Changing face of workplace

Sylvia porter

December 18, 1990|By Sylvia Porter | Sylvia Porter,1990 Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053

Whether your job is in the executive suite or on the factory floor, millions of you are finding that the workplace suddenly has changed -- radically. Companies are reducing the number of employees and eliminating layers of management. It's done in the name of efficiency and in hope of increasing profits by increasing your productivity. Added to this the threat of recession is causing further layoffs.

Even though you and your job survive, these changes can be unsettling. You may have a new boss, different responsibilities and an altogether changed atmosphere where you work. Is there any way to ease your anxiety? Can you take advantage of the changes to advance your career even during these belt-tightening days? Some experts say you can. You must understand what your employer is trying to do, they say. Then, sign up for the training programs many companies are offering to employees they want to retain.

Start by recognizing that promotions won't come as quickly or automatically as they have in the past, says Tod White, chairman of Blessing/White, Inc., a Princeton, N.J., management firm.

The chief reason for this? There are fewer management levels, hence fewer opportunities for moving up.

A program that White's firm conducts for client companies helps employees determine what they want from their jobs, communicate their needs to their managers and work with their managers to make their jobs more satisfying.

"The process puts responsibility for career development in the employee's hands, where it should be in today's work environment," White says.

Few people have given serious thought to clarifying their job values. Of those who have a clear picture, some can't communicate what they want. White's program, Managing Personal Growth, begins with employees clarifying and evaluating their personal values. Occasionally, employees who go through the process conclude they want to leave their jobs.

Having fewer managers managing more employees causes problems for the managers, too. Today's average manager supervises between 5 and 20 employees -- a responsibility some managers find hard to handle. Employers are dealing with this problem in several ways.

Building high quality, high performance teams is the best way to improve productivity, according to Dr. Frank Petrock, who heads the General Systems Consulting Group, Inc., Ann Arbor, Mich.

Productive teams are needed now more than ever, he says, because when people with different disciplines work together, individual employees can't keep pace with changing technologies, and more creativity is required.

The team development programs Dr. Petrock's firm conducts take everybody in a work unit -- and the people who work closely with them -- through a series of exercises. These exercises are designed to help the team members develop trust in each other, make decisions together, deal with problems openly, set goals and encourage independent thinking.

Team-building programs are particularly valuable when a new manager is named, Dr. Petrock says. Since employees don't welcome change, having a new manager often causes a slowdown.

Hewlett-Packard gives team-building training to its new managers within their first month on the job. The company studied about 150 of its most successful managers and found that each one was good at building teams.

Managers who are supervising more employees can't stay on top of things the way they used to, of course.

"Managers no longer can use command and control. What they must do instead is coach and encourage," says Blessing/White's Tod White.

NEXT: Dealing with a diverse work force

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