Don’t be like Dave

During one of my interim contracts a little while back, I was introduced to a HR Partner. Let’s call him Dave.

Before I met Dave for myself, I was firmly told Dave was great at his job. He was a well thought of HR Partner, valued by the management teams he supported.  He was always at his desk by 7am and his phone was ringing straight away.  His management team knew that they could rely on him to be there. Dave was in the office until late every day, putting himself out for his client group.

Dave was great.

clock

Sooooo…… lets unpick that a little.

First of all, let’s look at that definition of great. Sometimes, HR people are valued because they are innovative, bring good challenge, are highly knowledgeable, credible and professional – they work as true partners. Sometimes they are well liked because they, let’s face it, do other people’s jobs for them.  Very early in my career I received a complaint about my attitude – because I refused to tell an employee that they had a body odour problem and told the manager it was his job to do it.  So great might mean great….. or it might mean you need to answer your phone at 7am because the managers re over reliant on you.

When I hear about someone working very long hours on a regular basis, I want to know why. There are a few possible reasons, in my experience.  There might be a workload or resourcing issue – they simply have too much to do.  They might be struggling or have a learning or development need.  Maybe they are finding it difficult to manage their time.  They might be, as in one situation I have known, avoiding going home.  It could be cultural – this is what gets recognised, valued and rewarded, and hence this is how you climb the corporate ladder.  As one cynical FD I used to work with commented, they might also be covering something up.  In the case of HR in particular, it could be that the managers within the organisation aren’t enabled to make decisions – or aren’t sufficiently capable.  Instead they are deferring to HR, avoiding their responsibilities, or they simply don’t know how to do them.

There are many reasons that contribute to individuals working long hours. ‘Great’ is rarely one of them.  It’s our skewed perceptions of work and commitment that contribute to this belief.

We need to decouple work from being in an office, working well from working long hours.  These are organisational beliefs, not truths.

 

It’s that time again…. #cipdace

It’s nearly that time of year again. That time when the great and good of the HR world descend on Manchester to attend the annual CIPD shindig.  There will be learning, networking and probably, cupcakes.

To be honest, if there aren’t cupcakes then I’ll be making a formal complaint to Peter Cheese.

cake

I’ve taken the opportunity to do a roundup of the best free and fringe bits over the two days.

Free events:

Tuesday pre event networking evening: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/culture-club-pre-cipd-networking-event-manchester-tickets-50168092114?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

Tuesday evening – LGBT event – how to make your workforce more inclusive. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/creating-an-lgbt-inclusive-organisation-cipd-lgbt-social-2018-registration-48834560485?aff=efbevent This one includes nibbles and drinks (no specific mention of cupcakes, please check with the event organiser if this is as critical to you as it is to me).

Wednesday evening – event on race at work https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/embraceace-drinks-reception-tickets-49288822194?ref=eios&aff=eios with a promise of canapes.

Thursday morning – Fringe event on flexible working   https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/making-flexibility-a-reality-for-all-breakfast-camp-cipd-ace-2018-tickets-50684184761?aff=ebdssbdestsearch Note – this one includes breakfast and is being delivered by yours truly and the super awesome Rachel Burnham.

Exhibition

Anyone can just go and walk round the exhibition and go to the free learning sessions.  Register here. 

There’s some great stuff on the free learning programme – day one and day two alike.

I hope to see you there in November.  And if you see any cupcakes as you make your way around….. make sure you let me know. 

The 6th Element

Last week I shared my 5 Elements of a Flexible Organisation presentation at the CIPD / ACAS Flexibility for All conference. I blogged about it in advance, hereDavid D’Souza from the CIPD tweeted me to say that he believed there was a sixth element; technology.

I reflected on what he had to say, and my own use of technology as a flexible worker.

When I’m working from home, or just generally working on the move, I use the following technology:

Email

Phone / conference calls (old school)

Wifi (obvs)

Lync (mostly just the instant message facility)

Skype

Laptop / iPhone / iPad.

 

Nothing exciting or radical in that list.

I also use Slack, for communicating with project teams, and Yammer for communicating with, well, anyone that is listening. But most of these tools are used equally in the office too.

When it comes to the technology needed to work flexibly, most of it is already there. If it isn’t on the corporate network, it’s free to use or download.  On the hardware side, many of us already own it – whether it’s the organisations or our own.

So the issue isn’t so much one of availability or needing new stuff, but capability and default ways of working.

I’m currently doing work in an organisation where meeting face to face is the default – even though many of those people meeting face to face are located across multiple buildings. Many meetings therefore involve a ten minute walk there and back for more than half of attendees – multiply that over the many individuals and many meetings and many working days of the year, and that is a whole heap of ineffective time.  There are of course times where meeting face to face is best, but there are just as many occasions where a quick phone call or a discussion in a Slack group would achieve just the same.

Capability is another important issue. It  might be 2018, but I still come across plenty of people who tell me that they ