Setting an example
BY ASHLEY G. WILLIAMS
With the ability to work from anywhere and projects spanning the globe, project managers constantly face blurred lines between work and home. But project managers shouldn't be left to figure all this out on their own. Organizations can help get the best from their employees by incorporating policies and practices to help them get the job done—and still have a life.
After all, employees who keep the right balance make better, more productive workers. “We know it is important to take time off and spend time with the people that matter,” says Jeanne E. Dorle, Ph.D., PMP, director of the project management graduate programs at Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, North Carolina, USA. “The research is there to support that time off helps you do your job better—you get the best ideas in the shower or walking the dog around the block.”
Organizing the Workflow
In this deadline-driven profession, project managers are often forced to simultaneously handle multiple tasks. And at times, it's a tremendous challenge for organizations to manage the workflow of employees, says Paul Kamgang, PMP, IT service delivery supervisor/application team leader for Pecten Cameroon Co., an oil company in Douala, Cameroon. The IT industry in his country finds it especially difficult.
“IT must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So it's very difficult to get time away from work,” he says. “You might be one of only a few resources.”
But with well-planned processes and careful monitoring, the workflow can be arranged in such a way that encourages employees to take time off. Organizations first must ensure project schedules are realistic and the right employees are in place, says Arindam Das, PMP, delivery manager of the automotive and aerospace business unit of Infosys Technologies Ltd., Chennai, India.
“In my personal experience, I've found that clear understanding of employees’ productivity helps employers plan project work and decide on a schedule, as well as the individuals who form the project team,” he says. This also allows employers to adequately train employees and continually identify the best tools to improve worker productivity.
Companies can track performance, determine how long it takes a person to complete a task and establish benchmarks from there. “When you have a group working on a project, they are working against [those benchmarks],” Mr. Das says.
Employers should also maintain an open dialogue with employees regarding deadlines and vacation time. “Organizations can say, ‘This is a crunch time, this is a slower time and these are good times to schedule time off. For the next three months, we can't take any time off, but after that ... ,” says Joanne Gumaer, PMP, project management facilitator and trainer for IlliniaQ, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “You have to make these demands, but it can't be continual.”
| ||ORGANIZATIONS CAN AVOID BURNOUT BY ROTATING PROJECT ASSIGNMENTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES. “SUCH CHANGES REJUVENATE AND MOTIVATE EMPLOYEES, EVEN IF THEY HAVE TO WORK LONG HOURS.”|
|—ARINDAM DAS, PMP, INFOSYS TECHNOLOGIES LTD., CHENNAI, INDIA|
Mr. Das recommends incorporating “buffer” resources into the project plan early on. These additional workers can step in when certain team members are overworked and need time off to relieve stress.
Organizations also need to build in down time between intense projects, says Dave Davis, PMP, PMI eBusiness Specific Interest Group chairman and program manager at AT&T esales service division in Sylvania, Ohio, USA. Employees can use the breaks to catch up on other responsibilities that may not be directly related to a specific project. If these tasks build up, they too can easily become contributing factors to burnout.
Sometimes simply managing the workflow isn't enough to encourage a balance between the personal and the professional. Organizations can avoid burnout by rotating project assignments and responsibilities. “Such changes rejuvenate and motivate employees, even if they have to work long hours,” Mr. Das says.
And employers shouldn't be afraid to let project teams have a little fun. “At the organizational level, we have a structure for sport activities with competitions and such outside the office,” Mr. Kamgang says. “It's sponsored by the company, and we play department against department—it's wonderful and it's effective.”
Mr. Davis suggests that organizations also encourage employees to bring spouses or families with them while traveling for business. “If I have a seminar, my company encourages my wife to come along,” he says. “I take advantage of that and so do other people.”
Clocking extra hours is sometimes an inevitable part of deadline-driven work—and the project management profession is no exception. But organizations can ease the burden by rewarding employees for working overtime.
OFFER SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE ENTIRE FAMILY. “My daughter got a scholarship sponsored by my company a few years ago. That goes a long way to help the family understand the benefits of my job,” says Dave Davis, PMP, PMI eBusiness Specific Interest Group chairman and program manager at AT&T e-sales service division.
ENCOURAGE LONG-TERM SUCCESS. Employees should feel like they're part of the company, and when it's doing well, they should feel responsible for that success. “Organizational leadership should focus on intrinsic motivators like developing passion for performing a task and should help employees believe that they are effective agents in realizing organization goals,” says Arindam Das, PMP, Infosys Technologies Ltd. “The employer can look at rewards and recognition and help the employees grow professionally.”
FIND A WAY TO SAY “THANK YOU.” Making an effort to show appreciation to hard-working employees goes a long way. “That might mean time off or recognition within a large meeting,” says Joanne Gumaer, PMP, IlliniaQ. And those gestures don't have to break the bank. “Even small rewards like a gift card work,” Mr. Davis says.
Much of the issue comes down to the company culture. Ms. Gumaer recommends project managers ask questions such as:
- Are there opportunities for fitness during the day?
- Is there flexibility within the workday?
- What healthy food choices are near?
The answers will reveal how a company ranks issues such as family, education, health and career advancement.
Above all, the company must help its project managers and team members by establishing manageable goals. “Having set a realistic or slightly aggressive target, employers need to ensure that the employees manage their time at work very well,” Mr. Das says. C
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