Women in the Workforce – April 29, 2005

Women in the workforce

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 9 –  April 29, 2005

There is much debate, and I am sure more to come in our office soon with the new and soon to be Moms, about something coined by the Harvard Business Review as the “opt – out revolution”. This refers to what has been identified as a surprising number of women dropping out of main stream careers. The figures are substantial: a survey of the class of 1981 at Stanford University showed that  57% of women graduates leave the workforce. Of three graduating classes at The Harvard Business School only 38% ended up with full time careers. A study of MBA’s showed that of women holding MBA’s only one in three works full time compared with one in 20 for men.

To understand why women leave the workforce the Center for Work Life Policy (a New York based not-for-profit organization) formed a private sector multi year task force in 2004. The task force entitled “The hidden brain drain: Women and Minorities as Unrealized Assets” was sponsored by Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, and Lehman Brothers. From the study of 2,443 women with graduate degrees, professional degrees, and high honors undergraduate degrees a portrait of women’s career paths was charted.

What did they and others find? There are a variety of reasons. One identified by Fast Company in Where are the Women? Feb 2004 is that there is still a lingering bias in the system. Women interviewed for the article say that while overt discrimination is rare, the executive suites of most major corporations remain largely boys’ clubs. Catalyst ( a women’s business group) blames the gap on the fact that women often choose staff jobs like marketing and HR and not what they called ‘line jobs’ – those responsible for profit and loss and it is from this rank that executives are normally chosen.

Another reason identified by Fast Company comes out in the story of Brenda Barnes president and chief executive of the North American arm of PepsiCo. Brenda was considered a top contender for the CEO position but she decided to ‘take this job and shove it’ in 1997. When asked why she offered “When you talk about those big jobs, those CEO jobs, you just have to give them your life. You can’t alter them to make them accommodate women any better than men. It’s just the way it is” In a workplace where women CEO’s of major corporations are so scare it is a true disappointment when any contender voluntarily steps down.

In 1986 Charles A. O’Reilly III, professor of organizational behaviour at Stanford followed up a group of Berkeley MBA’s to see if he could isolate the qualities that led to the corner office. His conclusion: Success in a corporation is less a function of gender discrimination than of how hard a person chooses to compete. And the folks who tend to compete the hardest are generally the stereotypical manly men. In 1999 Marta Cabrera was vice president at JP Morgan Chase, one of only two women in the emerging – markets trading desk. She had a great job, a happy marriage, and two healthy beautiful children – she managed to pull off the career woman’s trifecta. In May of 2000 Cabrera quit. When asked to comment she said “There’s a different quality of what men give up versus what women give up. The sacrifices for women are deeper, and you must weigh them very consciously if you want to continue. I didn’t want to be the biggest, best, greatest. I didn’t feel compelled to be number one”. In his book The Myth of Male Power  William Farrell says the fact that few women make it to the top is a measure of their power not their powerlessness. “They’ve learned they can get respect and love in a variety of different ways – from being a good parent, from being a top executive or a combination of both” He says women are free of the ego needs driving male colleagues. Hmmm.

Another significant reason for women leaving is that corporations don’t do enough to accommodate women’s more significant family responsibilities. Nearly four out of ten highly qualified women 37% have left the work force voluntarily at some point in their careers. There are factors other than having children, there is personal health and caring for elderly parents that rank among the leading reasons. This can be particularly tough with women in the 41 to 55 age group called the “sandwich generation” that are caring for children and aging parents. Sadly there is still a highly traditional division of labor on the home front (and now for my personal favorite statistic, one that will end the debate in the Aznavoorian household that has been going on since I became Mrs. S Aznavoorian in 1989) A survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy said 40% of highly qualified women with spouses felt that their husbands create more work around the house than they perform.

When asked to create a workplace wish list women describe the following as important: the ability to associate with people they respect, the freedom to be themselves, opportunity to be flexible with schedule, and 61% of women consider it very important to have the opportunity to collaborate and be part of a team. The importance of work relationships, of being a part of the team, has been highlighted in research done by Sydney Uni. in their Quality of work/Life index they found that relationships at work are the major factor in what people consider a good quality of work/life.

Work relationships are considered important, however there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. In “Forget about home…the real family is at work” AFR April 16-17 2005 states we place a greater importance on our work lives now because we are spending more time at work and have deeper and more nurturing relationships – partly because open plan offices encourage interaction. The article introduces the idea of the “office spouse”. You know you have one when you do what Condoleezza Rice did when she called GW Bush her husb… I mean the president. Or for an example closer to home, Peter Mac meant to ring his mother and instead rang Lyn Lennard. Isn’t that special!

Among women who take “off-ramps” the overwhelming majority (93%) have every intention of returning to work. For many the reasons are financial – they have to work to make ends meet. For others it is because they find pleasure in their chosen careers and what to reconnect with something they love. In focus groups conducted by HBR women talked about how work gives “shape and structure to their lives, boost confidence and self –esteem and confers status in their community.” Their professional identity is their primary identity. Interestingly, focus group participants also spoke of a deepened desire to give back to the community after they took time off work. For these women they went back to work, but not to their previous job because they did not find their careers satisfying or enjoyable.

Unfortunately, only 74% of women who off ramp and want to rejoin the workforce actually do, which goes to show you girls, On the career highway there are many off ramps but few on ramps. More good news, women on average lose 18% of their earning power when they take time off, in business sectors the penalties are more severe where wages drop 28% on average. It is worse if you spend a longer period of time away, women who spend three or more years out of the workforce can expect to lose 37% of their earning power. Research published in the Harvard Business Review in 2003 (in the article “Nice Girls don’t ask” showed fewer women attempt to negotiate pay increases. The article concluded that women were less likely to negotiate because of their social conditioning with results in an aversion to promoting their own interests; and many companies penalize women who do ask, by tagging them pushy and aggressive.

So now that I have painted this happy picture, and you look around you and see that in fact a whole lot of Geyer employees are women, and if fact many have had or will have children, what can we do. Fortunately, the data suggested actions that companies could take to ensure female potential does not go unrecognized. Smart companies can develop policies and practices to tap into the female talent pool, and create strategies around retention and reattachment of highly qualified women. Those that do will enjoy a substantial competitive advantage, especially as we all wonder how we will find enough high- caliber talent to drive growth. Such policies include:

1. Create reduced hour jobs – The survey indicates that 89% of women think this is important.

2. Provide flexibility in the day – Many women, like me, don’t require reduced work hours they merely need flexibility.

3. Provide flexibility in the arc of a career – Booze Allen Hamilton, the management consulting firm, recognized that it is not just workday, or work week flexibility that is required. Flexibility must be present across the arc of ones career.

4. Remove the stigma – Don’t penalize people for taking off work, or for wanting to be paid the same as their male colleagues.

5. Stop burning bridges – Only 5% of women in the survey are interested in rejoining the companies they left. Managers will not stay in a departing employee’s good graces unless they take time to explore the reasons highly qualified women leave the work force, and are able and willing to offer options.

6. Provide outlets for altruism – Employers would be well advised to recognize and harness the altruism of women, support their female professionals in their advocacy and public service efforts. 7. Nurture ambition – Implement mentoring and networking programs that help women expand and sustain their professional aspirations.






Collaboration – March 29, 2005

Collaboration  – March 29, 2005

I think that I would fall off my chair if I went into a workshop and didn’t hear the organization we were talking with want to be at least one, if not all of the following: an employer of choice, flexible, innovative, be the market leaders. It is not surprising that most organizations have the same goals, after all they are all businesses and even though they produce different services and products most are there to remain in business and to make money.

It is also not a big surprise that so many of the organizations we talk to feel that one of the ways they can achieve their goals is by promoting greater collaboration on every level: manager to staff, department to department, office to office. After all, it is a complex world we live in, the problems we solve are not simple; in fact the most significant changes in human history for good or bad have come about through individuals combining their forces in groups, like the Coalition of the Willing (sorry couldn’t help myself). As competitive pressures force companies to do more with less, there will be a greater need for organizations to rely on one part of their company to help another, putting a greater demand on the need to collaborate. The challenge will be how you get people to work across the organization, many of whom have different priorities, incentives and ways of doing things.

Getting this kind of collaboration right promises great benefits for companies. As a result the focus of the workplace in the past ten years has been away from individual spaces toward collaborative spaces of various types. It is expected that in the next five years individual / dedicated workspaces will be on average 10% smaller and the expected floor area dedicated to individual use will drop 16%. Today we design for small collaborations, big collaboration formal and informal – we provide mood lighting, comfy furniture, white boards etc. to promote interaction. We have done nothing short of providing  a few Barry White CD’s to get the sparks flying. A survey of Global 500 companies indiactes an average of 41% of their staff work collaboratively for significant portions of their workday. The average ratio of individual to collaborative workspace today is 3:1 over the next five years it is expected to reach 3:2.  All of this is great news when it comes to our ability to enable collaboration. Unfortunately, when it comes to making a real difference in terms of collaboration, it takes much more than a “space” to get groups working together.

