How to Manage Employees in a High Intensity Culture?

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How to Manage Employees in a High Intensity Culture?
Chloe Xu, Consultant, Australia

Nowadays, combining the intensive demands of the workplace with the responsibilities at home is a huge challenge. For each employee and even more for their managers! A recent study revealed that employees rely on 3 main approaches (strategies) to cope with the pressure in their workplace to be among the ideal workers.

To meet the sometimes unrealistic expectations and achieve career success, an ideal worker has to arrive early, stay late, pull all-nighters, work weekends, and remain tied to their electronic devices 24/7. Despite of the well-documented personal and physical costs attached to these choices.

Not surprisingly, a majority of people grapple painfully with how to manage other parts of their lives when they focus single-mindedly on their work (work presenteeism). The solutions they arrive at may allow them to navigate the stresses, but they often suffer dysfunctional consequences.

Employees typically use one of the following 3 approaches: accepting and conforming to the demands of a high intensity workplace; passing as ideal workers by quietly finding ways around the ideal norm; or revealing their other commitments and their unwillingness to give them up.
Here are some more details on these three main approaches in high intensity workplaces:
  1. ACCEPTING - Accepters prioritize their work identities and sacrifice or significantly suppress other meaningful aspects of who they are. When work is enjoyable and rewarding, an accepting strategy may be beneficial, allowing people to succeed and advance in their careers. But a professional identity that crowds out everything else makes people more vulnerable to career turbulence, as they have psychologically put all eggs in one basket.

    Furthermore, people who buy in to the ideal worker culture find it difficult to understand those who don’t and themselves become the cause of main drivers of organizational pressure for an ‘always available’ culture.

    Also, accepters aren’t necessarily good mentors even to people who are trying to conform to the organization’s expectations. Just because accepters are so absorbed in the job, they can barely give any time and attention to their junior colleagues.

  2. PASSING - By quietly finding ways around the ideal norm, the passing strategy enables people to 'pass for an ideal employee' and to be perceived as being ‘always on’. As a result they can successfully keep up other aspects of their private life and receive performance ratings as high as those given to peers who genuinely embrace the ‘around-clock availability’ culture.

    However, passers pay a psychological price for hiding parts of themselves from their colleagues, superiors, and subordinates. They may feel insecure, inauthentic and disengaged, which can lead to higher turnover for the organization.

    In addition, passing as an ideal worker can also make it hard to manage others. Passers don’t necessarily want to encourage conformance to the ideal worker culture, but on the other hand, advising subordinates to pass is also problematic.

  3. REVEALING - Not everyone wants to be or to pass as an ideal worker. These people cope with the pressure by openly sharing other parts of their lives and asking for changes to their work schedules and other formal accommodations.

    This strategy allows people to be more fully known by colleagues. However, it can damage their careers as well. Over time, being sanctioned for failure to conform can lead to resentment and cause people to leave the organization for a better fit.
    The experience of revealing their non-work commitments and being penalized for doing so can make it difficult for revealers to manage others. Like passers, revealers may struggle with encouraging their subordinates to accept the ideal norm, but they may shy away from advising resistance because they know the costs themselves.
⇒ As a manager, how do you reconcile your own philosophy with the ideal-worker pressure of the company and the chosen approach of each of your team members?

Source: Reid, E. & Ramarajan, L., June 2016, Managing the High Intensity Workplace, Harvard Business Review.

The Life-Work Divide!
Augusto Carreira, Partner, Portugal
In spite of high-intensity environments being a real thing, we, humans, were not born for that. We are supposed to breed a family and accomplish work that, eventually, will be beneficial. Yes, but to whom? Not necessarily to my paycheck. All of this at the expense of a real life.
Work turns into a mere instrument of survival, not a meaningful way to fulfill and dignify a life.
And, at home, we are supposed to nurture a relationship and grow children that, eventually, will be able to repeat the cycle. All of this under increasing pressure.

The only serious approach is the REVEALING one. It is risky and the career seeker will avoid it. But the few that wish to dignify their lives will abide by it. At the end of the day, we will sin and will, on occasion, be hypocrites, passing and accepting and telling / imposing that to our employees. It is quite demanding to try to find the best ways to "fill the quota" and help our people (and ourselves) to live meaningful lives. No clear cut solution.

