Do you remember playing with slime as a kid? You try to close your hand around it, but it oozes out in every direction. You try to catch it as it stretches towards the table but it goes right through your fingers. You just can’t hold it!
Some problems are a lot like fluorescent slime.
Take this one: You receive a calendar invite for a conference call at 8:00 PM two days from now. That will make it three straight evenings this week. You really don’t want to be on Teams after hours again, but you know that this is both important and time sensitive. The colleague who called the meeting is a good, considerate person and apologizes profusely about the evening call, but it’s the only time when everyone was available.
You know your colleague’s boss – who also happens to be your own – and you would wager good money that she didn’t put any pressure on anyone here. In fact, you know for a fact that your boss is as tired of those evening calls as you are (as is your boss’s boss).
Sometime – too often, really – the request is for a very early morning meeting. But of course, it’s always the morning or the evening for someone, somewhere. You’re not a morning person so everything else being equal, you would’ve preferred an evening call, but so did the person half–way around the world…
Everyone knows that this is happening, and policies have been adopted to prevent encroachment on personal and family time. For some reason, they haven’t proved effective.
Nobody likes the situation. Many people suffer from it, often in the form of stress, anxiety, burnout, perhaps even depression. Everyone knows it’s unsustainable, everyone would like it to stop, but it just persists because the problem is so diffuse, and everyone seems powerless to stop it.
In an age of low population growth, mass Baby Boomer retirements and, in many places, outright population decline, scarcity of talent has become a clear and present concern in many sectors and industries. Some work can be offshored, but a lot of things can’t. Technology will help, but it won’t solve everything. Power dynamics between employers and employees are changing, and expectations are being recalibrated. Entire sectors and industries are being eyed with suspicion by prospective employees.
Issues like the one described above – and there are many – are indeed complicated and there are no easy answers. It could be solved, but that would require considerable will and determination, and there would be difficult trade-offs to make. Perhaps more people would have to be hired, to spread the load. Perhaps the organization needs to take on less. Of course, all those trade-offs have bottom-line impacts. Where do you even start? In the face of heightened competition for talent, can you afford to not get it right?
So big. So complex. So hard to wrap your fingers around – like the fluorescent slime we used to play with as kids.
Tackling complex systemic issues of this nature is intimidating. But what if there is a better way and it proved to be the ticket? By the way, if you cool fluorescent slime enough, you can shape it into anything you want.