Jessica Gonon is the Vice president of Sales and Customer support at Clarity Base. The issue concerning her, is the demand for flexibility of the workweek timetable for two of her account managers. (Jana Rowe and Davis Bennett) Should she satisfy their demands or not? Will this create any kind of conflict?
This paper is divided into three sections. Part 1 will describe the advantages and disadvantages of accommodating work-life balance issues followed by an assessment of the current approach of working hours in the firm, ending up with some recommendations for Jessica. Part 2 will demonstrate evidence of group discussion on work-life balance issues in Cyprus, Greece and China. Finally, Part 3 will describe the productivity potentials of multi-cultural teams, linking it with the performance of our team.
* Family friendly environment. High flexibility in working hours gives the firm a competitive advantage in employment terms. The firm can pride itself for its family friendly environment and will be seen by prospect employees as ideal to work within, since it would be one that considers employee demands to a very personal level. Therefore, the firm would have a wider range of people to choose from during the firm’s next vacancies.
* Low employee turnover. Clarity-Base has succeeded to keep employee turnover below 5% annually, something, which is not usual in the software industry. This was due to the pro-parent environment that maintains, including an on-site childcare centre that the firm subsidized, family medical insurance, adoption assistance and paid maternity and paternity leave. By accommodating work-life balance, turnover would be likely to decrease even more.
* Motivation and Commitment. By accommodating work life issues, everyone from the top management to the basic working team will be treated in the same way and no one would possess a privilege. This impartial mechanism that shows consideration for individual employees will motivate them to concentrate on their work, therefore performing better since they will not have to worry about fairness amongst them. Moreover, employee satisfaction can create employee commitment. The firm would then be more secure in the sense that employees will feel that they are committed to their firm. In the long run, motivation and commitment will contribute towards higher efficiency and profitability of the firm.
* Conflict. The creation of internal conflict can occur very easily in a pro-parent environment. Jana’s requests could be attributed to jealousy for Megan’s workweek flexibility. This has as a result, the creation of a negative behaviour from Jana, who perceives her working hours as unfair work allocation. If Jana’s request is not satisfied, then her attitude might influence other account managers, something that will have negative influence on the firm’s productivity and profitability.
* Costly. More account managers have to be employed if the rest of the staff requests flexibility in working hours. For having a policy that is equal to everyone, then all the employees should be considered in terms of working hours. Hence, if everyone prefers to work less time during the week, then more personnel will have to be employed; having a result of higher costs for the firm.
Assessment for fairness and equitability:
Should a parent have extra benefits in the workplace in order to have enough time to spend with his/her children? On the other hand, should one have children to have flexibility benefits?
Megan has been working four days a week for the last two years. This has always been a “jealousy stimulant” for other employees. Megan thought, has been employed on a four day week from her very first day in the workplace and her case is an exception. She made it clear that she would get the job only if her demand was satisfied because as she said her children are “paramount” to her.
Since she was employed on these terms from the very beginning, her situation is considered fair. (It should be understood that Megan was vital for the firm due to her past experience with Clarity’s Base major competitor). However, the fact that she has not been given any “tough clients” is not acceptable. Clients should be allocated on a rotation basis, so that the account managers can experience different clients. Jessica’s consideration for Jana’s and Davis’s requests would not be fair for the rest of the account managers since they have been working there for a long time; internal conflict is likely to be created. Fairness needs to consider all the employees in the same way.
In my opinion Jessica should consider all the employees for flexible working hours. She should suggest to her personnel that she wants to create an environment where everyone will be respected and supported by each other as a group and at the same time figure out collectively how to keep the balance between work, home, community and self. Everyone should be able to work on a flexible timetable as long as they can handle their existing customers.
It would be vital for her to highlight that it is up to them to arrange their working hours in a way that the firm can function properly. Moreover, she should encourage more communication and cooperation between the employees. It would have been easier for them if they operated in a collective way; then they would get their work done while satisfying their personal needs. Jessica should realise that there are no clear corporate policies, programs, or guidelines. Therefore, the board of directors should meet and set-up policies for work-life and family issues and re-assign the timetable of each staff. Otherwise, managers like Jessica will be creating those policies in ad hoc fashion.
Moreover, “difficulty ratings” for clients can be created so that bonuses and incentives can be given for account managers that have the most difficult clients. Hence a rotation can be created between account managers so that they can all have a yearly total of a same rating. Furthermore, account managers could choose which client to have, knowing that higher salaries would be where the difficult clients are.
