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Productivity And People Who Will Not Take No For An Answer

Not too long ago, our office hosted a two-hour productivity seminar at 9:30 in the morning; attendance was mandatory. The irony of dropping every pressing request and blocking time off during peak hours amused me to no end. The lure of refreshments and a chance to spend the morning away from my desk aside, I was curious to see what the presenters had in store if their website offered allegedly helpful advice such as how to scale back meetings and tips on home organization. Then there was this: take control of interruptions to your workday. I was sold!

We all deal with a constant stream of interruptions during the day, that’s not news. Studies indicate that it takes a full 20 minutes to refocus your attention on the task at hand when you get interrupted. I think the further in the zone you are, the worse it is. One thing I learned early in my professional life is that you cannot please everyone all of the time and while it is important to be helpful and nice to coworkers they can suck the life and will out of you before lunch.

My role is mostly an online one and I like to keep a tidy desk that does not have papers scattered in sloping piles right across. Lately, I have taken to fanning a few pages about just for the optics of it. Sitting quietly in front of my machine is not to be taken as an invitation to discuss what someone just read on Twitter, or recap last night’s episode of “Game of Thrones” (shut up, no spoilers, please … I’m a whole season behind!) Pre-seminar, I might have poked my head out looking like thunder and hissed at them to shut up. Post-seminar, I ask myself what can I do to change the things that are bothering me. I can stream the morning news and listen with earbuds; I can stuff noise-reducing earplugs in and focus on my breathing and my spreadsheet. Or …! I pick up the phone and loudly return a few calls. Only then, if I still have to, will I poke my head out looking like thunder and hiss at them to shut up.

My favourite takeaway from the productivity seminar was actually being told to turn off my email notifications in order to focus and remain productive. You could feel the tension ripple through the room: what a radical idea! Who invited these hacks? Are they going off-script?! The nerve of them, are they trying to get me fired? Is this a test? … okay, so I’m projecting just a teensy bit. Still, I loved the novelty of it. Nothing infuriates me more than to get one pop-up notification/ping/buzz after another and see a stream of unread mail in my inbox, only to then open them and read two little words: Thank you. Seriously? You have nothing else of value to add, no promise to deliver data, follow-up, regroup in a week, nothing?

I turned off my inbox notifications as soon as I got back from the seminar and never turned it back on. No FOMO, no regret, don’t miss the “you’ve got mail” dopamine rush. I can block a half hour or so a couple of times a day, file away the non-action items, add to-do flags to the ones that I need to follow-up on, use the “meeting” button on my toolbar to add the super-important stuff to my own calendar, cross off the completed tasks with a sense that something was actually achieved. No prizes for guessing what I do with the “thanks” messages.

People, though, get very anxious and miss the dopamine. That’s when the calls and drop-ins start: “Hi, did you read my email? You never responded to my email. Can we talk about my email now?” Um, no. Here’s what I learned to say, without guilt, insinuation or aggravation. I say it calmly, softly and with deep gravitas: “I am in the middle of something else right now, I will have to get back to you/come see you as soon as I am done with this. Let’s put it on the calendar”. Try it, it’s like a flu shot for your mental health.

Here’s how I see it: the big stuff doesn’t just happen in an instant. There is usually a long sequence of events, plenty of correspondence back and forth between client and vendor and all parties that matter, conference calls and GoTo meetings, planning, planning, and planning. Then one hapless unfortunate comes in, in the middle of the movie, fails to grasp the plot, asks the wrong questions (and thanks every last person for every last bit of it); still fails to understand the purpose or goal of what everyone else has been going on about. Then one day, say around 10:00 a.m., she decides to come sweeping down from one of the practice floors with her stack of invoices, mismatched payments and inch-thick, binder-clipped stack of emails, and asks, did you read my email?


5413695877_978a088dbb_bAs an HR blogger, it is serendipitous to be able to watch the series finale of Mad Men and then attend the Reinvent Work Summit in the same week.

I don’t need to assert a theory that the workplace has changed over 55 years. The change has been highly visible.

When I was a little girl, I was invited to attend my father’s “take your kids to work” day. I remember walking in the factory filled with men and being told not to touch anything. I remember seeing all the component parts of a vehicle and realizing that someone had to assemble them. I remember the paneling in his office. It was a man’s world, but I was undeterred by that.

But that was the 1970’s, just beyond the glory days of Don Draper. By then some things had already changed. I had Wonder Woman as a role model, and a desire to be career-oriented.

