When a flu bug is flying around at home, it’s best not to take it to office--How you are treated during the interview is a key indicator of how you will be treated on the job --Be so good at what you do that you become indispensable to your organization --Performance measurement can be arbitrary as well as differ dramatically from company to company --
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A scourge worse than absenteeism
Absence, they claim, makes the heart grow fonder. You can’t say that in a corporate environment, where absenteeism has long been a scourge. Today, however, an even bigger problem has arrived on the scene. It’s called presenteeism.
Although presenteeism as a concept has been around for some time now, it is relatively unknown outside HR circles. Wikipedia defines it as “the opposite of absenteeism. In contrast to absenteeism, when employees are absent from work, presenteeism discusses the problems faced when employees come to work in spite of illness, which can have similar negative repercussions on business performance. It can also refer to the expectation of employers for their employees to be present at work regardless of whether any work is available or accomplished”.
According to a report by the Society or Human Resource Management (SHRM), released in mid-2008, absenteeism costs the US economy $118 billion annually. Presenteeism has now overtaken it with a tab of $180 billion. The SHRM report draws on the findings of Cornell University. A Cornell team found that workers slow down on the job because of a variety of ailments (see box). This could result in a major fall in productivity.
What’s worse, while absenteeism keeps a person at home and may actually egg on his colleagues to work harder to fill the gap, presenteeism affects coworkers too. Headaches can be “infectious” and this is not to talk of ailments like conjunctivitis. Many people seem to feel a pair of dark glasses is protection enough. Yes, for them it possibly is. But in an office or shop floor environment, such dark glasses proliferate like rabbits. Soon, the whole place is down with Jai Bangla.
Presenteeism is a direct contributor to absenteeism. After the first thoughtless disease-carrying agent does the damage, others who are worse affected may be forced to report sick. It is, of course, impossible to document the costs of spreading illnesses to a larger audience through commuting.
Presenteeism is not just the handiwork of a few “brave hearts” that want to prove their loyalty to the company or their hardiness, (Or should that read foolhardiness)? A 2007 Decima Research poll in Canada found that 79% of the sample reported going to work sick in the past year. Earlier, in 2006, researchers from Harvard found that a 20% of these polled said that their boss would insist that they report for work, despite being sick and contagious. The reason is probably that an illness is often regarded as a fake excuse for taking a day off.
This is a problem that will only grow in the current environment. With the economic slowdown, employees have become even more fearful of retaining their jobs. In India, in sectors like information technology and business process outsourcing where layoffs seem acceptable, few are taking chances. The trend towards telecommuting – thought it makes even more sense in these cost-saving times – is in danger of being reversed, albeit temporarily. People are losing confidence in their being able to negative these treacherous shoals through their skills alone; they feel they must get involved in office politics and osmosis.
There are pressures from the boss too. His survival may depend on the size of his fiefdom. If he can show a dozen “hardworking” employees to his own boss, he is more valued than his peer who has half his reportees at home. It could easily be alleged that they are goofing off. Face time is making a rapid comeback.
But presentees (in its new era meaning) and companies need to re-think their priorities. When a flu bug is flying around at home, don’t take it to office. Your colleagues will be taking home more than just work and they won’t thank you for it.
Count on your common sense
YOU HAVE FINALLY found the right job. Or so you thought. Now that you have been on the scene for two weeks, you notice how people treat you. Your boss consistently calls meetings during lunchtime sans food. And although the company is teeming with people, there is little joyful interaction among employees. How could you have known? By reading the signs before you jumped on board. How you are treated during the interview is a key indicator of how you will be treated on the job.
On your own
How many people at the company interview you during your appointment? Some companies will have several managers interview a candidate on the same day at different times. Pay close attention to how your time is organized during the hours you spends at the company. Is there a key contact that accompanies you from room to room for your interviews? Does anyone offer you coffee, soda or water? If the interview takes place during lunch hour, does anyone offer to take you to lunch? If you have to fend for yourself in the company dining room, this is an indication that the employer does not see you as important enough to have someone spend his precious lunch hour with you. Obviously the employer wants to make you wait until the managers are free to interview you.