Companies are hot to foster collaboration and in fact spend billions of dollars on initiatives to improve collaboration. However according to a recent Harvard Business Journal article the results of these initiatives are disappointing. They identified three myths in companies attempts to foster collaboration:

1. building a strong team will ensure collaboration.

2. An effective incentive system will ensure collaboration

3. Companies can be structured to encourage greater collaboration.

All of these they say are ineffective “seemingly sensible but ultimately misguided assumptions” because they focus on the systems and not the root cause of failures in cooperation. They believe that you cannot improve collaboration until you have addressed the issue of conflict.

The inevitability and importance to the organization of conflict is underestimated by most company leaders.“ The disagreements sparked by differences in perspective, competencies, access to information, and strategic focus within a company actually generate much of the value that can come from collaboration across organizational boundaries.” HBR recommends a clear step by step process for conflict resolution be integrated into a companies day to day decision making process. Conflict should not be viewed as a nuisance but as a valuable resource that should be managed, and exploited to gain greater insight into companies issues. Internal friction is often caused by unaddressed strain within the organization, or between the organization and its environment, there is great benefit in setting up methods to track and examine conflict that can lead to interesting new perspectives on a variety of issues.

In the Sage Allen New Business training some of us attended we were taught to probe to discover our clients needs, and their “real need” those that are not talked about as openly and are often personal. When thinking about collaboration and conflict we may be able to apply the same ideas. By probing to discover the issues that are not discussed, the ones that cause conflicts, we can encourage greater collaboration.


Innovation Process – February 29, 2005


Future’s Ramblings – Issue 7 – February 29, 2005

Yesterday I gave a talk to facilities managers at the AusFM conference. My talk was aimed at FM professionals, but I believe the message is also relevant to the design profession. The thesis of my presentation  was: FM professionals have a unique pragmatic and political knowledge of the organizations they work for, they know where control lies in the organization, who the squeaky wheels are and who the thought leaders are; they know a bit about everything! Consequently they are well positioned to take a more accountable leadership role in the creation of environments that can do more for their organizations, if fact they could behave more  like a Hollywood movie director might and assemble the most talented people, and direct them towards creating environments, that if they were movies, would sweep the Academy Awards.  As providers of space (both facilities managers and designers) need to get off their arses and rise to the challenge of making environments that go beyond the status quo and address tomorrow’s problems. Tomorrow’s problems are not communication and collaboration,  breaking down silos, or empowering workers – those were issues of the past. To really support the organizations we are working for, we need to begin thinking about how space can influence and impact the issues that are on the horizion. Those new pressing issues are supporting the creative class, shortage of skilled workers, management of distributed teams, and the cultural implications of offshoring to name a few.

If we want to make a difference, we must take on this challenge. I offer two ideas for how to proceed. One is to change the process of how we talk about and use space and open the conversations we have to more people within the organization. The second is to use the skills we have as creative innovative people and think differently, sorry for the cliché but think out of the box which we sadly do not do often enough.

Pulling together a group of people with different interests and agendas is a scary prospect for most managers of projects, even more frightening for them is the concept of engaging their “clients”. There is a logic that if you don’t ask, they wont tell, then you wont know, so you will not need to deliver. Success!  In many organizations expectations have been managed by keeping them very low. This is a shame, companies  gain from their interactions with others, the act of interaction itself yield benefits if for no other reason than it has the ability to change our perspective. Companies get better at what they do by working with outsiders whose specialised capabilities complement their own. Some would argue that these kinds of transactions are a key to driving  innovation, the friction that is produced coined “creative abrasion”.  It is obvious that different enterprises and people  bring different perspectives and competencies to tackling a problem. When people from diverse specializations interact,  the potential for innovative solutions to result rises .

Assembling the right team is a start, there also needs to be a process to maintain control. There is a company in the San Francisco Bay Area called IDEO who has won more design awards over the past decade than any other firm. You probably have not heard of them because they don’t design buildings or fitouts – they design things. In the 90’s IDEO was responsible for the design of the Palm V,  Polaroid I zone camera and the first non squeeze stand up toothpaste dispenser for Proctor and Gamble. The founder of their company, David Kelly was responsible for the design of the first Apple computer and the first mouse. I heard David Kelly on a panel at the Alternative Officing Conference in San Jose. Later I had the opportunity to  watch a video called “The Deep Dive” which was a replay of a 60 Minutes spot on IDEO and their creative process. It was a great, very inspiring video about how this company has applied a process to innovation.