Certainly today our workplaces are less sexist, less racist, and less anti-semitic than the 1960s. How we got here is a bit of a chicken and egg question though. While I won’t underplay the importance of the civil rights movement, in part, the kinder, gentler workplace is an economic necessity. With time, we learned that an economy with higher participation grows at a faster rate, has more spending power, and more elasticity. It requires less money for war. And computers have helped us split the demographics and figure out how to sell more to a broader audience. The identification of what came first will be the subject of debate for centuries to come.

I wonder what I will learn today at the Reinvent Work Summit. Lately I have been engaged in regular dialogue about the Google workplace, where you build what you want and the money comes later. A world where the workplace is flexible and silly rules are banished. As much as I like this concept, I still have trouble trying to make it work.

But that’s where Mad Men is helpful. It shows the fits and starts, the giant leaps and the about faces. It shows that the path to change is not a straight line.

Back in my childhood, there was a day at school where we talked about the future workplace, and I vividly remember being shown a picture of a woman at a large console pushing buttons. There was no explanation as to what the buttons did or what this work actually entailed. I remember liking the idea of working from home in a room designed for working. Later, I remember when our wireless network was installed in the house and being able to return e-mail from the patio. Not so long ago, my laptop became my phone and someone can call my office and talk to me wherever I happen to be. Someday I will be able to teleport myself to whatever meeting I need to attend. I wonder what things will be the links that get us there.

Let’s see where this goes.






Overburdened employees: Four steps to better morale and business results

As the Canadian economy improves, business activity is picking up, but hiring has not increased at the same pace. Companies are trying to do more with the same number of employees, increasing productivity and business margins while maintaining costs.

More than a quarter of employers are creating new hybrid roles to manage workloads, according to the Hays 2015 Salary Guide. While this is an effective way to improve productivity, it can create a pressure cooker situation for employees. More than a third of employers say increased workloads and employee pressure is driving up stress leave and general inefficiencies, and contributing to lower office morale.

Hays Canada 2015 Recruitment Insights

How can you maintain morale, reduce attrition, and increase engagement while still meeting your payroll budget?

Hays Insights

  1. Effective training and development

You cannot expect employees to take on new tasks and responsibilities without sufficient training. That could be specific training for the role, but it might also include training in time management, people leadership or customer service depending on what an employee needs to succeed.

Not only is it crucial to enabling employees meet business objectives, but workers who do not feel confident in their tasks quickly become demotivated and frustrated. Create an environment where on-going learning is standard, and where people can ask for help and feel supported t to foster morale and engagement.

  1. Strategic use of temporary staff

Temporary or contract staff can be a cost effective way to give targeted support to employees and projects with the most need, which will alleviate stress on a current workforce while helping the business meet its growth and activity targets. By bringing in temporary workers for only as long as needed, you can meet payroll budget constraints while still bringing in the talent needed for specific projects.

Targeting the available resources to the parts of the business that need the most support allows you to make the most of your payroll budget, and prove your ability to align talent and business strategy for better overall results.

  1. Cost effective benefits and recognition to motivate employees

Benefits such as vacation, time off in lieu for overtime and flexible work options are not expensive to offer but are of considerable value to employees. Almost 60% of employees say they would reduce their compensation, other benefits, or seniority level to receive more than two weeks of vacation time.

Don’t overlook the role praise, reward and recognition can play in retaining and motivating people. Feeling appreciated and valued for the work done key for employee engagement. Consider introducing an internal recognition program so both managers and peers can publicly praise or acknowledge extra effort and workers who have gone above and beyond.

  1. Planning for short and long term success

Career progression is consistently rated as one of the main reasons employees change jobs, and Hays’ What People Want survey found that Canadian workers don’t just want to climb a career ladder, they want continuous learning and new challenges. Encourage current staff expand their skill base and experience, and to develop professionally.

Closely tied to career progression is succession planning. A succession plan lets you assess your current workforce and what skills you need to retain or attract, and can an important retention tool, which many employers overlook. Employees who know their potential internal career options are less likely to seek outside opportunities for growth.

As Canadian companies see business activity increase, eventually permanent headcounts will have to increase, but in the meantime strategic use of training, flexible workforce options, effective benefits and long-term planning will ensure your company has the resources to meet business goals without increasing employee stress or burnout.

Hays Canada division manager Rachel Finan has more than 14 years of experience working in HR recruitment, She excels in making the right match and brings expert insight into market trends, employer needs, and candidate requirements.