Physics in HR – The Gravitational Pull

I once read an accident report involving a stack of product that had toppled into a pedestrian aisle.

Listed under contributing factors: gravity.

That’s kind of like saying that “life” is a contributing factor to an absenteeism problem.

The most important factor in considering gravity is that it is constant. Reliable. Always there. Always in the same amount. We don’t have to worry that gravity will behave like our cable connection, and all of a sudden our tires are lifting us off the road instead of gravity holding us tightly to it. Or as our airplane lands, the pilot doesn’t have to account for any change in gravitational pull. Your lifestyle is built on gravity, from the way you have the books on your shelf to your reliance on the water falling out of the shower head onto your body before heading to the drain. Without gravity, you’d have to think completely differently about how to cook, how to sleep, and even (ugh) how to go the the bathroom!

We have learned to adapt to gravity. There is no choice.

The pull of gravity

When it comes to employees, they all have lives. They have several VARIABLE gravitational fields that pull them to many things. Their attention, their energy are pulled to problems, to celebrations, to challenges that they or other family members have. They coach their children’s little league teams. They perform in community theatre productions. They volunteer for causes that are important to them. And they give their employer their minds and bodies for a period of time each week.

And yet employers sometimes act as though we are the most important gravitational force. We write policies and guidelines that try and shift the gravitational pull. But we cannot affect that pull. Some employees learn to manage within expectations and still not sacrifice their primary non-work goals. Others do not.

What some managers forget is that the gravitational pull on an employee is dependent on the employee. We all want the company to succeed, but it is not our most important goal in life. For many, for most even, their work or career are not their “sun”. Their orbits are on their families, and they pull themselves from that orbit to perform work. Their most important accomplishment will be how they supported their children or their spouse, or their parent. Or maybe the creation of a new greenway or the establishment of a new little league park.

You can’t mess with gravity. Once you understand that, you design solutions that acknowledge gravity. That’s why flexible work arrangements, dependent care accounts, educational savings programs, and employee networks came to be. But there is more to do.

How do you acknowledge that your employees are pulled by forces beyond the success of your company?


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