The value of an hour of work around the world

The Value of an Hour of Work

The Value of an Hour of Work

Thanks to, here’s an infographic about the value of an hour of work around the world, as measured by the GDP per capita, and divided by the average number of hours worked in that country.

Luxembourg and Norway are the standouts, and the Scandinavian countries in general all doing well.  I’m wondering if any readers have any insights as to what it is about Scandinavia that causes this pattern to emerge?

Career advice for the new economy

There’s plenty of advice out there about how to choose a career.  This list, on the Wall Street Journal Online, tries to magically distil what makes a “best” or “worst” career to just 5 criteria – physical demands, work environment, income, stress, and hiring outlook.

No mention of engagement, satisfaction, the psychological benefit of getting out of bed every morning excited to go to work, or any one of the many factors that really make a great career.  No mention of the opportunity cost and actual costs associated with the years of study required to enter some of these careers, and the life-long financial burden that can impose. No adjustment of salary by average hours worked in these professions to get a true hourly rate. No mention of how little that last point really matters if you love what you do.  It’s also very bad news for my sister, who loves working in the job that she had wanted since she was 10 years old. She shouldn’t love it though – according to the list, her career as a newspaper reporter is the worst possible career ever.  For everyone.  Turns out she, and everybody else, should have become an actuary.  Sadly, some of the young people who really need some good career advice will, after reading this list, write off their passions and spend years of their lives working in a career that’s not suited to them.

But the advice that made me truly sad, was this one advising people choosing a career to not follow their passions.   I’m a big fan of the author, and her Ask a Manager blog is fantastic – but in my opinion, that advice is terrible.  Most of the career advice out there is wrong, and there’s a very real chance that the advice I’m posting today will be too. Continue reading

Gender imbalances in Underemployment, Australia

Relative Underemployment of Females vs Males in Australia by Industry

Relative Underemployment of Females vs Males in Australia by Industry

Underemployment is often referred to as a type of “hidden unemployment” – workers who are being paid for one or more hours in a period are considered “employed”, but the reality is that some of these workers would like to be working more hours.  Doing some analysis on the Australian Bureau of Statistic’s latest underemployment survey yielded an interesting insight… Women are hugely over-represented in underemployment statistics in almost every industry. Continue reading

The Office is Dying, According to Esselte

Tickler file

Tickler file (Photo credit: dahnielson)

To mark the 100-year anniversary of the company, Esselte Corporation teamed up with Futures House Europe, and has this week released a white paper examining the Future of Work.

I was going to put together a more detailed summary about the key points in the paper, but the “key points” ended up being pretty much a copy of the paper itself.  It’s not often that I (or anyone, I suspect) reads a whitepaper and gets excited by it, but truly this is a fantastic resource.  Do yourself a favour and take a read – a link to the press release is below.  In the meantime, here are some “tweet-worthy” sections: Continue reading

Principles, Laws, and Effects at Work



In an earlier post, I wrote about The Peter Principle – the concept that individuals are promoted to their own level of incompetence in an organisation.

Here are some of my other favourite principles, laws, and effects:

Parkinsons Law “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” (tweet this)

Hofstadter’s Law – “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law”. (tweet this)

The Dunning–Kruger effect is the concept that if you’re not very good at something, you’re also not very good at recognising that.  It explains why people who are unskilled in a particular area sometimes rate their own ability higher than more competent people.  (over-confident and under-competent)

Putt’s Law – “Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage, and those who manage what they do not understand”.

The Dilbert Principle (from Dilbert creator Scott Adams) is an adaptation of the Peter Principle – paraphrased, it states that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing.

Goodhart’s Law – “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”.  (tweet thisThis is something of particular relevance to Workforce Analytics, and something which I spoke about in The False Proxy Trap.

Most people know Murphy’s Law – “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”, but may not know there’s a related law,  Muphry’s Law – “If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written” (tweet this)

The Pareto Principle is another well-known one, usually referred to at the 80/20 rule – for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes (80% of the revenue from 20% of the clients; 80% of the problems from 20% of the clients – not necessarily the same ones).

