Saturday, 31 August 2013

Demontivation and the Unwritten Duties of Every Employee

Sometimes, other duties as needed defines 90% of my job.

Currently, I'm supposed to spend my time ensuring that the processes for the applications I support are effective and efficient.  I liaise between our users and our IT team to match functions to needs, and then document exactly how to use those functions to meet those needs.

But the majority of my actual work falls well outside that job description.  A lot of the work is due to the usual suspects: scope creep, SEP, etc.  But an appreciable portion comes from duties that underlie every employee's job description.

I spend a fair amount of time ensuring that the applications I support, and the processes I document, conform to our company's values, to our corporate policies, to legal requirements, to ethical principles, and even to good business sense.  It goes even further though.  I spend considerable time ensuring that any actions with which I'm involved, or sometimes simply of which I'm aware conform in those areas as well.

These are my unwritten job duties:

  1. Above all, ensure my work and the work with which I'm involved conforms to the highest ethical and legal standards.
  2. Ensure my work and the work with which I'm involved is beneficial to the business.
  3. Be a good steward with all company resources, including my time and my abilities.
I think those are unwritten duties which every employer has the right to expect of it's employees.

What brought this all to mind is a recent decision in British Colombia.  A couple of Elevator companies were taken to the privacy commissioner for tracking employee travel via company issued cellphones, when those cellphones were in 'on duty mode'.  The BC privacy commissioner found that this was a reasonable step to ensure that employees were working their expected hours.

My first thought was that this was a good decision.  Immediately on the heels of that, I started to wonder:  "How could an employer handle this more effectively."  This kind of tracking leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those tracked, because it implies that the employer must 'crack the whip' on its employees.  It's fear based motivation, which simply can't build a positive working relationship between employer and employee.

These companies tried to explicitly write one of those unwritten rules (Be a good steward) into the job.  They obviously felt that there was a need to enforce that stewardship of time that should simply be part of their work culture.  In doing so, they actually tell their employees that stewardship is not something intrinsic, but rather an extrinsic behaviour forced upon them.

What an employer has to want, and should strive to build, is a culture where employees govern themselves to follow those unwritten job duties.  Every employee should be working to benefit his or her employer.  If they aren't or don't feel they should, its time for them to seek a different employer.

Unfortunately, I recognize that's a bit Pollyannaish of me.  No matter how good an employer's hiring practices, and no matter how hard they strive to build a culture of trust, ethics, and respect, there will be employees who will not work to benefit the company.

Ultimately, I think the answer is not to try to hold employee accountable for the behaviour (working 8 hours per day) but to hold them accountable for results.  Now I know nothing about elevators, other than how to push the button to get me to my floor. So I don't know how to manage to those results.  But I do know that most industries that I've had any experience in could implement results based performance management.

The problem is that results based performance management runs counter to some of our cherished business principles.  One of the most cherished is that people should work x hours per day or week.  Employers often treat employees like pieces of equipment that they rent for a certain amount of time per day, and must get maximum use out of.  The idea that results are what matter, not hours per day or days per week, sends shivers down the spine of traditional management.

But I posit that goals and results to aim for will create much more effective, efficient and profitable companies than will a culture that metaphorically chains people to their desks for 40 hours per week.

Now I know nothing about the specific companies involved, and I cannot comment on the business need that they felt required this tracking.  I can't say whether this was a measure that indicates a breakdown in relationship, or simply was something that was implemented for a number of reasons that seemed like a good idea at the time.

What I can say is that, while I would never deny my employer the right to track my work and productivity, Big Brother methods like this would quickly prompt me to look for other, more motivating, environs.

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