Did you show up and find that the manager had forgetten about an appointment with you? If the manager apologizes profusely and cancels plans in order to interview you on the spot, then he knows the value of a good employee. If you arrived to find that the manger wasn’t even in town and no one offered to help you reschedule, then heed the unspoken warning: keep looking for jobs. It’s a bad sign if no one in the office knows the manager’s schedule, can’t contact him and won’t help you reschedule the interview. Where chaos prevails, unanswered questions amass.
During an interview that a person recently went to, a worker actually installed window blinds in the interviewer’s office. With his concentration tested – to say the least – the interviewee somehow got through the interview. If an interviewer does something obnoxious during an interview, think of what he or she can do in the middle of a business meeting while you’re trying to give a presentation?
Without a care
Have you ever sat in a waiting room with other job applicants waiting to be interviewed for the same position? A person was one of two people being interviewed for a position. Both interviewees had appointments at the same time, but with different interviewers. The two candidates kept bumping into one another. While it’s not unusual for an employer to see as many candidates as possible to fill a position, scheduling should be done so you do not bump into your competition in the hallway. Expect the same type of uncaring behaviour from the management if you take the job.
What is the attitude of the people working in the office? If they appear cheerful and friendly, chances are they’re satisfied. If the office workers appear cold, stone-faced or unhappy, take that as an indication this may not be the best place on earth to work.
The bottom line is this: trust your instinct. You know more about what you need than you think you do. Most people get in trouble when they ignore good old-fashioned common sense.
Do a star turn at work
THE ONLY WAY you can truly succeed in this knowledge-based economy is to become a star at work. Commit to live by a benchmark far higher than anyone would have the right to expect from you.
The next step is to dedicate you to becoming “a person of action”. In life there are three types of people. First, those who make things happen. Second, those that watch things happen. And third are those who wake up one day, and ask, “what happened”? Make a firm decision to join the first group – human beings who have decided that life is a gift and every day is a new opportunity to learn, grow and contribute. Look for opportunities to bring a touch of excellence to your work. What little things could you do over the next few hours to build relationships at work or make your clients say “wow”? What simple gestures of decency could you show your teammates that you care and are committed to showing leadership in a world where real leaders are few and far between?
There’s nothing really difficult only if you begin. Some people contemplate a task until it looms so big it seems impossible, but I just begin and it gets done somehow. Here are some more things you can do to become a star at work.
If there is an author you admire and he or she lives in your city, pick up the phone and ask for a meeting. If you have just read an inspiring article about someone who had turned adversity into advantage and you know you can learn from him, send out an email and open the lines of communication. In this new knowledge economy, the person who learns the most wins.
Most wise performers set career, financial and personal goals but few set specific learning goals. For this year, I have set clear objectives as to how many books I will read, how many seminars I will attend and how many personal growth retreats I will visit. I also try and set a daily learning quota of three new things every day to keep me stimulated and excited about my work as a professional speaker and leadership coach.
One and only
The real secret of success is to be so good at what you do that your company will not be able to run without you. Be so good at what you do that you are the first person your boss will think of when he needs advice. Be so good at what you do that you become indispensable. Then your success will be assured. So, pick your best three talents that truly make you special and then commit to refining them over the coming 12 months until they set you apart from the crowd. Make a personal vow that you will become so good at your professional craft that you become indispensable to your team and to your organization as a whole.
It is a strange paradox of the times we live in that we do not have time to think about the things we are so busy about. We spend our days on project that need to get done and in meetings that need to be attended. We spend our evenings with people we need to meet and do activities that need to be completed. But let me ask, when was the last time you went for a solitary walk in the woods and deeply reflected on the way you are working and living? When was the last time you took a few hours to think where you want to be professionally five years from now? The question is what are you so busy with? Carve out at least one hour every week for some serious reflection, introspection and self-examination so that you will keep learning from your weeks.
Life after layoff
Deepesh Das helps you survive a job loss
After a job loss, it may seem like your world is crashing in all at once. Stay calm and resist the urge to make any sudden moves – like sending a scathing email or making a scene on your way out – that could hurt you in the long run.