The process that IDEO employes looks chaotic but is very controlled and clearly produces fantastic results. The IDEO’s design process begins with a diverse team, they advise clients by teaching them through others eyes: anthropologists, graphic designers, engineers and psychologists. The creative part of the process is done very fast, they insist on client participation, and in creating mock ups to test their ideas.

The design process has five steps:

Step One – Observe

This is done by shadowing, behaviour mapping, having clients keep a camera journal, and having Unfocused Groups ( an odd mix of people to discuss an issue)

Step Two – Brainstorm

Intense idea generation where the word but is not allowed, only and.

Step Three – Rapid Prototyping

Quick no frills mockups to demonstrate creative scenarios

Step Four – Refine

Narrow down the choices, brainstorm and engage the client to get agreement

Step Five – Implement.

The video showed the IDEO team designing a shopping cart. There were a few things that have stuck with me about the IDEO process. One was the courage that David Kelly had in leading his team, he defined the goals, set assignments, outlined basic protocol (the task had to be completed in 24 hours) and then let his team go wild. The team threw out as many ideas as was physically possible, none were abandoned or labeled as “duds”,  they let their minds be free without constraint. After a set period of time, Kelly reigned the team in. The group narrowed down the ideas, eliminating those that could not be done within the time frame, or were unacceptable for other reasons. When they settled on the new shopping cart design they quickly built one and tested it in a grocery store, where they discovered flaws that could be improved.  My colleagues and I were impressed and wondered if we could use a similar process for interior design. We began our own version of rapid prototyping, which is the same as the Translation process we have done with some clients here at Geyer.

Whether we adopt this process, or some other, as providers of space we must take on the  challenge to solve tough problems, ask different questions and use the skills that we have as creative people. We do ourselves and our clients a disservice by following the status quo when it comes to workplace design because we know that ‘work’ is not what it used to be. The existing set of solutions we work with today will not effectively contribute to solving the problems of tomorrow. I am not advocating blowing the budget, or project program but suggest we challenge ourselves to provide greater value, by taking some time in a controlled manner to consider the issues and the different options that might exist.

The pressing issue for businesses in the next decade is the eminent labor shortage and associated problems that will result from it. So what are we doing about it? Nothing. In the same way that I challenged the FM professionals at the conference I want to challenge you. If we begin to develop some innovative thinking around this we are going to provide our clients much more than just a design for their new office. Lets start by thinking about how we make space take on an active role in the process of innovation? What process do you go through when you innovate? Can space be used to help transfer knowledge?

Worker Shortage – January 29, 2005

The Shrinking Workforce

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 6 – January 29, 2005



I have been think a lot about Peter Geyer’s Chris Kringle. For those of you in Brisbane and Melbourne let me describe the gift: A very very VERY large pair of white underpants, Y front briefs to be exact. On the back was stenciled the word STRATEGIC. Like the rest of us in the Sydney practice I thought the gift was quite hilarious, now after a bit more reading and thinking about it my thoughts have gone from humor to fear. You might ask, what is so scary about a huge pair of underpants?


What is so scary is that those are big drawers to fill, and Peter is not the only one in this organization sporting big drawers.


In a previous version of Futures Rambeling I made reference to a problem that will be one of the key challenges that dominate the world of work in 2005, that is the shrinking workforce. It is not a new problem we have been talking about it for some time now, but it is becoming more urgent and some say it will be a dominating factor in the world of work in 2005. Developing economies around the world are facing an impending talent shortage that will make competing for business seem simple compared to competing for skilled workers. Finding good people will be a major aspect of many companies future success, and we may see companies going under not for lack of business but lack of workers.


There are many reasons this is occurring. There are fewer new, or “emergent workers”, some estimate we are roughly about  10 million knowledge workers short to meet our demand for the next five years. In addition to fewer new employees, the baby boomers will soon retire and when they walk out the door we will not just lose their bodies we will also lose the critical knowledge, important relationships, and wisdom about how to get things done.


In his book Lost Knowledge David DeLong describes four distinct types of knowledge that are important for organizations, the loss of any one of them can be devastating:


Human knowledge – basic intelligence, information, and skills


Social knowledge – embedded in relationships, some call this “social capital”


Cultural knowledge – that collective understanding of how things get done around here, in particular the values, norms, and shared assumptions that differentiate one organization from another


Structured knowledge – the formal systems, processes, and procedures that have been developed within an organization.



