In my last post I wrote about what individual workers can do to cultivate a division between working time and private time. Today, I offer recommendations for agencies.
The number one problem I found in my research is that agencies are not explicit about workers’ expected availability. This was often because it was, not coincidentally, in the agency’s interest to have workers assume they were always available (check out my post on the online survey). My recommendations for agencies, then, centre on this issue.
- Have a clear policy about contacting employees during “emergencies”: Agencies are places where one scholar suggested “someone is always pressing the panic button.” It’s part of the nature of the organization that there is always some kind of fire to put out. Agencies should make clear guidelines, however, around contacting employees at home.
As a daughter of an operating room nurse and stepdaughter of a doctor, I know all too well what a REAL emergency means for family dinners. Agencies should recognize that when employees are contacted at home, their families are involved. What constitutes an emergency? Write that policy down and make it clear to everyone.
- Compensate employees for all mobile technology use: Agency employees told me frequently of using their personal mobile phones and BlackBerrys for company purposes. This wasn’t a problem for most of them, but claiming it as an expense was. Workers should never be required to underwrite a company’s operating costs. This only breeds resentment.Instead, agencies should have a clear and easy expense reporting process for personal use of mobile technology. Employees will claim these amounts if the process is well designed, and their resentment will be lessened.
- Abandon billable hours: this is my most radical recommendation. I’m sure many agency finance managers would scoff at my recommendation. But I am convinced that the only way any agency will be competitive, innovative, creative, and have lower turnover is to rid itself of billable hours.Billable hours change the agency’s business from selling creative solutions to simply selling time. Selling time? Yes, that’s it. Can anything be more easily commoditized that workers’ time? Every agency has workers, and every agency sells their time. This approach makes work/life balance all the more difficult because workers are continually required to sell ever more time — NOT EVER MORE VALUABLE SERVICES.
Work/life balance means leaving work at work. When all you sell is time, you must always sell more of it to be competitive. Instead, sell services that are market differentiating. Don’t bill clients for time; bill them for the value you provide. This has the added bonus of employees being able to leave work at work. Good ideas are better created when workers have sufficient recuperation time.
Agency managers who doubt my recommendations may believe that agencies can continue in the vein that they have. But as any recruitment manager can tell you, it is exceedingly difficult to recruit and retain great employees. As employees get older and have families, the division between home and work only gets MORE important, not less.
Turnover is expensive. Smart agencies will firm up the home/work divide, not break it down.