A blog about the new generation of work

You want exceptions to be made? Be exceptional

A simple thought for this week: if you’re a young worker coming into an organization with policies — whether they involve start time, sick days, internet use, music playing, dress code, whatever — that you don’t agree with, don’t just demand that exceptions be made for you because that’s the way you like to work. Instead, start by doing work, and doing it incredibly well. Show off those abilities that make Gen Y a force to be reckoned with. Make yourself uniquely valuable. The best way to get exceptions to longstanding policies to be exceptional.

Because employers are wary and only getting warier. John Barwis of the Holland Sentinel in Michigan in a in a familiar-sounding column called “Generation Y meets real life” writes:

Our Generation Y professionals regularly met in groups to share and track each other’s salary and performance-bonus information. Many expressed the feeling that everyone should receive the same bonus, and that it was impossible or even unethical to differentiate performance. Where did they learn to expect reward for effort rather than results?

I believe as much as the most militant member of Generation Y that old work paradigms need to die off to accommodate this new generation at work, but when you get away from that macro level and down to the micro level, it does become all about results.

Does this require sacrifice on the part of young workers? Sure. In some organizations, it could require many years of sacrifice. (And in some organizations, due to institutionalized bureaucracy and lame duck management, differentiating yourself could prove impossible — or dangerous. But let’s not go there now.) But, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t need to be that difficult.

Even with the economic downturn, employers across the globe are hurting and will continue to hurt in their search for qualified people. That initial period right after you get your foot in the door is CRITICAL, because if your boss or manager starts to see you as expressly and keenly qualified for your job (and, hey, it doesn’t hurt to make it clear that you’re qualified for OTHER, more important jobs within the organization, too) suddenly you’ve made yourself very valuable. You’ve become a rare commodity: a talented knowledge worker in an era where fewer exist.

Don’t screw it up. Remember that, until you define yourself in your organization, there’s very little difference between you and the five candidates they interviewed but DIDN’T hire. So don’t go in and start making even reasonable demands in week one. Because while you know your skill level and know that you, say, can get just as much work done listening to your iPod or working four ten-hour days as opposed to five eight-hour days, your boss doesn’t.

Start slow. Remember the order of operations. Prove to your employer that he or she doesn’t want to lose you, then start defining (with your employer) the work environment you’d like to have to ensure a positive, long-lasting employment. In short: be exceptional, then start asking for exceptions.

Photo by Wayne’s World 7. Licensed under Creative Commons

Saving the environment by not commuting to work

Sarah Bunting, late of Television Without Pity, posted an interesting response on her blog this past week to the proposed ‘congestion tax’ for New York City. Essentially, she wants to know why people even need to go to work?

I can think of dozens of industries that either don’t require workers to physically appear at all, or could easily get by with telecommuting at least part-time, or split shifting — have employees choose their eight- or nine-hour workday, and come in then. 

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the idea of telecommuting or working from home as a strategy to keep your employees happy, but the environmental side is hugely important and relevant too. People look at congestion taxes like they have in London (and which I am in favour of, for the record) as a ‘green’ solution, but they’re only truly green if they’re getting people out of their cars, full stop. As long as businesses and organizations — and, to be fair, I’m only referring to certain industries here, where face-to-face interaction is not continuously required — require their employees to come in every day at set, specific, already-congested hours, there are always going to be people who will drive.

We desperately need to ask tough questions, and it starts with employers asking themselves why their employees need to be at work each and every day.

Sarah, again:

Again, I think trying to get people off the road is great. It’s good for the environment, it’s good for the remaining drivers’ stress levels — it’s a good idea. But as long as people still have to take their asses into a place of business, it isn’t going to have the dramatic effects the government probably expects.

The Environmental Impact

Philly.com has some numbers:

In “The Green Book,” authors Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas Kostigen found that workers commute an average of 10,000 miles per year and consume 67 billion gallons of gas.  Telecommuting reduces vehicle miles traveled per year by more than 35 billion and saves almost 2 billion gallons of gas.

There is, of course, the argument that working-at-home is a zero-sum game, because energy is still used, just at home instead of at the office. And, unless you’re in a really specific probably creative industry, you still need to have the office, staffed and with lights & computers on. So, in effect, the world is having to power two workplaces (your home and the office) where it used to only have to power one.

This ignores technological advances, though. If the last ten years are any indication, we’re likely to see great strides in the efficiency of office technology — things like lights, computer monitors, printers, etc — while the car will still probably stick around as is. Sure, some people will drive hybrids, but the internal combustion engine is just not going to go away. 

It’s far easier, and far cheaper, to make your home office energy efficient than it it is to really ‘green’ your commute.

Photo by _e.t. Licensed under Creative Commons

Holidays = Lost Productivity?

433491027_f15148c292.jpgApparently that’s what a lot of Ontario employers think according to a recent survey. As part of the last provincial election, my province of Ontario will be getting an extra statutory holiday in February. Rather than accepting this as the good news that it is, a lot of people have decided to get ridiculously worked up about it.

The organization e-mailed its questions to 16,500 human resources professionals in Ontario and more than 3,000 responded.

Of those who answered, “40 per cent of Ontario employees will not receive an additional day off for Family Day on February 18 and … 60 per cent of employers anticipate a moderate to significant impact to their business due to the new holiday,” according to a news release.

Unless those 3,000+ HR professionals work for businesses in the manufacturing or service sectors (and they surely do not), then this is an incredibly short-sighted attitude, especially coming on the heels of this article from only a week ago, which claimed exactly the opposite.

Employers may be concerned about lost productivity from Ontario’s new Family Day, but one expert says the Feb. 18 statutory holiday could pay off in the long run.

Roderic Beaujot, a sociology professor at the University of Western Ontario, says employees are working more hours these days and that could lead to burnout and early retirement.

He adds that working fewer hours doesn’t have much effect on productivity or unemployment, but can make a big difference to work-life balance.

It’s baffling that North America has been so slow to adopt what much of the rest of the first world has already come to realize: working a lot does not necessarily translate into increased profits, nor is it the sign of a more committed workforce. Will our employers ever get the message?

Photo by rosefirering. Licensed under Creative Commons