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Work/Life Balance and the Knowledge Worker

(Wordcount: 898; Pages: 2) If finding and hiring the best talent were purely about how many of the priciest perks you can toss at them, then entrepreneurial businesses would never be in business. In news report after news report, examples abound about the apparent lunacy taking hold of organizations that are supposedly the best and brightest. Year long sabbaticals, flex-time/part-time schedules with full benefits, full tuition reimbursement for college, adoption support, and that's on top of the traditional entitlements of healthcare benefits, 401(k) plans, high salaries and sick-days, holidays, l-, m-, n-, o-, and p-days. The typical organization does not fully utilize their current talent; so, ask yourself, why would they want to keep underutilized talent that badly? And, just how can an enterprise smaller than IBM ever hope to establish itself?

In a survey of studies published last year by this firm, we resolutely quashed the notion that there's a war for talent - talent that requires sports-athlete-like compensation for their talent - by pointing out the uncommitted, almost mercenary-like, nature of these workers and an employers utter lack of transparency into the prerogatives and background information on these prospective workers (the winners curse of recruitment); and further introducing the concept of job decomposition, where a single job, even the most complex job, can be broken down into its component tasks to be executed by highly coordinated part-timers.

The study received intense debate, but not because the ideas weren't sound. Rather, business models were developed and traditional, linear approaches to managing workers were retrofitted to suit the needs of the business model. The more cyclical, dynamic model to managing your human resources proposed in our report assumed that managing workers was the business model and the type of productivity companies derived from them was where profits emerged from.

No examples are necessary; service-economy organizations are infamous for claiming that their most important product goes home to their families each and every night. Thus, every company that employs knowledge workers must understand that knowledge as product cannot be produced on a 9-5 schedule and these workers cannot hope to produce around the clock, like their mechanical counterparts.

But what's occurring isn't a sea change in how organizations execute their business models, but rather, another attempt to squeeze a square peg into a round hole; instead of changing the way they hire and engage their workers, companies staunchly remain paternal in their employment practices, now resorting to bribing and spoiling their workers with treats, promises, and even more coddling. Does this work with your kids? So why do you think it'll work with your employees?

Achieving work-life balance has nothing to do with the organization. In fact, work-life balance is a very personal matter where employees who want to live life, work around life, while employees who prefer to work, live around work. An employer who believes they should manage this aspect of their workers lives is arrogant and violates one of the simplest laws of business: businesses are in the business of business. As a result, understand that your business is making widgets, selling widgets, servicing widgets, but not making sure that the widget makers, sellers, and servicers have a happy home-life thanks to your generous programs.

The argument that a happy widget maker means better widgets is not incorrect. But the employer is forgetting that their sole responsibility is to set up the infrastructure to get the widgets from raw materials into the consumers' hands. People themselves are not raw materials, but they posses that most critical of raw materials: labor. People are more like the seeds that grow into trees used to extract wood. Or the little pebble that becomes raw ore in the ground before it's unearthed and processed. In other words, people need a specific way of caring (you wouldn't process ore like wood) in order to extract from them that valuable asset. Your infrastructure is the environment they require to get to the point of extraction; included as part of the care they receive from your infrastructure is training. Extracting their productivity then becomes a matter of feeding them ideas, quenching their thirst for curiosity and discovery (about your business and industry), and rewarding their growth by returning some of their productivity back to them. When a forest is stripped of all its foliage, it can't regrow. But when it's replanted, and patiently nurtured so it can bear its fruit again, a forest can last forever. The way the established linear approach to HR operates is similar to a landstripping operation that disregards people productivity as being renewable. The way our proposed cyclical dynamic model operates is similar to a re-forestation program that produces for years to come.

Thus, the rational, more feasible approach to providing a work-life balance for your workers is to not consciously provide it, but instead change your business model and how it gets executed so that workers can more easily transition in to and out of it seamlessly as they choose. An entrepreneurial venture starting from scratch actually possesses great leverage in the competition for talent. Instead of launching a business model that requires people with specialized skills or quality performance to execute (who wants to work for an unproven start-up anyway?), launch a cyclical, dynamic HR model (an infrastructure) and then figure out the precise labor it requires in order for your infrastructure to be profitable. Add part-time people accordingly. And without shame.

Al Berrios is Managing Director of al berrios & co., an innovative strategy consulting firm advising leaders on the impact of human behavior on their strategies and on how to change their organizations to address the behavior. Write to Consumer Strategies Report at editor @ alberrios.com.


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