“It’s completely normal to feel panic after a job loss”, says Lynn Joseph, a psychologist and author of The Job-Loss Recovery Guide. In fact, it may feel like the rug has been pulled out from under your career – and your life, she says.
Your self-esteem can also take a hit, especially if you think you’ve been singled out. “Logically and intellectually we know that (we may have been part of a mass layoff), but emotionally we take it personally”, Joseph says.
With so many emotions at play, the key is to think before you act. Remember, your goal is to leave your job gracefully and with integrity.
If you’re granted an exit interview, be careful what you say. Don’t use it as an opportunity to put down the company. Instead, take the time to get answers to any questions you might have.
Avoid immediately jumping into a job search, Joseph warns. “Traditionally, we work with interviews and resumes before we work with the emotional loss of a career. We are not taking it in the right order”, she says, and advises that you take a few days off to calm yourself down and deal with your emotions. You don’t want to land a job interview and break down explaining what happened to you. Get your emotional and body language under control before you attempt to go on the interview trail.
Also, don’t over-think things or feel as though you have to do damage control when others ask about your job, explains Robert Leahy, a clinical professor of psychology and author of The Worry Cure. Leahy says accepting reality is essential to making it through this difficult time.
“Unemployment is part of every market economy. Take a matter-of-fact approach. You have a choice: If you cope with it poorly, you’ll drink more, you’ll smoke more, ruminate and isolate yourself”, he says. “A lot of people think that rumination will help you solve the problem or will help you find closure. The disadvantage is that it makes you depressed and it makes you withdraw from people”.
It’s a normal reaction to grieve the colleagues that you built friendships with over years of work. “People do go through the same stages of grief after losing a job that people experience following the loss of a loved one”, Joseph says.
The stress and anxiety of losing your job will take time to settle. Don’t rush yourself. And don’t try to go it alone. Seeking help after a layoff, whether it comes from family and friends, former co-workers or a professional counselor, is an important part of the healing process. Learn to be your best pillar of support.
At first, you may feel ashamed or afraid to share the news about being laid off. You may not want to tell your family, for fear of how they might react to the news.
“It is important to be openly communicative and try not to hide things and keep secrets”, Joseph says. “You will all fare better throughout this process if you pool your resources”.
After telling family, you need to start reaching out to friends and colleagues. You may find it somewhat embarrassing, but it’s very important to identify whom you can lean on during this critical time. Create a two-minute “elevator speech” about what happened to you. You don’t owe them an elaborate explanation. “I think it is important to recognize that the people who love you are going to love you whether you are laid off or not. Be honest”, Leahy advises.
Schedule a weekly family meeting if necessary, where you can talk openly. Meet friends over coffee or lunch and ask them for advice. If you know of others in your field that have been laid off, get together with them and share ideas and future opportunities.
Even with your own support team, you may feel the need for additional help. Consider working with a career counselor who is trained to assist downsized employees.
As you build your external support system, you should also be mindful of your feelings. Joseph suggests journaling as a way to move along the healing process. “When you start writing, and noticing what you are writing, you move through that first phase of shock and anger and then you begin to re-frame and have insight on the whole process and yourself. You begin to see the positive aspects and the opportunities that may be available to you”, she says.
Joseph also recommends a therapy known as “Future Self”, which involves imagining yourself in your new job, having everything you want. She recommends taking five minutes each day to go through this mental exercise. “You will automatically feel much better”, she says.
Nothing official about it
Performance measurement is a tool that creeps out of the HR manager’s closet every time the company is in trouble. Strictly speaking, it should be around in good times and bad. But when things are going well, folks tend to be arbitrary. The boss recommends an extra increment and promotion to the guy whose face the likes. Yes, the people also in the running for that promotion may feel unhappy. But they too have their sponsors. Be sides, if they are all that cut up about it, they can always vote with their feet and find another job. They will probably end up with an even better hike and designation.
When pay hikes are hard to come by because of the parlous state of the bottom line, performance management comes into its own.