Beyond the four types of knowledge listed above there is something else we would lose when some people leave the work force ( I had to say some people because many of the baby boomers don’t have this due to extreme drug abuse) the Harvard Business Journal calls it “Deep Smarts”. It is not raw brain power, it is not emotional intelligence either, it is the ability to see the complete picture and yet zoom in on a specific problem.  Almost intuitively people with deep smarts make the right decision, at the right level with the right people. These are people whose knowledge would be hard to purchase on the open market, and in fact these “intangible” asset are increasingly recognized as legitimate sources of worth or merit in the global business context.



Human Behaviour and Physical Space – November 29, 2004

The Connection between human behaviour and physical space

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 5 –  November 29, 2004


There are global forces of change that are requiring us to re-think our accommodation solutions. Technology, globalisation and the disappearance of borders means that the customer has more power than ever before when it comes to choosing the range, quality and speed of products and services. This means that as the world begins to resemble one large shopping mall the key to competitive positioning is differentiation or demonstrating ‘value add’. This has given birth to the knowledge economy as we know it and attracting and retaining those ‘gold collar’ workers is the critical to a company’s long-term sustainability. This is especially important in today’s tight labour market.


These knowledge workers have certain expectations and needs if they are to deliver the innovative and creative solutions so necessary for survival today.


They seek a well-branded office as image is important. They look for an environment that provides life balance, technological sophistication and inspirational spaces.


The accommodation solutions of the future should provide design that not only enhances productivity and efficiency but also supports the sharing of knowledge, enable cross-functional relationships, promote brand, and reflect social responsibility and ESD. As product life cycles become shorter and shorter, flexibility is the key to long-term returns on investment although it must be said that it is virtually impossible to have a ‘future-proof’ environment.


The workplace must become a magnet for talent and structured around excellence in service delivery.


The key challenge in all of this, of course, is how we take people on the journey with us.

How do we ensure that we take the human factor into account when we require an organizations people to adapt to new behaviours and build new relationships? This requires a structured process for change that takes into account the difficult subject of human emotion and human needs for understanding, respect, empowerment and involvement. When an accommodation solution is aimed at supporting the business plan, then people need to understand and get excited about the future and their new physical environment.


There are three key cultural indicators and our physical environment is one. Our physical environment is a daily living reminder of who we are and the messages in the design can be symbolic as well as clearly articulated in the form of inspirational statements about desired behaviours and culture. (Clemenger Harvey is an exciting example of this where their corridors are lined with quotes from people like Einstein and Aristotle) The other two key cultural indicators are leadership and the reward system (both implicit and explicit) and it must be said that the greatest space design in the world will not compensate for dysfunctional leadership.


The link between these three factors is an understanding of the relationship between human motivation behaviour and physical space. People respond positively when they are understand the context (the purpose, picture, plan and part they are expected to play in their new environment*) Clarity leads to a reduction in anxiety that we have all experienced with any situation of uncertainty. Managers experience the ‘marathon effect’ when they race to the finish line on a project and look back to see no-one behind them because of the lack of communication efforts to buy-in ownership and accountability in the process. Other reasons why people stand at the starting line tapping their foot and refusing to budge are often related to parochial self-interest and individual differences. These can be generational differences, varying levels of tolerance to change and different assessments of the situation that have not been explored.


The retail environment very overtly uses psychological influences such as eye level product positioning and small items at the check-out that tap into spontaneous buying habits. Even the music you hear at a supermarket is similar to that played to battery hens to stimulate egg production. The casinos are outstanding in their use of psychology when it comes to draining purses. If the seduction of a retail environment can be used to effectively to influence behaviour then why wouldn’t we use this principle to stimulate alternative behaviours in a corporate environment?


Projects often fail because people have not been given the ‘user manual’. This would be in the form of training from anything to creative thinking, technology or change management itself for a company’s leaders.


We must be able to integrate design solutions that inspire and enable creativity and innovation in the workplace and be prepared to integrate a structured Change Management process as a critical part of the project plan so that people are engaged and committed to adapting to their new space as quickly as possible. There are many examples of where this approach was undertaken that led to significant productivity improvements. In these cases the transition and ending of the old space that was the key focus because this is where the productivity losses occur and the impediments to the ‘soft landing’ happen. There has been some valuable research done in Europe and the U.S. that demonstrates the links to productivity when Facilities Management adopts these strategies. In Australia the evidence is still anecdotal but the anecdotes are powerful enough to continue to inspire the blue chip companies to invest millions in Change Management and strategic briefing as it relates to design.


