaboration and scheduling and the contributions can be directly claimed in equivalent money terms by the receiver. The platform also allows contributors to leave a message to the recipient, thereby making the gifting experience long-lasting.

Yiftee: Although only available in the US at this point, this is a mobile application that allows users to send credits to a colleague that s/he can claim from the nearest Yiftee supported merchant. This application is supported with GPS and hence, geography-agnostic.

The process of gifting a colleague is always a tricky affair, as it entails a great amount of personal, demographic, and psychological estimations.  It appears that an individual or an organisation can greatly reduce the risks associated with workplace gifting by offering the receiver the option of choice.

Argo suit yourself: Why delegation is better than ‘command and control’

While running short-term risks of failed delivery and embarrassing delays, loosening the grip on operational controls yields bigger chances of project success

On February 24th the whole world will be tuning on their television sets to witness the unravelling of the biggest movie extravaganza known to man, The Oscars. The academy-nominated movie Argo has been a central topic of discussion and speculation among many in the movie circles this year. In the movie, a CIA operative facilitates the rescue of 6 US diplomats from Iran by posing as a movie producer from Canada. At a critical juncture, it looked like the plan was about to fail when one of the six stepped ahead and “improvised the plan” that ultimately turned things around and made the operation successful.

The improvisation sequence presents some essential learning tips for a project manager.

Help your team know what their role means for the greater goal

What Tony Mendez, the CIA agent who was leading the operation, did right was to instil the sense of empowerment among the participants involved. The industry expert and column writer, Tim Barry, reasons in his article, “Top 10 qualities of a project manager,” that the top quality of a project manager is to inspire in his team a ‘sense of shared vision’. Barry quotes from a concept from the renowned leadership thinker Bennis, “shared vision helps participants gain a view of what a task means for their jobs and for their lives.”

Instil belief

Unconvincing as it was, and packed with immense risks, Mendez’ plan was to bluff their way through the rebels who had taken over the airport. At various points of the movie, Mendez was noticed telling the six that if they wanted to avoid their nails being pulled out of their fingers they needed to start “believing” in the characters they were assigned.  C. Trent Rosecrans, a sports columnist wrote an article, outlining his research on what makes a good baseball manager. Beyond field formations, the right player allocations, and timing, Rosecrans argues that most of the sporting fraternity is unanimous on the view that a good manager’s role is to facilitate ‘belief’ among his players.

As it turns out, it was this belief in the plot that helped the actors in Argo stay true to their role in the operation. One of the six, who was assigned the role of illustrator stepped ahead and gave a 5 minute narration on the movie through the illustrations as if they were his creations. The act demonstrated a kind of honest passion that only someone with ‘belief’ could have pulled off.

So what are the benefits of empowerment for a manager apart from having successful projects?

1. Lesser headaches— Empowered team members will not feel cowed by the need to ask for “sign-offs” for every small and big decision in the project. Not all decisions will be right, but anyone doing something wrong has a greater possibility of owning the process of getting it right.

2. More time for the important stuff— A manager can dedicate more time to “ideate” and identify improvement opportunities rather than spend all his time in the “regular operational stuff”.

3. Greater chances of success— Research indicates that managers who empower have more engaged teams and have a higher probability of professional success compared to their “command-and-control” counterparts.

Many may ask, “How do I, as a manager, make sure that someone feels responsible and empowered when s/he comes to me asking what’s to be done?”   As it appears, it’s perhaps not such a bad idea to just say, “Suit yourself.”

The Multi-Player Enterprise

The introduction of game dynamics enhances a critical dimension of enterprise talent management― the aspect of ownership. Needless to say, talent management of the future will be played out in the “multi-player enterprise mode.”

There is an intrinsic association between humans and gaming. Through war for territorial domination, intellectual establishments, or competitive sport, man’s quest for progress and excellence has continually been driven by the urge to compete. From medieval times, mankind has been in an incessant hunt to bring inventive mechanisms to satiate the urge to game.  To game refers to the intrinsic desire of employing one’s mental, emotional, physical, and predatory faculties to achieve an objective or move ahead of competition.

Market estimates peg the size of the global digital video gaming industry alone at a massive $78 billion dollars in size. This excludes all other forms of gaming, such as competitive sport, physical board gaming, and gambling. Added to the fact that is satiates man’s intrinsic competitive desire, gaming transcends into a space where nothing is irrevocable and one has the opportunity for course correction.

It is under this premise that gaming has made an entry into a very unlikely world― the world of HR.I recently spoke to a number of global HR experts on the trends shaping the future of the HR industry. Almost unanimously, all experts agreed that the next wave of transformation and evolution of the HR industry will be driven singularly by technology. While technology is trickling into all aspects of the employee lifecycle, the terrain of “HR gamification” is expected to bring forth the most exciting evolutionary leaps.

While gaming is still in its primitive stages of evolution in the HR world, most believe that there are huge untapped opportunities for enterprises in this space. Owing the nascent state of this segment, very few companies have yet explored the segment of talent management through gaming. Presently, gaming in HR is predominantly employed in three terrains of talent management― employee referrals, collaboration, and health and fitness.

