The dark side of disruption

Disruption is a popular word of late. It is almost always framed as a positive thing.

Old approaches being updated. Organisations being forced to change for the better.  Technology bringing benefit to our lives.

In my professional space it is all about disrupting HR, disrupting work.  Challenging the old ways and old thinking.

But is disruption always a good thing?

The Uber situation tells its own story.

The revocation of their licence was not a surprise to me, having seen much written about their business practices. Their approach to the employment situation of their workforce leaves much to be desired too.

Somewhat more suprising, perhaps, was the backlash against Transport for London.

Uber launched a petition, asking for their users to support them – specifically mentioning the livelehoods of their many thousands of drivers.  It has reached 600,000 signatures according to my timeline.   There has been much dialogue too about vested interests and the stifling of innovation.

But if the rationale behind the TfL decision is based in fact (and we have no reason to suspect that it is not) then those protesters should really be calling for something else. Better terms and conditions of employment for drivers.  Better safety procedures.  Better business ethics.

DBS checks (or criminal records checks as they are more often known) are there for a reason: to ensure the safety of the people that use the service.  If Uber is not getting this right, we should all be concerned.

Technology has changed the way we live, work and behave as consumers. From a book on Amazon to a holiday home for the week, we place our faith in the reviews and the comments of others.  We stay in the homes of strangers. We call a cab via the device in our pocket – and when we get in it we do so with trust.  Just like we trust the reviews on eBay or Trip Advisor or Airbnb – whereas in the past we placed our trust in organisations and corporate websites.

Innovation is a good thing – most of the time. We know what happens to those companies that can’t or won’t change.  The high street alone is littered with corporate corpses that prove the point.  But innovation and disruption must not come at any cost.  When we talk about disrupting work, we should do so with the intent not to take away that which works, even if it is old or traditional, and replace it with something shiny and untested, but to replace it with something better.

It is hard to define potential safety issues as better. It is hard to define insecure work as better.

But oh, it sells conference tickets and books.

Just because something is cheap and convenient and popular, just because something is new and shiny, there is no reason to disregard the rulebook – or our standards and values.

Disruption can be a force for good.  But not at all costs.

Change One Thing

I’m still thinking about flexible working. Still thinking about the barriers and the attitudes and the assumptions.

I have had an idea. About a small change that could make a big difference.

The legislation about flexible working presents a barrier in itself. Initially introduced for employees with childcare and caring responsibilities, this remains the frame of reference for many.  It remains something that ‘some’ people need or want.  And for ‘some’ people read people that are not ambitious, committed or willing to put their career above everything else.

The legislation allows employees to request flexible working after 26 weeks. I have yet to find an organisation with a published policy that allows it sooner*.  Even those organisations that talk on their website about flexible working, don’t make this simple change.

What does this mean in practice?

Let’s assume for a moment, I work flexibly today. I want to look for work – but I still need or want that flexibility.  I have found research that says only 6% of jobs paying over 20K are advertised as being suitable for flexible working.  So what do I do? Stay where I am, or go for a job and hope I can negotiate flexibility later?  When I have proved myself, perhaps.

For those that join a new organisation, this might mean six months of challenge – whether that is about caring or childcare, or just not having the life work balance that they need. Six months of wondering – with added time at the end whilst a formal process winds its way through the policy flowchart.

Why is it we are prepared to consider flexibility at 26 weeks, but not before? Why don’t we advertise more jobs as being flexible?  The implication underneath this attitude seems to be that if you join a company and do well, it will be considered.  It’s a little like the probation period – we like you enough to offer you a job, but we are reserving our rights all the same.

There is no less admin burden to discussing or agreeing flexibility up front. Those people that need or want it will ask anyway, later on – and then you have a formal process to go through.  Not to mention the stress that might be incurred on the part of the new starter.

If we advertised jobs with the option of flexibility, it gives permission. It will give a candidate the confidence to ask and negotiate, and for the parties to agree something right at the beginning that will work for everyone.

Just because the law says you can make someone wait 26 weeks, it doesn’t mean you have to. If you offer enhanced maternity pay, holiday or sickness benefit, couldn’t you enhance your flexible working policy too?

Day one requests. A statement during the recruitment process telling candidates that they can ask – now.  Small changes.  Big difference.


*If you have an example I would love to see it and will share it here!

If you are based in the Manchester area and want to discuss more ideas like this one, come along to the CIPD Manchester Big Conversation. Book here:

The barriers to flexible working

First things first. There are some jobs that cannot be done flexibly, neither in time nor in location.  If you need to open a shop at 9.00am, then the options for flexibility will be minimal at best.  There are plenty of others roles that need to be done at particular times and at particular places too.

