CEO Confidential

Are Your Employees Stuck at the “Kids’ Table”?

Those of us with large families are familiar with the “kids’ table” and the “adults’ table,” trotted out at every annual holiday gathering. Often, the kids who start out at the rickety old card table at the back of the room never get to “graduate” to sit with the adults, even well into adulthood.

Consider this example at your next management meeting about productivity. Managers spend countless hours wondering how to motivate staff and ensure that they’re completing tasks on time, with few distractions. Before going down such a complex rabbit hole, start with a little soul-searching. If leaders are noticing a slip in productivity or a general lack of enthusiasm, the first thing to ask should be, “Are we forcing the adults that we hired and trained to sit at the kids’ table?

Company Policy: We Are All Adults Here

Company perks and policies designed to foster flexibility and work/life balance were once the domain of young companies trying to recruit employees. But mid-sized firms and large, multi-national corporations are slowly learning that these startups, with their cool programs, are onto something. In the end, it’s not about where or how your team completes their work – if they are completing projects and tasks on time, with great results, the “how” doesn’t matter.

Allowing flextime and remote work options gives badly needed support and encouragement to the working parents, students, and caregivers that make up your workforce. We hire talent because a person is great at what they do. It’s our job to train these team members and allow them to achieve the results we hired them for.

Judgment-Free Time Off

Study after study has confirmed that American workers are the worst at taking time off. There are many factors that contribute to this rather sad trend. They’re worried that they will be buried in work upon their return from a vacation, or worse, rendered obsolete if their department can get along without them. So the concept of unlimited vacation might sound scary to them. But managers know that employees who take time off come back rested, refreshed, and more productive.

That’s the concept behind unlimited vacation time. Currently, only about 2 percent of U.S. companies offer unlimited vacation as a benefit, but as high-profile organizations such as LinkedIn, GE, and Netflix join the ranks, the concept is gaining ground. We adopted an unlimited vacation policy to give employees more control over their time, but with the understanding that there is no “one size fits all” approach.

Some companies experience challenges with this policy, and we are no different. However, rather than abandoning it, we are working with employees to enhance it. Just like with flextime, unlimited vacation success looks different for every company. Challenges include personality and cultural differences – some love the policy, while some feel guilty about taking time off. Others say they feel judged by co-workers. This is true of many companies, whether the time is unlimited or finite. Some of our employees simply prefer more traditional structure and rules around time off, and look to managers to set the tone or specifically set parameters.

To address the differing attitudes toward unlimited vacation, our management team has worked to empower employees to take their time off without fear of being judged by encouraging leaders to set an example. Managers need to be confident in their team and actually take days off as well. We task management with customizing their approaches based on the specific needs and preferences of direct reports.

Happy Adults Engage Without Fear

How often are you checking in with employees on their happiness level? Are you counting on annual performance reviews to serve as your pulse check or sounding board? When you ask employees for their opinions, do you get blank stares? Getting feedback from employees on the company shouldn’t be tied to their performance reviews. It should be an open, honest communication initiated by the company.

Our company conducts an annual poll to help us get unfiltered employee input on which policies are working well and which ones need adjustment. Our 2015 end–of-year survey received more than 1,000 individual comments from employees, using an open-ended comment box available once a question is answered/rated. We have fewer than 1,000 employees, which tells us that our employees submitted multiple comments. Through this poll, we learned that our employees are highly engaged and are comfortable and willing to share their opinions, because they know we take it seriously. They see their feedback reflected back at them in our policies and initiatives. As an example, we recently decided to add a new company holiday and let employees pick which one. Employees chose Columbus Day.

Making Policies that Make Sense

While certain initiatives you’ve read about that are working well at other companies can serve as inspiration, it’s crucial to accept that your version of that may look different depending on your culture and your workforce’s specific needs. However, there are some key considerations your management team should explore as you look at the different options:

  • Workforce and culture evaluation. Do you really trust your employees, and do they feel empowered?
  • “Trust, but verify.” Do your managers give workers space, but check in regularly on their progress or to see if they need support?
  • Expect greatness, and then get out of the way. Does your management team have what it takes to set expectations and follow through on accountability if deadlines are missed or productivity slips?
  • Measure results with agreed benchmarks. How will management determine if these new initiatives have the desired outcome? How will you measure engagement, happiness, improved productivity, and team communication?

Taking the time to perform an honest assessment of where you are right now, culturally and otherwise, is the first step. Encouraging your workforce to share their opinions without fear or judgment is also important. Above all, managers and executives must remain open to additional changes, even after a policy has been launched. When it comes to the adults you’ve entrusted to help grow your business, there is no single “right way” to keep them happy. It’s an ongoing process that deserves your attention and flexibility.

Ronald W. Hovsepian

President, Chief Executive Officer and Director at Intralinks.

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Ronald W. Hovsepian
Ronald W. Hovsepian was appointed president, chief executive officer and direct or of Intralinks in December 2011. Previously, Ron Hovsepian served as president and chief executive officer of Novell, Inc., from 2005 to 2011. He joined Novell in 2003 as executive vice president and president, worldwide field operations. Before that, Hovsepian held management and executive positions at IBM Corporation over a 17-year period, including worldwide general manager of IBM's distribution industries, manager of global hardware and software development, sales, marketing and services. Hovsepian currently serves as a member of the board of directors of ANSYS, Inc. He was formerly a non-executive chairman of the board of directors of the Ann Taylor Corporation. In addition, Hovsepian served as managing director with Bear Stearns Asset Management, a technology venture capital fund, and managing director of Internet Capital Group, a venture capital firm, during his 28-year career. Hovsepian received a Bachelor of Science degree from Boston College.
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