While an element of gaming already exists in an enterprise through employee referrals, there are significant opportunities for improving the effectiveness of an employee referral program through simulation and leaderboard gaming. Exemplar companies have noticed significant ROI from their employee referral programs where an employee takes ownership of the hiring process and is driven by the urge to see a personal initiative through its completion. This is accomplished through gaming platforms where an employee has complete visibility of the stages starting from candidate review to job offer. Leaderboard gaming is a way by which employees compete with one another to emerge as the most effective referrer.

Social collaboration through gaming provides incentives for employees to share knowledge and continually strive for excellence. Very recently Capgemini gamified their entire 120,000 global workforce by creating an “online leaderboard” by employing the UK based technology service company, Leaderboarded. The platform allows the company’s employees to share knowledge, create motivation among colleagues, and also enables managers to guide behaviors.

The third element where gaming has shown demonstrable ROI is in the terrain of employee health and fitness. Global research indicates that the present Indian workforce is expected to face several health and wellness related issues in the coming years. These translate into significant implications for the enterprise’s topline and bottomline. Conversations with various organizations reveal that organizations have witnessed noticeable ROI by employing gaming initiatives for health and wellness. Stepathlon, for example, is one of the most popular gaming platforms that enterprises use to drive the sense of ownership for health and wellness among employees.

While more and more technology service companies are looking to enter this space, a performance management gaming platform called eMee by Persistent Systems provides a pioneering peek into the possibilities of gaming for talent management. eMee is a platform by which an employee can own his entire annual performance management, including productivity and personal development. While leaderboard-type platforms will drive the penetration of gaming into the enterprise HR agenda, it will be holistic systems such as eMee that will pioneer the next generation of performance management practices in enterprises. Needless to say, the coming months will see a number of new-age gaming platforms catering to different aspects of the employment lifecycle. I reckon the enterprise of 2015 to be in multi-player mode!!!

Listen boss- You’re fired!

So the organization has lost talent over the last 2 years. Some of the loss was expendable. And like any other resource investment, some of the attrition was ‘regrettable.’ Talent loss, like any other capital investment, is part of the cost. True?

Maybe not! It’s not about the cost of replacement being 2.5-3.0 times the cost of the employee. The organization can afford it. The job market has shrunk, which means more skilled people are fighting for fewer jobs. Great, the organization will replace the loss with equally good (maybe better) talent! It’s also not about lost productivity or time to train a fresh hire. The organization has sufficient resources for contingencies. If all of that is true, does the organization really need to worry about some lost (and perhaps, easily replaceable) talent? The answer is an emphatic―yes, in a big way.

Let’s find out why. In times when talent scarcity has become a real problem, organizations have started realizing that when people leave, they take with them not just their aptitude but also a great deal of organizational knowledge. Tacit knowledge retention is never an easy task. And on top of that organizational knowledge means not just knowledge about systems and processes, but also about what’s not going right with the organization. An organization lets go an employee, not worrying about what word s/he will carry to the talent market outside, oftentimes ignoring the fact that every present and future employee is a brand ambassador. In the era of Glassdoor and professional social networks, such an attitude can potentially have a devastating impact on the organization’s employer brand. The potential long-term implication of a bad employer brand extends far beyond short-term attraction and retention. A bad employer finds itself difficult to gain access to key talent in critical markets thereby hampering the overall growth strategy and revenue.

Much too often, exit interviews are merely seen as a formality by HR and the organizational leadership. The leadership is not serious about investigating the real reasons for employee departure. A few days back my colleague and good friend who is an HR industry observer wrote an article on why people leave jobs. It is common knowledge that people don’t leave organizations; they leave managers. The key question for the organization remains― is there a way to identify bad managers who contribute to loss of reputation of the employer brand?

Identifying a bad manager is not an easy task. For an organization’s HR, knowledge about an individual is oftentimes limited to the annual performance assessment report. Behavioral studies reveal that it is human tendency to avoid skewed feedback and a manager’s direct report will more often be inclined to balance bad feedback by outlining some good attributes. The performance assessment gets even more “normalized” when there are multiple direct reports providing feedback to one manager. The consolidated assessment report, therefore, is a normalized aggregated report that smoothens out any alarming spikes reflected in individual feedbacks.  To add to that, most often the manager’s boss is responsible for aggregating individual feedbacks with the final authority to regard/disregard any individual feedback. If the manager has a good rapport with the boss, there is a further chance of dilution in the performance management process. It’s not an uncommon occurrence to see a manager flourishing professionally under a patronizing boss who covers up red flags and highlights successes. Oftentimes, teams with higher attrition rates show instances of a patronizing manager-boss association.