This blog post isn’t about those jobs.

I develop employment policy for a living (I know, but someone has to do it). For although there are plenty of organisations that claim they support flexible working and families, I have yet to see one that has published a policy that goes beyond the statutory requirements.  Most places still require employees to have six months service before they can make a formal request.  Most policies spend a whole lot of time stating the reasons why a request can be turned down and outlining process over positive action.  Policy aside, for many flexible working is still seen as something for childcare and for women.


How many organisations expressly stating in their job advertisements that flexible working is an option – or even encouraged?

How many organisations actively promote their policies and remind their employees of them on a regular basis?

How many organisations share flexible working success stories?

How many organisations encourage a discussion about flexibility or working hours at the job offer or interview stages?

How many organisations have senior leaders openly working flexibility?


There are some organisations doing good stuff. I loved the idea from UK Fast recently where they gave a day off to parents whose child was starting school for the first time.  The cost of such an initiative was probably negligible.  The benefit to those parents, imaginable.

But individual examples aside, the answer to the above questions is usually…… not enough.  Not nearly enough.

Instead when I talk to people about flexible working, I hear the same issues, over and over.

My manager doesn’t support it even though there is a policy that says we can.

I asked but was told no.

Some departments can have it and some can’t.

Home working is frowned upon.

I don’t think we allow that.

My manager doesn’t want to set a precedent.

It is felt that if everyone can’t have it no one can.

I don’t feel like I can ask.

I haven’t been there long enough to ask.


Many organisations talk the flexible working talk. They have policies and statements on websites.  But most aren’t taking the step from talking about it to promoting it, enabling it, encouraging it.

This is what we need more of. Innovative solutions.  Genuine options.  Role models.  Removal of fear.  Clear signals via policy and leadership that flexible working is a positive thing, not something to be ‘managed’ or avoided.

If you don’t trust your people to work flexibily, then you don’t trust your people.

Flexible working. It’s about retention. Talent.  Engagement.  It’s about balance, about life.

It’s about 2017.

Let’s do better.


I am delighted to be supporting CIPD Manchester’s Big Conversation about families, parents and the workplace. Check out the dedicated blog here and follow the hashtag #CIPDBigConvo. 



Detox if you want to

My timeline tells me that there is an increasing interest in the so-called ‘digital detox’.

I don’t get it.

As well as working in HR, I am also a qualified personal trainer.  In that world, we often see reference to detoxing.  In the physical context, detoxing as it is often portrayed, is unnecessary.  A cynic might even say it is a manufactured concept designed to sell products.  And there are a lot of products.

Generally speaking, our bodies do not any need help to ‘detox’.  They are fully capable of managing the process for themselves.  It is the function of the liver.

That is not to say you can’t help it along with way with a healthy diet and drinking habits.

Detoxing in the fitness and diet space is usually about the denial of something that we perceive to be bad for us.  Giving up alcohol or a particular food stuff.  Cleansing our bodies and diets on the assumption that this will improve our health.  When it comes to the plethora of supporting products, there is little evidence, beyond the anecdotal, that they actually do.

Detoxing is always popular after Christmas.  After a period of indulgence, we try to undo the excesses of the season with a quick fix, as the ‘new year, new you’ marketing juggernaut swings into action.

When it comes to health, what we really need more than a detox is consistent good habits and balance.  Something that applies to the digital world too.

I saw an article recently advocating a detox retreat.  A holiday without access to technology.  No wifi, no devices.

But for most of us, giving up technology means turning off our lives – as well as the benefits it brings us.  Over an average couple of days, I will use technology to do my banking, shop for groceries, listen to music, catch up with the news, watch tv and chat to my friends.

There is nothing wrong with this, for me.  Just like with diet and health, it is all about common sense and where necessary, moderation.  It doesn’t need to be about turning everything off or giving something up entirely, but finding balance in all things – for the long term.

In the same way that you do not need to buy detox socks to draw impurities from your body through your feet (yes really) you don’t need to pay for a retreat or rush to extremes.

Just look at your habits.  Reflect.  For health, or for technology.  If they are not helping you, make some small changes for the better.  This is what makes those changes sustainable.  Most diets and health regimes fail, often because the change is too much, too soon, or doesn’t work with our everyday lives over the long term.  Turning off the tech for a while may help with us to reflect on our habits, but it also isn’t sustainable in our world today.

And if being constantly connected works for you, then don’t feel under pressure to change.  Do what works for you, in all things.

Time for a menopause policy?

I’m doing some policy work at the moment.

A little while ago the question arose…. Should we have a policy on the menopause at work?

My immediate response, fuelled by a general dislike of having a policy for everything, was…. no. Why would we need one?