Are there any other principles, laws, and effects that should be added to the list?

Steve Carell as Michael Scott on 'The Office', victim of the Peter Principle

Michael Scott and The Peter Principle

Steve Carell as Michael Scott on 'The Office', victim of the Peter Principle

Michael Scott, manager in “The Office” and victim of the Peter Principle

The “Peter Principle” is the idea that when promotions are made on the basis of prior performance, everyone will eventually be promoted to their own level of incompetence.  It still has resonance some 40 years after is was first proposed, and it has an enormous impact on productivity, engagement, and retention in organisations today.

Perhaps one of the most recent high-profile embodiments of the Peter Principle is Michael Scott from the TV Comedy “The Office”.  A great salesman before he was promoted to Regional Manager, Scott can’t seem to cut it in a management position.  He is allergic to conflict, provides cliches in place of leadership, and haplessly implements one half-baked strategy after another – all to hilarious effect.  We laugh along because most of us, at some point in our careers, have known a manager like Michael.

The skills to excel in a technical area are not the same as the skills to manage or lead a workforce.  Many organisations fail to recognise this, or are unable to support employees transitioning into a management role.

Project Oxygen was Google’s quest to use Data Analytics to find a better manager, based on the premise that people leave companies for three main reasons:

1. They don’t feel a connection to the mission of the company, or have a sense that their work matters;

2. They don’t really like or respect their co-workers; and/or

3. They have a terrible boss.

Given the last of these points is arguably the easiest to control, Google sought to find out what actually makes a good manager, and found that  it comes down to these attributes and behaviors, in order of importance:

1. Being a good coach;

2. Empowering their team and not micromanaging;

3. Expressing interest in team members’ success and personal well-being;

4. Being productive and results-oriented;

5. Being a good communicator and listening to their team;

6. Helping their employees with career development;

7. Having a clear vision and strategy for the team; and

8. Having key technical skills so they can help advise the team.

What’s telling about this list that the least important trait of the manager is usually the main reason why people are promoted to technical management roles in the first place.  Without coaching or transition support into management roles, it’s no wonder the Peter Principle is still alive and well today.

Leadership positions (and done well, a management position is one of those) can have a disproportionate impact on the ability of the organization to execute strategy, but what makes a great technician is not what makes a great leader.  How do you support people transitioning to leadership positions in your organisation?

Yahoo Logo

Why Yahoo banning work from home doesn’t matter (and why it does)

I’ve been avoiding this one for a while – partly because almost every HR blogger has made some mention of it.  But now I’m in fear that if I don’t blog about it, WordPress might force removal of all “Human Resources” tags from all my posts.  But I also think there’s something missing from the conversation – working from home is not a belief system, but a policy… and we don’t need to get so upset about Yahoo cancelling theirs.

What Happened?

On the 22nd February, Yahoo! issued a memo banning work from home.  The memo states:

…To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together… Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices.

Public Response

…And the media and blogs went, well, kind of crazy.  Here’s a summary of some of the responses from the media:

“Perplexing” – Washington Post

“Epic Fail” – Forbes

“Risky” Bloomberg

“From a Bygone Era” – The Guardian

…and here are some comments on various blog posts and media articles:

I am horrified by this drastic measure taken by Yahoo”

“Another reason why Yahoo! is so far behind Google. The year is 2013. If Yahoo! is still operating in five years, it will be a miracle. They are the next MySpace.”

“I take personal offense to the inference that working at home doesn’t produce the same quality of work.”

Employee Respsonse

Guess who wasn’t all that enraged by the change?  Actual Yahoo employees:

“I have been at Yahoo for four years and let’s just say the house needed and still needs a lot of cleaning up and Marissa is doing just that. So I am glad that the change in policy was made.

