How to Manage Employees in a High Intensity Culture?

Work Presenteeism
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Chloe Xu
Director, Australia

How to Manage Employees in a High Intensity Culture?

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.

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