And then I educated myself a little bit more.

It’s an area that is getting increasing focus from government, trade unions and organisations. You can find a recent publication here.

Here is what I now know.

Women are working later in life than they did in the past.

If we take the typical age that women experience the menopause, over 4m could be working through this life transition in the UK.

For some women, the symptoms can be severe and debilitating. There’s various research, but around 10-15% of women experience very severe symptoms.

Symptoms vary – but many can impact upon work either practically or in terms of confidence.

At the same time, for many women, it’s hard to talk about their menopause in the workplace – especially to male, younger managers.

Some women find coping strategies. Others opt to hide their symptoms.

Women are concerned about how they will be perceived if they talk about it. Some research points to discrimination and inappropriate comments and banter (otherwise known has harassment) about the menopause.

More research pointed to the increased likelihood of negative reactions in male dominated environments – making women even less likely to speak out.

We’ve seen the matter of the menopause in the employment tribunal too. The leading case involves a women being dismissed for performance, which she alleged was as a result of her menopause and associated health conditions.  The dismissing (male) manager made no attempt to verify this with Occupation Health, and instead based his decision on the (non severe) menopause experiences of his wife and HR advisor……. I’ll just leave that there.

On my commute today I saw a poll on Twitter, asking if women should get ‘menopause leave’. The evidence is clear that menopause is an experience that differs significantly from woman to woman.  So a one stop shop piece of legislation or ‘right to request time off’ isn’t the answer.

Small changes are sometimes all that is needed. If you provide uniform, making sure it’s made of natural fibres, or providing more than normal so that women can change at work.  Small adjustments to working hours or breaks for women who are experiencing sleep problems or fatigue.  Ventilation, fans and access to cold drinking water or changing facilities.

Above all, like with most people stuff, it is about dialogue.  Creating the conditions where conversations are safe, people feel like they can raise the difficult stuff and reach out for the support that they really need.

I’m still in the ‘no’ camp on a policy. But a little more awareness, guidance and support where it is needed?  Very definitely yes.


I am a big believer in employee wellbeing.

But there’s wellbeing, and there’s wellbeing.

A spectrum. At once end there’s a statement on the corporate website saying that the health and wellbeing of employees is very important to us. Etc.  At the other end, a wellbeing strategy, integrated into the whole of the people agenda.

It’s the occasional bit of free fruit versus employee benefits that enable health.

Managing absence versus supporting attendance.

Too often, what passes as employee wellbeing is just carewash.

Statements without substance.

Token gestures.

Individual, one off wellbeing events can make a difference.  They can send a signal, or start a journey.

A half day of health checks at a place I once worked led to an employee being diagnosed with a previously unknown and potentially life threatening medical condition. (Thank you Andy Romero-Birkbeck).

Of course, not everyone has the budget or resource to do wellbeing well. In which case, a little something is always better than nothing at all.

So do what you can – but only if you mean it.

Employees can spot empty gestures from a great distance.

For wellbeing to really make a difference the case for it needs to be widely understood and accepted. It needs a strategy.  It needs to be integrated in everything that you do.

Consider how, in the public sector, we assess the impact of policies, procedures, changes and initiatives on equality and diversity. If we want to make wellbeing make a difference, for it to be taken seriously and made a priority, then a similar approach is required.

Considering formally and with structure, what would add to wellbeing and what would detract from it. How any negative impacts can be mitigated.  That work stuff that you do – how does it impact upon the physical and mental health of the people that work for you? And then what can you do about it?

If you are serious about it, of course.

Because you are spending more time telling people you do wellbeing than you spend actually doing wellbeing, then you don’t really mean it.  If you have a wellbeing programme because everyone else has one, or if you are doing wellbeing because it is good for your employer brand, then maybe this isn’t genuine wellbeing at all.

Maybe what you have got instead, is carewash.

The most important right of all?

Employment rights have been much in the news of late. The Taylor Report into good work makes a number of recommendations.  I won’t cover them here as finer minds than mine have already done so.

When the law changes for any reason, people like me have to make the necessary changes to HR policies.

But as I have said many times before, when we have to revert to employment law, when we have to find a company policy on the intranet to determine what to do in any particular set of circumstances, sometimes we are half way to losing something important.

Losing our ability to see someone as the individual that they are.

The opportunity to consider the unique context.

The need for common sense, always.

Even the entire argument.

When we defer our decisions to documents, we run the risk of losing our ability to be compassionate, to apply a little tolerance, to treat people as humans and not resources.

The one right we should all have at work, is to be our imperfect human self.

And a simple, human conversation, is our most significant opportunity to change any work situation for the better.