Finally, Jessica could encourage her personnel to consider creative ways to get their work done through the use of technology. That could be through voice mail and e-mail. Thus, account managers can work from home in order to reduce the amount of meetings they have to carry out with their clients; something which might even be preferred by the clients for saving up time.
Similar work-life balance issues have been examined for Cyprus, Greece and China. Firstly, we consider Cyprus and Greece. In these countries employee satisfaction is important with the existence of strong Trade Unions. Employee’s demands can be demonstrated through strikes if the employers do not consider them seriously. On the contrary, in China that is not the case. Business is more important than the employees there. Employers would first see the profitability of the firm and then consider their employees. Chinese Trade Unions are weak and have no power for satisfying employee’s demands. They are mostly used for social activities.
Concentrating on the working-hour issue, these three countries have common rules and norms. Despite the fact that Cypriot and Greek Trade Unions are strong, working hour flexibility is not even considered in these two countries or in China. There are fixed working hours, with policies that are equal to everyone and negotiations are very rare. For an employee to be able to negotiate for flexibility in his/her working hours there must be a serious problem that affects him/her directly and cannot work. (e.g. serious illness). Moreover, for him to be considered for flexibility in working hours he should have been working for a firm for a long time thus being vital for the successful performance of that firm.
This difference of the Chinese, Greek and Cypriot perspective of working balance issues compared with the American perspective can be attributed to economic and cultural reasons. In these countries, the demand for jobs is very high and it is very easy for employers to find well-educated personnel. Employees can be very easily replaced if they become demanding. Career opportunities are restricted; hence the employer has the power, with the employee being flexible to what his/her employer wants. The case is that very often employees in these countries are working overtime without being paid rather than working fewer days in a week, like in Clarity’s Base case.
From a cultural perspective, the American way of thinking varies to a large extent to the rest three countries. Being even stronger in the Chinese culture, respect is very vital within businesses. Business people at the top level of hierarchies are highly respected and are admired for working hard. It would be considered that one is lazy if he/she asks for a more relaxed working week. Chinese, Cypriot and Greek hierarchies are very strong and well respected. Moreover, an employee wouldn’t have the courage to ask for a decreased working week for no reason, like in the case of Jana. The attitude in these countries in the case of family matters would be that everyone has a family as well as personal interests which have to be fitted around the job instead of fitting the job around personal interests.
Working within a multi cultural group is not easy but could be very efficient. When forming a multicultural group, it is more difficult to built relationships and trust since one has to deal with different cultures. Firstly, we agreed that we would use a common language to communicate within the group. Moreover, we agreed on speaking slowly and clearly so that communication is efficient and group members are not left out.
Then, we made sure that all members of the group would participate towards the work that had to be carried out, having always a multi-cultural awareness. Despite these informal “norms” that we had set, something that occurs very often when forming a multicultural group happened. People were drawn to those who are similar. Hence, the group was divided in three sub-groups, according to our different cultural background; two groups of Chinese people and one group of Greek and Cypriot people. Each group was in charge of one part of the question.
With this sub-division cultural conflicts were avoided and communication was enhanced due to the fact that everyone could talk to his/her native language (within the sub-group) so that idea sharing could be optimised. Before this sub-division though, we had a couple of meetings with everyone involved to brainstorm and discuss all the questions together. Everyone contributed his/her ideas to the rest of the group. In this way, problems were viewed from different perspectives because of the group diversity. Hence, more possible solutions were suggested since the subject was tackled from different cultural dimensions. Despite this efficiency our group had, there was a difficulty having a consensus because of the strong views everyone had.
Having multi-cultural awareness, we observed that the Chinese people had a more collectivism culture rather than the Cypriot and Greek people who were more individualistic. This had an influence on the performance of the group as a whole because Greek and Cypriot wanted to work individually whereas the Chinese were more towards group work. This was one more reason for dividing the group into three sub-groups and concentrating the same cultures in each group.
Conflict and disagreement occurred mainly on the timings of the meetings. Some of the group members showed no flexibility for agreeing on meeting timings. However, with appropriate negotiation we got over this problem and arranged meetings in a way that everyone was satisfied.
The results of our group work were very satisfactory. Everyone prepared his/her part and the presenters of the sub-groups were well interrelated with one another. The outcomes of this group work other than the debate for work life balance issues in America and other countries, was the experience of cultural differences and how to adapt with them; something very important for future career development.
HBR Case Study – Mommy-Track Backlash “How Should Jessica stem the backlash?” , Harvard Business Review