Archive for May, 2010

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Effective and responsible illness management in the workplace

25 May, 2010

I left work at 11:30 this morning because I wasn’t feeling great. I wasn’t coughing and spluttering or running a high fever. Just tired and aching a bit. I had sufficient sleep last night and had no other reason to feel that way so I read the early warning signs and took the rest of the day off to rest and recover.

Maybe it was just tiredness, maybe I was coming down with something. I don’t know. However I’m a strong advocate for employees being responsible for good illness management and employers in helping create a culture that supports employee health and is committed to workforce and organisational resilience.

One of the things that often annoys me is when people turn up to work sick as a dog and refuse to take the day off because they’re too busy or have insufficient sick leave. Apart from the fact that being at work reduces their capacity to recover thus extending the period they’ll be ill it also affects the quality of their work and relationships with colleagues and for influenza or other contagious diseases carries with it a high risk of infecting others.

Without wishing to dehumanise the issue, it’s simple maths. If an employee only takes the minimum amount of sick leave needed to recover from an illness they might be off work for 3 days whilst suffering with the illness for a total of 10 days. However by coming to work for those other 7 days minus weekends they’re likely infecting others. So whilst that employee thinks they’re doing the right thing by gritting their teeth and getting on with the job, minimising staff downtime to 3 days they’re likely causing another dozen employees to become sick and thus lose the organisation more like 50 days of staff time.

The rigidity of HR policy around sick leave doesn’t help either. You don’t accrue any sick leave till after a month of employment and then only two days per month plus an annual allocation for “personal leave without evidence” (at least in my workplace). So if you come down with the flu you better hope it’s not in the first four months of your employment because unpaid sick leave is a big incentive to keep on working.

Just looking at the maths earlier, wouldn’t it make sense to take a more flexible approach to sick leave and let that first ill employee, Patient Zero, take as much time as they need, take the full 7 days they need to recover rather than risk losing a dozen staff and entire business capabilities for weeks on end?

It’s not rocket science. The numbers alone should persuade. But why not forget your inflexible policies and just look after your staff; have the authority to grant them all the time they need to recover so they can get back to work sooner than dragging an illness out for several weeks because they’re not getting the rest they need. They’ll thank you for it.

It’s a win-win for the organisation and staff. So why aren’t we doing this?

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“You need to get out more!”

24 May, 2010

I had a brief chat with someone yesterday who was unfamiliar with online social networking and critical of Facebook, Twitter etc.

My colleague’s introduction of me to this person as the “guy with X followers, Y number of blogs” was met with disdain. This person then advised me I need to “get out more” and scoffed at my “Internet friends”.

I’m no stranger to such criticism – though I thought we as a society had moved on from such debates as I haven’t had to defend my online activities in this manner against such ignorance for a couple of years.

It is frustrating that I had to explain that I do have a social life outside the Internet, that being hyperconnected is not a bad thing (it’s the inevitable future and comes with awesome benefits), that I scored my last two jobs via my Twitter network and then listed the conferences and events I help organise like BarCamp, TEDx and CTUB meetups, the projects I’m involved in like OpenAustralia and Canberra Coworking and that I do know many of my “Internet friends” in real life too and am in fact travelling up to Sydney in a few weeks with the main aim of catching up with people I met online … although I also know I will never get the opportunity to meet in real life many of the people I’ve befriended online; and I’m totally ok with that.

So I’ve managed to educate and persuade just one more out of the billions who don’t get it.

*sigh*

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Dream: 22 May

22 May, 2010

The earliest I can remember was catching a taxi from Civic up to Parliament House for a Government 2.0 function – I had injured my ankle and couldn’t hobble to the bus interchange. Got up to near the house but the driver missed the exit and I wasn’t sure I had enough change to pay for him to go around again. Luckily I did.

Up at the house I was trying to discuss some secret proposal with some important people including, yes, the Deputy CEO of Australia … who wasn’t particularly interested. But someone else was, because my business partner or whatever was killed when his car blew up in the parking lot out the front. Then my car was rigged with explosives too and every afternoon after that, like Groundhog Day, every car in the parking lot would blow up. Hmm, I had a dream the other night about cars blowing up – what does it mean? Probably that I watch too much Burn Notice.