The Reality of Life...
cole, linden, Business School Marketer
It depends upon age, interests and other responsibilities. Younger employees with no family responsibilities are more willing to accept and embrace pressure, while later in life you get wiser. On their deathbed, how many will wish they had spent more time in the office?
Equally, if you are in business, hoping to start a business, or have (for whatever reason) either a need for income, or a wish to be distracted, you may be keen to accept greater workloads.
Fortunately we are all different, and as times pass and our needs change, so do our priorities.

Managing Employees in a High Intensity Culture is a Strange View
Jobson, Consultant, Australia
In this post modern era, people with talent, capacity, courage and integrity will generally succeed in the long term. These "options" above read in a similar fashion to survival tips in a lifeboat. In the end - life is inherently about choice. When we give that up, a sort of self imposed slavery arises. Ideal workers?

Managing or Mentoring?
Tully Lee, Other, Australia
The three options of employee behavior is a simplistic view, but mostly appropriate. As a manager, we are in a position to mentor the balance. I agree with @Jobson that talent, capacity, and integrity are important for success. If we as managers display these, we build capabilities in our people.

Finding Work/Life Balance is not Easy
Gandhi Heryanto, Director, Indonesia
Creating a balance between work and life is a fallacy. English poet and philosopher David Whyte aptly calls "work/life balance" a "phrase that often becomes a lash with which we punish ourselves" and offers an emboldening a way out of this cultural trap.
Whyte says that work, like marriage, is a place you can lose yourself more easily perhaps than finding yourself. It is a place full of powerful undercurrents, a place to find our selves, but also, a place to drown, losing all sense of our own voice, our own contribution and conversation.
Good work like a good marriage needs a dedication to something larger than our own detailed, everyday needs; good work asks for promises to something imagined or intuited that is larger than our present understanding of it. More about David White on work/life balance you can read here.

High Intensity or High Lack of Planning
Maria Lairet, Coach, Venezuela
It's true that business is very complex nowadays, so companies who want to be successful need to value their employees, and carry out the requiered planning. If companies don't take the time to do the kick off work of strategic planning, developing the strategies, the structure, systems and processes they will build a culture of emergency where employees are burned out. A high demanding professional employee won't stay in such a company, and this company will not thrive in our global world.

How to Change a Culture of Work Presenteeism?
Chloe Xu, Consultant, Australia
A research indicates that if employees feel free to draw some lines between their professional and personal lives, organizations will benefit from greater engagement, more-open relationships, and more paths to success.

Here are some measures managers can implement to decrease work presenteeism at their team level, creating a richer definition of what is an ‘ideal worker’ without sacrificing high performance.
  • DEVELOP YOUR OWN MULTIFACETED IDENTITY. Instead of accepting the ideal-worker norms blindly, people in leadership position can cultivate their own non-work identities deliberately. As managers become more resilient, they may learn that also employees whose lives are better balanced create value for the organization.
  • MINIMIZE TIME-BASED REWARDS. People who choose a passing strategy do so in part because it’s common to evaluate how much people work (or seem to), rather than the quality of their output. Valuing work-time over work-product is an easy trap to fall into, especially for professionals, whose knowledge-based work is difficult to evaluate. Therefore, managers are encouraged to reduce the incentives for passing (and the costs of revealing that) and evaluate people’s performance based on their measurable actual results rather than hours invested.
  • PROTECT EMPLOYEES’ PERSONAL LIVES. Don’t leave it to your employees to set boundaries between their work and non-work lives, even though it is often with the best intentions. Managers can institute required vacations, regular leaves, and reasonable work hours for all employees. Making an organizational commitment to avoid excessive workloads and extreme working hours will help employees engage with other parts of themselves.
As a manager, what additional steps did you take to change or diminish an 'always available' culture in workplace? What were the results?

Sources: Reid, E. & Ramarajan, L., June 2016, Managing the High Intensity Workplace, Harvard Business Review USA.


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