Into the grey zone

Leon Gettler from Management Line posted a couple of days ago about the grey zone in organisations ie the things you make for personal use while on company time and which companies secretly endorse. This is an interesting dilemma.

How does the HR profession react, while the issue is not new people have been calling in sick when they really are perfectly healthy for decades. For this we have use reports such as unplanned absences to see where possible issues were.

But what about employees mindlessly wasting away the day online? Do we now review reports around internet usage and track down the abusers? Do you limit personal internet time to 10 mins a day like some companies? And what about those employees who need to use the internet for their job, do we now have equity issues? Are there privacy issues with this monitoring? You notice a specific employee has been spending a lot of time on recruitment sites, how can you deal with this and keep the confidence of the employees, managers and not breach a privacy regulation? Your average HRIS/HRMS/Payroll product will not help you here.

Moving on from internet usage. The Telegraph article starts hinting at managers who spend their day building political empires for self gain and satisfaction. While they look like they are “working” are they really adding value to the organisation? Once again technology will not help you here.

Leon followed on with concept of the underemployed and how they are on the rise. I’m sure we have all seen them in the workplace. Do we start time and motion studies to hunt them down and hope the workers don’t all go on strike? Only joking.

These topics raise an interesting challenge to managers and HR departments. With the looming skills shortage how do you leverage the underemployed, how do we limit the grey zone? How do you reengage them into the workplace so that their skills can be put to use and their needs? Just getting people into the organisation will not solve the problem either. Unless they are the right people.

Engagement in the workplace is one of the biggest issues that organisation face in the coming decade. So how do you get people to engage at work? Invite them to something that is meaningful.

Yes I know it is more complex than that but it is also as simple as that. And if someone is participating in something meaningful then they are engaged, they are also more likely to be retained, less likely to be underemployed and abuse the grey zone.

7 thoughts on “Into the grey zone

  1. All True. Here’s my recommendation.
    Have a company that’s successful – do what you say you will do.
    Have an engaging environment that reflects your brand.
    Have really good managers who know how to coach and help people learn.
    Have the right systems in place to encourage job enrichment, rotations, explorations, promotions, lateral assignments, so people can learn and build new skills and continue to stay challenged. (This is what I call providing rich career experiences for people so they always feel the right amount of stretch and they will always remember working for companies and managers who helped them grow.) Companies can provide this to employees via talent marketplaces where all employees should have a resume wiki and be available (or made available for projects, etc.) based on skills and capabilities – so there are internal job boards, internal headhunters, etc. kinda like people become freelancers at work in a way…implicit in all of this is the right collaborative technology to share knowledge, etc. See my two recent posts at Future Tense: and

  2. I really like the concept of freelance work internally interesting implications for HR and the technology vendors. As you say it boils down to the culture of the organisation as to how they address these issues.

    Thanks for referencing your two items fron Future Tense they add a new perspective on the whole discussion.

  3. Facinating read. I’ve got this principal which I always try to follow when I make a recommendation to hire or not (I’m a technical guy). Basically I only really like hiring people who are smarter than I am and as driven as I am.

    Smart people is important, but its an (n) dimensional thing. I might be the worlds best egg flipper, so I’m not going to find someone who is better at me than that – however, I might suggest hiring someone who is really good at cutting roles or frying bacon to compliment my skills.

    In an ideal world we would cross skill to a certain extent and all learn from each other.

  4. If A people hire B people and then B people hire C etc very soon you have an organisation of poor performers. Many hiring managers are threatened by someone being smarter than they are. Cross skilling is very important and can done formally add a dimension to the organisations retention strategy. Once you have an organisation full of very smart people cross skilling or job rotation can also help keep them engaged in the workplace.

  5. Hi Michael,

    Thats what I think happened in some parts of the public service. I like to imagine that at some point a public servant was a ruthless professional committed to the delivery of services to the public.

    At some point there were enough public servants that a manager was required. And here the critical mistake was made – they chose the person to manage who had less front-line impact.

    Immediately that person would have been insecure and decided the best way to forify their position was to make more distance between the front-line servants and themselves.

    Unfortunately – that kind of expansion only leads to one thing.

    Its all unresearched conjecture – but its fun to speculate.

  6. Some of the most interesting discussions are all speculation and unresearch conjecture 🙂 I think you are right about the public service and many medium to large organisations.

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