“That’s the time when you start hearing talk of 360 degree appraisals”, says Mumbai-based HR consultant Shashi Rao. “The HR department starts a process of having your subordinates, peers and bosses rate you. It sounds very democratic and up-to-date. But make no mistake, your increment – if there is one – has already been decided. The whole purpose of the exercise is to share the blame”.
There is a lot of talk of performance reviews in India today, particularly in the information technology sector. Infosys has ranked 2200 of its employees as under performers. At Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), 1300 under performing employees will be laid off in the next few months. It’s not as though this hasn’t happened in earlier years, but the numbers were much lower.
Rao says there are some rules of performance measurement one must remember. The first, as already mentioned, is that it comes into its own only when things are looking grim.
Second, it tends to become more professional – or arcane – at such times. Basically, when you are handing out rewards, you stress the interpersonal factor. When you are talking about a voluntary salary cut, you blame the spreadsheet.
Third, is that performance measurement in good times deals with the highfliers. That’s when you hear of lavish bonuses. When times are bad, performance measurement shifts to the other end of the spectrum, to identify those who are “not up to the mark”.
There are other things one needs to remember. Performance measurement can be arbitrary. It may differ dramatically from company to company even when they are using the same metrics. “The HR department of a company adopts the cultural style of the CEO, particularly if he is an imposing personality”, says Rao. “You can be acceptable in one organization, unacceptable in another”.
There have been attempts to introduce some system and discipline in this arena. With limited success. “Despite the increased usage and attention, many companies continue to struggle with defining and managing their performance measurement system”, says an article by Mercer, a global leader for HR and related financial advice, products and services.
“The performance measurement system must reflect each organization’s unique industry dynamics, business strategy and management style”, it says.
The article lists “the seven deadly sins of performance measurement”. Two stand out–
· To be effective, the performance measures you use must be commonly accepted and well understood by everyone – immediately. No says the article; it is sometimes necessary to be complex.
· All senior executives should be rewarded using the same performance measurement programme. No, says the article; it is sometimes necessary to be different.
Confusion continues. It has clearly become necessary to evaluate how performance system themselves are performing.
There are people in useless professions everywhere – the key is to make them look necessary
Do you know what a cheese artisan does? Well, he (or she) “sculpts milk products for upscale restaurants and pretentious markets”. The earnings could be high; cheese artisans, like fashion designers, exist to feast on the gullible.
At the other end of the scale is the crumber. She (or he) “removes detritus from dining tables in restaurants”. In the US, that will fetch you $5.50 an hour – more, if you get to share the tips. But as a job it sure is crummy.
So, for that matter, is the cheese artisan’s. And, apart from both being related to the restaurant trade, they have something else in common – they feature in a list of 100 bullshit jobs, detailed in a book by Stanley Bing.
“My publisher told me to limit this exercise to 100 jobs for some bullshit marketing reason”, says Bing in his book 100 Bullshit Jobs…And How to Get Them. “But I could have doubled that number easily, and that’s focusing on only the domestic front and California. The global possibilities are equally limitless, especially in France, where 46% of all people are engaged in some kind of bullshit occupation, and Japan, where they hire people to help you get on and off escalators”.
They do that in India too. At malls in Mumbai and Gurgaon, you have escalator attendants waiting to pull you to a safe landing when you start tumbling down. In Delhi, the metro is planning to employ people to push passengers into trains; such pushers already exit in Japan. So this country is in no way short of bullshit job ideas.
Another place where you will find lots of bullshit is the library. It’s not just the librarian. Among the books, you will espy On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt, The Dictionary Of Bullshit by Nick Webb, The Dictionary Of Corporate Bullshit by Lois Beckwith and Bullshit and Philosophy by Gary L. Hard-castle and George A. Reisch.
Bullshit is evidently a vast territory. But what exactly is the connotation when applied to a job? Says Bing, “The folks who work in these coveted bullshit positions enjoy the best lives imaginable – they are well paid, they work very little, and their professions are highly respected because nobody really knows what they do”.