It is human nature to have favorites and develop positive biases. Managers usually develop favorites based on previous experience where an individual demonstrated stellar performance. A bad manager, however, is one who fails to acknowledge that business challenges and situations change and therefore past successes cannot be accurate indicators of future effectiveness.  A manager, however may bias his decisions about individuals based on biases and gut feeling, rather that accurate mapping of individual skills and project requirements. Such decisions include selection of individuals for high-profile critical projects and nominations to the HIPO pool. Bad decisions can have adverse effects on team morale and engagement, where individuals feel cheated and powerless.

Some typical commonalities exist among bad managers. An organization can look for the following characteristics to identify signs of a bad manager.

Early career advancements under remote leadership― If an individual has served most of his/her early career under a remote manager, the weak exposure to everyday management might imbibe in an individual a strong sense of invincibility. Most employees remark that a bad manager is one who regards his/her decision as final and is averse to questioning.

Remarkable personality difference between professional and personal life― Many remark that it is common to notice a remarkable difference in personalities between a bad manager’s professional and personal lives. The otherwise stern and bullying manager at work transforms into a docile and amiable personality outside of work. The difference in personalities is often driven by a professional approach that heavily conflicts with the manager’s personal characteristics, such as insecurity, acquired perceptions of effectiveness, and prior exposure to management styles.

Less diverse experience in 2 or lesser organizations― A common attribute among bad managers is the lack of professional diversity. Owing the lack of experience and exposure to different management styles and organizational cultures, a bad manager has uni-dimensional and siloed views about performance and professional effectiveness.

Restrictive associations― A bad manager is usually inclined to restrict his/her associations to people at the same or at higher levels of the organizational hierarchy. S/he is not usually seen having lunch with his sub-ordinates, sharing a light moment with the team, or participating in non-work discussions with his/her direct reports.

Organizations fervently look into engagement surveys and other forms of corporate forensics to identify the bad apple that leads to disengagement and turnover, oftentimes overlooking the possibility that a manager, in fact, can be the bad apple. While there are numerous research studies indicating that managers are the single largest reason for people leaving an organization, there are very few that outline the organizational response of having a bad manager. Many believe that there really is one organizational response― fire the manager! And make a big deal out of it. Not just because it eliminates the bad apple, it sends out the right message to the organization― of empowerment, of equality, and of corporate integrity.

The LOL manager

Effective team management need not always be serious business. Humor, used appropriately, can do wonders for driving team engagement.

Humor, perhaps, is one of the most effective and yet under-appreciated tactics of communication. While most managers continue to investigate ways of how to build more engaged teams, they view (if not overlook) humor as a trifling appendage to a large and complicated engagement model. In the absence of factual analysis and survey data, there are no real studies that establish the impact of humor on team engagement. Many engagement experts, however, reveal that teams managed by a manager with a funny bone are typically more engaged and productive.

Studies reveal that humor has two key attributes that can help a manager drive engagement and productivity within the team― reduce stress and develop an emotional connect. In the stress-loaded working environment that characterize today’s job conditions, experts recommend that an employees need to de-stress at regular intervals to avoid burnouts. Corporate health consulting firm, Helpguide, recommends humor as an essential component of manager training to deal with workplace stress.

Present day working conditions are also characterized by the shift from an industrialized ecosystem to a knowledge-based ecosystem. In a knowledge-based ecosystem, collaboration has become the key to efficient execution, thereby making effective communication critical for success. Communication experts have proven that the most effective communications are characterized by the ability to trigger an emotional connect with the recipient. Humor is a proven tactic that good communicators employ to build an emotional connect with their audience. Social media expert, Mark Ivey, remarks, “Some of the most popular brands on social media platforms are ones that have effectively created messages that are funny or offbeat. After all, who can resist a clever or a funny tweet or conversation starter?”

Anirban Roy who works as a senior planner in one of the largest global advertising firms reveals that stressful situations and long working hours are common aspects of his everyday job. He admits that humor aids in maintaining high spirits and team morale on difficult days. As Anirban puts it, “My current manager has a brilliant sense of humor: I have nick named him, the laughing buddha. He just keeps at it even when the going gets tough. It tells the team that despite all the deadlines and deathbeds in the workplace, there is room for humor and that work is never boring.”

Many managers, however, feel that being funny at the workplace comes at the cost of credibility and thus choose to avoid it. In the absence of gold standards, it is difficult to strike the fine balance between humor and credence. It is easy for team members to perceive a manager as less credible if s/he uses humor inappropriately. Apurva Chiranewala, who works in the strategy team of an online commerce firm says, “I think a witty and light hearted manager is always good to work with provided he/she uses his/her wit at appropriate times.” Many managers curb their light-heartedness at the workplace to maintain their professional image as a firm and credible leader. Deepten Chatterjee, Project Manager in an infrastructure advisory firm reveals, “a lot of senior level managers would perhaps prefer not to open up or show their lighter side to their teams in a formal, office-like environment (maybe there’s a feeling that if your juniors see you joking too much, they might end up not respecting you). However, such managers are also seen to be openly displaying their fun side in informal parties, and where there’s lesser risk of being perceived as being an over-the-top comedian.”

It is no secret that humor is serious business. Here is my take on when and how a manager can start off a laugh riot.