I was then having lunch at the cafe at the House and paid in miniature port goblets, which were the equivalent of a $2 coin. Roast chicken.

Then some humans got hold of a device that looked awfully like our garage remote control that gave them power over the aliens. Yes, stay with me here … there were aliens. So then a group of about two dozen humans left Earth with the aliens and it was all good … until the batteries in their device went dead. Then the aliens killed them all. Gruesomely.

And that was about it.

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What do I care about?

19 May, 2010

First, I need to add a disclaimer that “care” in this context refers specifically to a team-building activity we did at work recently. I say this because I’m talking about personal and professional goals and my sense of duty, purpose in life etc. So my failure to mention my partner and friends in here is not because I don’t care about them but because that’s a different sort of caring. A length explanation but better than simply saying “Partner out of scope”.

So at this team-building activity we had to fill out a wad of paper with a bunch of questions about values, legacy, goals, achievements etc. I don’t care for much of that – I don’t have specific goals and I’m entirely comfortable with that. I have a direction and I believe that’s all that matters.

Funnily enough, in response to the question “What are you good at; what are you known for; what are your greatest natural abilities?” I didn’t mention anything relating to technical expertise but rather fuzzy soft skills like thinking and analysing, figuring things out, problem-solving, coming up with ideas and being creative.

The thing I rated highest in the list of things I would like to accomplish besides the obvious “credibility and reputation” was “flexible working arrangements”. I know it sounds weird, but I’m simply over working 9-5, five days a week. Whilst I enjoy my job there are millions of other things I would also like to be doing, things I don’t always have the time or motivation to do after hours or on weekends. Other projects, social innovation, writing, music, photography. I don’t want to retire at 30 and spend the last 50 years of my life seeing the world. I need to work, I need the challenges and mental stimulation so all I want is to reach a state in my career where I choose the hours and the work. That’s all.

To get to that point I need the credibility and reputation in order to find the work opportunities and also be in a position to bargain for flexibility; I also need to figure out how I can do what I do as a freelancer instead of an employee.

So what do I care about? My first response was “Making the world human-friendly” but I feel that needs some clarification.

What I do in my job and as reflected in various projects I’ve run or been involved with such as Free Australia Wireless, OpenAustralia, Canberra Coworking, Resilient Nation Australia, BarCampCanberra, TEDx Canberra etc … one of the main themes is benefiting people. I get satisfaction from improving other peoples lives; applying my talents and skills to the fullest to benefit my friends, colleagues, community, country and the planet.

So “human-friendly” in this context is simply about doing my bit to make the world less confusing, more useful, more supportive … and that applies right through from the primary user interface and interaction design work I’ve done over the last 10 years through to such projects as I mentioned and even in ways outside the web and software domain I’ve worked within. If my most valued skills are in problem-solving and figuring things out then I can apply that to more than screen wireframes and social media strategies.

Been reading Tim Brown’s Change by Design book the last few weeks. Nothing particularly novel in there, but for some reason I’ve found it inspirational and making me think about how I can broaden my design skills to areas that need innovation and change more than the fields I’ve worked in till now and how I can increase the impact and influence of my thinking and work, because working in a bureaucracy does severely limit my effectiveness. Not much of what I do ever sees the light of day outside the four walls of my office. Low mechanical efficiency. I need less pulleys, less friction, longer levers otherwise I’ll continue spinning my wheels for the next 70 years and at the end of it wonder what I’ve actually accomplished. Not for me, but for you.

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Fuck you school

15 May, 2010

I was home-schooled for six years. It was a curious practice, even for my cult. My mother stayed at home as women were instructed to by the cult leaders but decided she could do a better job of teaching her kids than the public education system. That’s probably true – but all I remember from my primary school years is teaching myself.

Amongst my most treasured possessions were my father’s university textbooks on forestry, metallurgy and biology and a stack of around fifty Scientific American magazines that I had read cover to cover several times. I remember when I was around 11 years old being very excited to receive a new college-level physics book that I adored.

I remember fondly filling out pages and pages of my notepad with inventions for machines, fusion reactors, urban planning, space ships and more. Of course being only young most of my inventions were – whilst highly detailed – also highly impractical.