Facility managers can help decision makers make these connections by:


  • Engaging a wider range of people in the organisation, such as marketing, human resources, IT, facilities, finance etc. in their project teams so as to arrive at a more holistic solution
  • Exercise some degree of ‘push-back’ and insist on principles and guidelines from the executive about corporate goals as they relate to the physical environment so that they have a compelling vision for the new environment and adhering to these even when funds are looking low.
  • Identify and determine opportunities for all parts of the business to contribute towards the business goals with a targeted approach
  • Define an effective Change Management strategy that takes into account identifying success factors through stakeholder analysis, communication and engagement of end users and ongoing measurement of success.




Why do a workplace strategy – June 18, 2004

Why Do A Workplace Strategy?

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 1 – June 18, 2004

Recently we were asked by a prospective client (Optus) to help them explain to the senior leadership of their organization why they needed a workplace strategy. It is a question many of our clients ask, and also one that continues to be asked by our own people at Geyer. Since taking over as the Leader of Futures I am determined to provide a simple answer to this question and one that we all feel passionate about communicating to our clients.

When considering the need for a workplace strategy, it‘s critical to understand that workplaces and the workforce in general are changing radically in response to demographic, socio- political and economic factors. The very nature of work; what it is, how it is accomplished, and the tools people use to get their work done is changing. As a result, we need very different places and spaces in which to work and we also need a new way of defining it. To help develop our ability to define this new “grammar of work”, we need vastly different methods and approaches than the ones in common use today in the architectural and interior design fields.

I would suggest the new grammar involves workplace strategy, as an overarching idea. Unfortunately, most companies don’t have a workplace strategy let alone a good one, most of our competition and our clients simply ask their people to extrapolate their current environment, roles, relationships and work process into the future. This approach misses the opportunity for companies to use their space as a business tool. We should be asking bigger questions about workforce planning and strategy. For instance, what if a company’s workforce makes a fundamental shift in the type of work they do? Like MBF diversifying from a company that helps clients insure their physical health to one that also looks after their financial well being? How about a company that has a work force of 40% part time employees, or 40% of their workforce in New Delhi? Or what if, and this happened to me, a company suggests you eliminate properties for their headquarters that are in tall buildings because they fear terrorism. This suggestion was made by The Boeing Company before September 11; they eventually did selected a high rise building a block away from The Sears Tower in Chicago. Six months later we were evacuating our site office, and the floors of the headquarters that were occupied, for fear that the SearsTower would be the next target. Fortunately, no one died, or even got hurt in this instance, what did happen is we could not access our place of employment for two days, further losses of productivity occurred through the emotional impact of this experience in the days to come.  When you consider the lost man hours and the effects this kind of occurrence has on a business, it can be quite sobering. I have a confession to make here, when the Boeing executives made the tall building comment we laughed and said that it would never happen.

We may not be able to help our clients position themselves for the next SARS outbreak, terrorist attack, or major power outage, but we can help them to understand that their accommodation is more than a place to sit. We should encourage them to consider the ways they can leverage their environment to support organizational or cultural change. Plant the seed of flexibility within the workplace, so it is able to address future needs we have not even imagined. We can ask about the types of behaviors they would want to encouraged and then design the space, which has been influencing human behavior throughout history, to encourage the desired behaviors. Finally, we can use the space we design to inspire people to do their best, to improve whatever it is that they do, and bring joy to their life. We here at Geyer can do all of this and more, we just need to ask the right questions to appropriately define the problems our clients face. Helping our clients define their problems and consider holistic potential solutions is workplace strategy.

Consequently, when a client asks why do I need a workplace strategy?  I think of all of the opportunities they could miss out on by not asking a few well guided questions. I think of the relatively low cost of paying someone like Future Environments to take the time to ask those questions, clarify the need,  and challenge how design can support their strategies, compared to the costs of not using every tool they have as a business to excel. If I consider the cost of mistakes and miscommunication. Understand that the pace of change we are now experiencing is going to increase, making companies that provide their workers with workplaces that support enhanced productivity, increase personal satisfaction, and foster creativity will be the ones that not only survive, but thrive. When I think of all of this, I conclude that as a leader of any business YOU WOULD BE FOOLISH NOT TO DO A WORKPLACE STRATEGY!

If we collectively convince our clients of this, then ultimately each of us will have opportunities to broadening our scope of experience and client base.