…We are fighting to stay relevant. So getting your ass into the office and working on projects is not too much to ask. If you don’t like it well too bad, the exit door is over there.” – Read Quote of Anon User’s answer to Marissa Mayer Ends WFH (February 2013): What has been the internal reaction at Yahoo to Marissa Mayer’s no-work-from-home policy? on Quora

“I’m not providing an internal reaction as I no longer work at Yahoo (left in 2012). However, from the perspective of my time there this is a much needed policy. I saw many people abuse the work at home policy. In fact it was a running joke that a large percentage of employees basically did no work on Fridays.” – Read Quote of Anon User’s answer to Marissa Mayer Ends WFH (February 2013): What has been the internal reaction at Yahoo to Marissa Mayer’s no-work-from-home policy? on Quora

“I think its a great thing for the company. I have been at Yahoo! for 5 years and Marissa is doing a much needed house cleaning. There is still some good talent here but we need all hands on deck and thoses who are not team players can just bow out.” – Read Quote of Anon User’s answer to Marissa Mayer Ends WFH (February 2013): What has been the internal reaction at Yahoo to Marissa Mayer’s no-work-from-home policy? on Quora

Yahoo's new working from home policy is just fine, according to Yahoo news.

Yahoo’s new working from home policy is just fine, according to Yahoo news.  Got to give Yahoo credit for SEO knowledge.

Why doesn’t this matter?

Well, it seems that major news outlets care deeply about this issue – but here’s the thing… Yahoo’s policy just might be right for Yahoo.  It might not be right for your organisation, and it might not be consistent with your views on how the world of work should be configured, but unless you work at Yahoo, it won’t affect you directly.  It’s true that working from home has proven benefits for many organisations including retention and productivity; and positive externalities like less traffic congestion for everyone else, and lowering pollution.  But it’s also true that Yahoo has to do what is best for Yahoo.  Yahoo, nor any other organisation, should run HR by what the commentariat consider to be “best practice”, or by the latest trend.

Personally, I think productivity is not the issue for Yahoo.  I’m not saying it’s not AN issue, but it’s not THE issue.  The issue Mayer needs to address is not with productivity, but with innovation.  To quote from the memo, Some of the best decisions and insights” are not coming out of Yahoo, and they’re struggling for relevance and market share… that’s not an issue of productivity, but it’s a critical issue for the company.  I believe there are many, many organizations for whom a work from home policy works – but I suspect Yahoo is not one of them, because of the alignment and engagement issues.  Mayer is famously (at times frustratingly) data-driven in her decision-making.  From her time at Google, she would understand the power of HR Data Analytics, and if Mayer has cancelled working from home at Yahoo, it’s because working from home isn’t working at Yahoo.

Why does this matter?

Because of the inevitable knee-jerk “me-too” responses, the most high-profile of these being Best Buy cancelling their work from home policy two weeks later.  This one matters because Best Buy were pioneers in working from home, in fact the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) movement came out of Best Buy, and helped Best Buy teams save $2.2 million over three years by reducing turnover by 90 percent and boosting productivity by an average of 41 percent (source).  So it’s puzzling then that Best Buy would roll back a program that they’ve been using for almost two decades and with claimed savings in the millions.

There will be many others who will be seriously considering rolling back work from home, regardless of their own individual goals and culture, and whether that’s the right thing to do for them.  Yahoo’s leader is data driven, but that can’t be said of all organisations.

What’s the right answer when it comes to working from home?

It very much depends on your organisation.  But if you don’t want to have to worry about whether it is or isn’t right for you: hire great people, engage them in the company’s mission, and hold them accountable for their results – all the way down the org chart.

If managers don’t get results on unambiguous goals, they’re accountable.  This will ensure that they harness their teams to meet those goals, and so on down the structure..  Importantly, this approach also requires that the work people are doing is aligned to the goals of the organization (that they’re not doing all the wrong things very efficiently).  That can’t be done if employees don’t know what those goals are.  If both accountability and alignment are in place, then regardless of when and where employees work, more than half of your productivity issues are solved.  It quickly becomes clear to both management and the staff themselves where they are not being productive – and gives the employees the opportunity to address that.

But primarily, as with all Talent Management programs, you need to ensure that there is a fit with your organisation’s goals and culture.  Don’t cut back on working from home (or implement ROWE, for that matter) without understanding how it will help your organisation achieve its’ goals – and keep in mind that your organisation’s goals are going to be significantly different from those of either Best Buy or Yahoo.