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  • Writer's pictureRichard Bistrong

Father’s Day and Compliance?

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

I really never thought much about the connection until I read an article (on Father’s Day) in the June 2016 Issue of the Harvard Business Review, Managing the High Intensity Workplace (link here), by Erin Reid and Lakshmi Ramarajan. The article lays out the challenge from the start, in how employees, under the pressure to be “totally dedicated to their jobs and always on call” develop a set of organizational survival skills that “may allow them to navigate the stresses,” of non-stop engagement and availability, but who might also “suffer serious and dysfunctional consequences,” both to themselves, and to their organization.

The authors group those, who in their quest to succeed on the job as the ideal worker, “significantly suppress other meaningful aspects of who they are, including family, civic duties, and friends, as “accepters.” In an international context, it’s hard to avoid becoming an ‘accepter.’ In many organizations, the time-zone epicenter is usually where headquarters is located. Conference calls, deadlines, and e-mail requests are transmitted at the convenience of the home office, and field teams are expected to adapt and respond on-time. Keeping up with those commitments and demands often makes it difficult to focus on life outside the workplace.

I remember once getting a call at 2:00 AM local time when I was based in the UK from a US executive. I responded, “it’s 2:00 am here,” to which he said “do you need a few minutes to get yourself together?” For those who work on the front-lines of international business, balancing a commitment to the ‘non-work’ life is challenging, mostly due to the limited amount of time being present back home, while remaining attentive to pressing professional obligations. Often these two get reconciled when international executives return home, where instead of focusing on family and non-work responsibilities during their ‘down time,’ it’s e-mail and deadline catch-up time. A former supervisor once said of me, “I can always tell when Bistrong returns from an international trip, my in-box gets flooded his first day back home.”

Some might resist those 24/7 pressures, and openly share the non-work part of their lives by asking for “changes to the structure of their work,” even where ‘accepters’ dominate. But as the authors note, that can have “damaging career consequences” and they point to research demonstrating that those who pushed for greater respect of non-offiee commitments “paid a substantial penalty.”

The authors suggest “there has to be a better way,” and that path starts by redefining the “ideal” worker as someone who draws the “lines between their professional and personal lives.” As Colin Powell once said, “Have fun in your command. Don’t always run at a breakneck pace. Take leave when you’ve earned it. Spend time with your families.” Such redefinition not only benefits the individual, but it also has significant upside to the organization.

The authors note that by changing organizational norms and “pointing out the positive things that employees’ outside activities bring to the workplace,” that employee resilience, creativity and job satisfaction can be greatly enhanced. Such a shift changes the measure of success from “time based rewards” to “actual results,” by supporting a values based system which recognizes professional performance while supporting the right of people to engage “with other parts of selves.” Those parts can increase workplace engagement, productivity and ultimately, success. As another HBR article states “we are much more fragile than we think” and that “we need moments of not doing.” It’s those “moments that spur creativity and productivity when we turn back to our ‘doing’ mode.”

I was once chatting with my daughter about someone we both know whose father just accepted an international sales leadership role. She said “well, I hope his kids say goodbye to their dad.” That was a stinging rebuke to my own decade in the field, overseas 250 days a year, where I missed the precious years of their lives that can never be replaced. So when compliance executives ask me what can they do to better engage with their overseas workforce, one of the touch points I address is to avoid the business temptation to think “the more the better,” when looking at their time on the road making sales calls.

Bring international teams home, and do it often- sometimes that might even be against their own will, as field personnel think “time is money.” But overrule them and keep them close to their networks- of friends, of family, of loved ones. Let them enjoy their father’s day, their mother’s day, uninterrupted. Encourage them to bring pictures and stories of what they did to work, and celebrate them as you would a successful sale.

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