“Bing is more a humorist than a management writer”, says Mumbai-based HR consultant D. Singh. “So you don’t have to take him too seriously. But there is much more than a kernel of truth in what he says”.
In Singh’s view, bullshit (BS) jobs are not dead-end jobs. Nor are they dying professions. The key about BS jobs is that you create an aura that they are necessary. Take the editor of a newspaper or a magazine, for instance; if you send him on a year’s sabbatical, no one will miss him. Or the chairman emeritus of a company.
The first thing about a bullshit job is that there must be no meaningful work. Sure, you can spend a lot of time pretending to be very busy and important. But your real role is creating unnecessary work for other people. Second, you must enjoy what you are doing. Most BS staff love to grumble and complain; how else will they prove themselves indispensable?
Finally, you must be creating other BS jobs in your wake. What is the “gardener” at one prominent IT companies doing or the “chief mentor” in another? In their time, they may have been useful; today they are “nurturing minds” – their successors in the BS business. But at least they have had the grace to get out of the way of people who are actually working. For most of us, the biggest bullshit job is that of our boss; until we take over from him, of course.
The executive story
While executive education has been a fad for Indian firms, the recent economic slowdown has led many to look at it far more seriously. Deepesh Das finds out
In a growth market, firms focus on achieving scale and market share. Consequently, managers tend to neglect learning and development programmes. But that’s not the case in a recession, which is why India Inc is currently laying emphasis on executive education. “This is a good time to invest in building a new level of management, to rejuvenate and re-grow the organizational leadership base”, feel Pallab Bandyopadhyay, VP and Head, HR – Asia-Pacific, Perot Systems.
PLAYING A PIVOTAL ROLE
“Professional knowledge and pedigree has now become the key differentiating factor”, informs Rajiv Phadke, Executive Director, and Angel Broking. Firms need to get through this phase of slowdown without adding to the headcount to curtail costs. This is where executive education plays a pivotal role. “If you freeze or cut your manpower, you need to develop the available talent to keep the competitive edge”, reasons Tarun Chandna, CEO, and Expert Executive Education.
Also, since most firms are not growing in volume due to the overall gloom, employees don’t have work overload. Thus, they have more time in hand for education. Executive education is a long- term investment that individuals and their employers make to enhance their future value. But unfortunately, in most cases, they expect immediate return on this investment in the form of higher remuneration, position or role.
During the ‘high growth’ phase in the economy, most individuals get hefty returns without much investment on self-development. “In fact, the time and investment required for this was considered unnecessary, as it kept them away from work”, notes Rajiv Phadke, Executive Director, Angel Broking.
The current slowdown has separated the men from the boys as firms are evaluating how well educated their managers are in their professions. “Professional knowledge and pedigree has now become the key differentiating factor”, adds Phadke.
Taking a cue from this, some firms are sending their employees on forced study leave while few others are introducing and conducting courses internally. Perot Systems, which runs it own in-house training academy called the Perot Academy, is one such example. It provides training to hundreds of lower to mid-level executives. “We have introduced several new courses and also rolled out an attractive higher education policy to support ongoing learning of our associates”, informs Bandyopadhyay.
Angel Broking is another firm, which has internal programmes for executive education. “We offer specialized Management Development Programmes (MDPs) and Leadership Development Programmes (LDPs) focused on Stock Broking and Financial Services Business”, says Phadke.
Some firms are following the policy of ‘Training the trainer’ to maximize knowledge sharing. Then there are few firms, which are also inviting academicians to their offices.
Whatever be the means and method of educating executives, firms across the board are becoming proactive. And what are the kinds of courses that most executives are seeking in the present market scenario? “Leadership programmes with a high focus on adaptability and innovation as well as change management programmes”, replies Chandna.
Clearly, the fact that knowledge is the best weapon to sail through as dawned upon India Inc. And to achieve the same, they are resorting to various smart methods, executive education being one of those!