Age in the Workplace

Age in the Workplace

Future’s Ramblings –  Issue 4 –  September 27, 2004

With my upcoming birthday, I dedicated this Future’s Ramblings to age and the workplace. Beginning with

three trends to be aware of:

1. There is a coming job boom, or more accurately a shortage of talent. Demographers and analysts predict that by 2008 we will see a shortage of workers across all sectors of employment in Australia. Sadly, importing more Americans like myself will not help, the US has no spares. The labor shortfall in the US is estimated at 6.6% in the year 2010, growing to 13% by 2020. That would be over 10 million jobs going unfilled! Under normal economic expansion of 2.5% per year the working population won’t grow fast enough to meet employment demands.

2. We have a healthy aging population. The average life expectancy is 80.7 years, mostly due to modern medicine and healthier lifestyles. We live almost 10% longer than in previous generations. Can our economy, with the shortages predicted, sustain a continuing drain of up to 10% of the population leaving the workforce?

3. There are major changes coming in employment contracts that offer non-traditional kinds of work and working arrangements that are tailored to what many older workers are looking for. At this time in the US there is a re-definintion of the legal status of employees and their relationship to employing organizations. There are changes underway to give “self employed persons” equal status with “employees” in the eyes of the tax office and social security. This will dramatically change the look of the office as we know it.

Del Webbs annual baby boomer report found that only 13 % of 44 – 55 year olds they questioned do not plan to continue working once they leave their current career. Consequently, waiting around for people like me to go off into our “twilight years” of retirement will be a much longer wait than it has in the past. GREAT NEWS  I may continue to work till I am 80! As a result, what we are seeing in today’s workplace will continue and there will be several generations working together, this can create challenges beyond what music should be played at the company Christmas party. Understanding how people of different generations view the world, how they make decisions and their expectations of work will help us to blend people of varying ages in a way that is beneficial to the companies we work for.

Sociologist break generational groups down into what they call cohorts. These cohorts are members of a generation who are linked through shared life experiences in their formative years. As each new cohort matures, it is influenced by what sociologist call generational markers. These markers are events, which have an impact on all members of the generation in one way or another. Cohorts are not just shaped by one common life experience they are also influenced by a host of events that over time shape their collective values and attitudes.

Following is the most common breakdown of the generations with some of their key characteristics. The Geyer HR department was sensitive enough not to share your ages with me; however, they confirm we have all four generations listed below at Geyer.

Matures – born prior to 1946. The event that marks this generation is World war II. These people grew up in extended families, all the relatives lived on the same block or in the same apartment building. Their connection to family was strong, and they heard a constant message about values from this tight connection to their family, and the media. Bing Crosby, Marvel Comics, “Father knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver” define this generation. These are people who believe in hard work, sacrifice for the common good and respect for authority. These themes have shaped the way matures look at work and their expectations for how others should work.

Baby Boom – born 1946 to 1964. A key event that marks the Baby Boom is the assassination of JFK. These are the offspring of the Matures, their formative years were shaped by economic expansion, rock – n –roll, the proliferation of television and moving to the suburbs. They lived with their nuclear family, the rest of the relatives were miles away so there was not the immediate passing on of values seen previously. Boomers grew up with a sense that their security was taken care of, leaving them the time for sex and drugs and rock and roll, civil rights. Media for the boomers was Mad Magazine “Threes Company” and the Grateful Dead. Despite this generation running amuck in the 60s the vast majority have returned to values

like loyalty, hard work, hope, prosperity, helping others and achieving world peace. Boomers believe in the system.

Generation X – 1965 to 1980. Events marking GenX are the resignation of Richard Nixon, Vietnam, corporate downsizing, AIDS. Media that defines this generation is “Sesame Street” They have grown up with technology, learned their ABC’s by age 4, and stand in front of the microwave impatiently waiting for food to cook in three minutes when it used to take 45 in a traditional oven. Their values about life and work is a ‘Reality Bites’ attitude. This is a generation of latchkey kids that learned to fend for themselves by age 12. The institutions that they were taught to believe in have betrayed them: they witnessed their parents laid off from jobs they had devoted their lives to, their national leaders are constantly challenged, personal relationships are complicated by AIDS. Consequently, this generation is self-reliant and personally focused. They have a different set of attitudes about work, they want a balanced life and do not want to pay dues.  They want to be home for their kids, run a marathon or play soccer. They don’t live to work , they work to live. Generation X brings skepticism to the table, they are used to problem solving and look for ways to use resourses to their best advantage. They have learned to fend for themselves.