Then my parents decided I would attend public school for my high school and college years. I skipped Year 7 and finished Year 12 a month into 2000 so was really only at school for four years, but school broke me.

Sure, I learned a lot at school … jumping straight to protein/DNA structures and going mad over metallurgical phase diagrams I was bound to have missed some of the important though less interesting detail and so I have school to thank for that.

Of course having grown up in a cult and being home-schooled the most significant part of going to school was the other students. Year 8 was utter shit for me as I was thrown in the deep end with absolutely no idea how to behave. I was bullied something harse and I left that school at the end of the year. Years 9 and 10 were ok … I fluctuated between putting the effort and scoring straight A’s and then realising no one likes a tall poppy or smart arse (although I did seem to impress some people that I could recite the entire periodic table) and flunking the next semester with C’s and D’s.

School dragged me down, pulled me back and reigned me in. I was crushed, compacted and made to fit the tiny box that the education system and the culture of public schooling required. I left college in 2000 feeling dumber than I had entered the public education system in 1996, and certainly with far less spontaneity and creativity than before.

Going out into the workforce wasn’t that much better. I now have earned the respect that my expertise and experience deserves and am thus afforded certain freedoms, but at the start of my career I was micromanaged, shot down, made to conform … just like school.

It’s taken me years to bring back the imagination but it still frustrates and angers me that here I am at 26 years old and am only just now starting to realise my potential and rediscover that creativity and powerhouse of a mind that I was lucky enough to be born with. I’m not bragging – I’m just calling it what it is, and I feel it is my duty while I’m alive to make the most of what I have to benefit society and this world. It’s not about me, it’s about what I can and should be doing for the remaining 50 years of my life.

Of course I’m not blaming just public education. I’m blaming my parents, I’m blaming home-schooling, I’m blaming the fundamentalist Christian revival cult I was brought up in … but school sucked.

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Suggested reform of contractor engagement model

6 May, 2010

After having to pass up yet another job opportunity yesterday I ranted on Twitter about organisations that don’t recognise they need staff until the last minute and then need them ASAP. It’s not like I’m sitting on the bench and if you are on the bench unemployed and thus available for such roles then the question needs to be ask – why are you out of work?

As Steven responded it’s not that simple and clients are to blame.

However I think organisations aren’t being creative enough when it comes to resource management and talent acquisition. Organisations want the right skills at the right time. Contractors want the right roles at the right time. Take the common denominator time out of the equation and you’re left with matching the competent contractors with the perfect-fitting roles. That alone is hard enough. Bring time back in and getting the right people is almost impossible. All the good ones are taken and can’t or won’t drop everything to respond to an “immediate start” job ad.

So how can we work around this problematic time element?

Going freelance is an option so I can juggle multiple roles simultaneously, but that restricts the sorts of roles I can go for and I haven’t yet figured out how to offer a user experience design consultancy service in an off-site part-time capacity.

Another option is for organisations to plan ahead better so they can predict when they need additional resources and advertise roles with “Start in 3 months”. That would make my planning easier; however it’s still a very simple solution.

What I would like to see more of is retainers and pre-contract offers. If you don’t know for sure if or when you’ll need someone then you can reserve the talent that you choose (as opposed to taking whatever is available at the time) and put them on a retainer or a reservation contract so they’ll agree to be available for work if you need them.

For example, say you think you might need to employ a contractor in 4 weeks. Find the person you want and put them on a reservation contract so they’ll make themselves available in 4 weeks should you need them. They can still work up until then and then if it turns out you don’t need them then all you lose is say $1k. That’s enough to tide them over to find other work, but if you do go ahead with engaging them then you have the right talent at the right time. It’s an acceptable fee to guarantee that outcome, surely?

As if the contracting market wasn’t tight enough already (especially in Canberra), increasing adoption of social networking means employers who mistreat contractors are not going to go unnoticed. There are already one or more Federal Government agencies I would be reluctant to work for because I know they’re trigger happy when it comes to disposing of surplus contractors due to poor planning. Implementing creative capability retention and reservation measures is a win-win for everyone, both contractors and employers and I think it’s about time we did something about it.