Rumour has it…
Though the ongoing slowdown has seen a rise in rumours doing the rounds on the corporate floor, HR managers tell us how organizations can help employees differentiate fact from fiction
As kids, we have all played the game of Chinese whisper. And though we stopped playing once as we grew up, this particular game is still very much active in our lives. The only difference is that it has now moved on from the playgrounds to the corporate corridors of India Inc.
It is no hidden secret that eavesdropping has been existent in the workplace for ages. However, experts say that during trying times, like the current slowdown, there is a considerable increase in eavesdropping among employees, as fears of lay-offs and corporate restructuring have made employees more attentive to what’s going on around them. And experts point out that this has led to rumours being spread at the workplace.
So how does one differentiate between what’s true and what’s not? How do employees ‘protect’ themselves from the gruesome world of rumours at the workplace that hamper their productivity and make them feel insecure? Rachin Gupta, manager at AbsolutData Research & Analytics expresses, “Though you can’t avoid the daily headlines of economic recession and job cuts, you can certainly stop them from having an impact on you and your job. Rumours, generally, create a negative atmosphere of distrust and suspicion. The best way to remain out of this atmosphere is to be more energetic, creative and thoughtful”.
Shireen, a team lead in a BPO, was quite disturbed by the rumours and unrest in her office and realized that she would not allow herself to be de-motivated by them. “To escape from the rough terrain of the situation, I resorted to fifteen minutes of meditation. Also, at times like these, we realized that skill up gradation would not only help in enhancing performance but also help the team to be motivated to work”, she says.
G N Praveena, COO, Malola feels that to handle rumours, the basic requirement an employee needs to have is to understand the situation at the workplace and to be well-versed with the facts. “Employees need to be well-versed with the facts. The better the knowledge of facts, lesser will be the instances of such rumours being spread”.
Ray no heed
While rumours will be persistently present in the workplace, experts say that the most important thing that any employee can do is not to pay any attention to it. Like Manas Mehrotra, an assistant manager-licensing and sales at DQ Entertainment International feels that an employee pays heed to such office rumours or may feel threatened of a job loss only when his or her performance is under scrutiny.
So what do you do at times like these? Hateem Adenwala – senior vice president-HR, DQ Entertainment, explains, “As recession news dominate the headlines, it’s quite natural to feel uneasy about the job stability and security. Apart from staying motivated and thinking optimistic, what seems to be of paramount importance is to improve one’s job skills and be prepared to take on additional business-critical duties. It means duties that are valuable to the business, even if they are beyond the scope of your job description”.
“My advice to people at such times is to control their emotions and try to detach themselves from what’s happening all around. Participating in such rumours will only impact one’s performance and make his/her personal as well as company’s situation worse. In such cases, all efforts should go towards creating a positive work environment that help increase productivity, provide better customer value and tide over the challenging phase”, suggests Krishna Kumar CEO, Zyoin.com.
Curb the menace
Moreover, companies are now taking measures to curtail this problem. Though to some employees, surreptitious listening is a way of survival, at the same time, organizations have to make sure that this does not get in the way of the growth and vision of the organization.
Rajita Singh, head HR, Broad ridge Financial Solutions India Pvt Ltd explains, “We have been through different phases of existence and the present is one such defining moment for all of us, as to what the future holds, how things will be, etc. Having said that, the short term impact cannot be ignored either, which in many organizations is through the ‘grapevine’ on how the market is, job security, long term, cost cutting, etc. Organizations need to be well connected/knit internally, as this helps us to sustain and improve our work culture. Also, this is the perfect opportunity to hone skills, re-discover self and work to ensure that we are geared for the future, as every downturn has an upswing”.
Sudeshna Datta-EVP & Co-founder, AbsolutData Research & Analytics adds, “At AbsolutData, the senior management is proactive in developing and maintaining a culture of seamless and clear communication on all sensitive issues. We believe that timely dissemination of key information from the right source will prevent rumours from floating around. This has helped us greatly curb unhealthy gossip and negativity on the office floor”.
Hence, the crux of the matter is, if you hear rumours and give in to them, there is nothing that can save you from insecurity and confusion. Rather, why not make use of the news; differentiate the facts from the farce and work towards a healthy environment at work.