Millenials or Echo Boomers – 1981 to 1991. Events marking this generation are the Oklahoma City bombing in the US, the collapse of Enron. One in four comes from a single parent family. They are the product of a society that has once again seen tremendous economic expansion and the explosion of technological convenience. Millennials have matured in a world where shortcuts and manipulation of rules and situational ethics reigns. They have grown up seeing adults attempt to use the system to their advantage and have seen organizations large and small lobby within government to push legislation that will produce the outcome they desire.  As a result, they are said to have a lack of critical thinking skills because they have not been held accountable for their actions. The media that defines this generation is “SouthPark” and “Beavis & Butthead” They have mixed messages about what is right and wrong, good and bad. They have an expectation that they should work, but on their own terms.

So what do we do with this information. I leave you with three tips for getting along with your co workers from other generations

1. Once a person has been programmed with certain values, most become uncomfortable with changing their core beliefs about work and society. The more you know about the shared life experience of other ages, the more you can understand their expectations, values and fears.

2. Manage according to values and attitudes, Delegate the outcome instead of the individual task. Unless they are a Millenial where critical thinking is not a strong suit so delegating by task is best.

3. Provide opportunity to grow on their terms, and with their priorities. Taylor your messages to what they value.

Work Related Stress – August 31, 2004

Work related Stress

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 3 –  August 31, 2004

According to the University Press 2003, Life and work research, more Australians than ever indicate they are unhappy at work, with extended work hours being one of the factors contributing to this phenomenon. One of the reasons for this unhappiness is that people feel they need to work too hard. I am sure it would come as no surprise to the Westpac team that was here all night last night, that research indicates a third of full time employees worked 49 hours per week, it was 43.4 hours in late 1990. Having worked that many hours in a weekend, a 49 hour work week to the Westpac team would be a holiday! In the event you are unable to spot our stressed colleagues here are the signs: absenteeism, high or increased accident rates, poor or reduced work output and poor interpersonal relations in the workplace.

There is a culture developing of working longer hours, according to Benjamin Hunnicutt, a historian at the University of Iowa, work has become the ‘new religion’. Work is now seen as an end in itself and not a means to an end. The issue here is that people are not just working longer hours because their company dictates; they are doing so because it is a culture that they have bought into. Workers are internalizing their corporation’s business objectives, which is a good thing for business but not such a good thing for people. Especially when something goes pear shaped at work and they have nothing else in their lives to feel good about.

The consequences for human health, as well as the hidden costs for business of poor moral, lack of motivation, absenteeism and lower productivity are something to take notice of. In Australia the increased work hours have not brought greater profits or productivity gains, what they have done is contributed to the level of work related stress in Australia. Stress related disorders in Australia added to direct management costs estimated at 5% of the GDP, that is $20 billion per annum! Stress is now the second highest cause of disability for all employees.  The total cost of workers’ compensation claims in Australia for stress-related conditions is estimated at more than $200 million each year.

In a very indirect way we as designers have contributed to this by blurring the lines between work and home. We have encouraged our clients to provide accommodations that satisfy employee’s physical, psychological and emotional needs. By providing childcare, meal service and health clubs within work places we have enabled people to choose to overwork. We have set up work environments so people never have to go home. We call it personal empowerment, fulfillment and individual choice, but it could also be called loss of control and job insecurity.

In the UK organizations are expected to treat stress as seriously as safety. Sydney psychologist Grant Brecht says more companies are introducing systems to help employees cope during difficult times, “Companies who don’t set up for those sorts of things are not likely to sustain productivity in the future. For corporations serious attempts to reduce stress and improve performance require a dual focus. Attention to work process and management and the physical design of the workplace can help reduce stress. A recent Fortune 500 survey indicated Sense of purpose, inspiring leadership and knock out facilities as key criteria in attracting employees to a company. (It is interesting to note that these are the same three attributes that are the defining characteristics of a cult.) If work is really the new religion, and knock out facilities are a key contributor, then what kind of workspace helps reduce stress?

Ordinary workplace activity, such as the phone ringing, background noise and team conflicts contribute to physical and emotional illness. Therefore, environments where workers can get away, those that offer a higher degree of diversity to allow choice and flexibility will help. Solutions that allow privacy are also important, the human brain goes through a warm up whenever we engage in a new task; this can take up to 10 minutes. Minor distractions have the potential to derail this warm up. Large open work areas and heavy open office environments that provide little or no escape hatches result in higher stress levels in the workplace.

As we navigate the future for our clients it will be important to make them aware of the price their organization may pay for not acknowledging the human element, and understand the role the workplace plays in that. Organizations that recognize the value of their employees, and understand that an investment in their quality of life is an investment in their company will fare far better in the future.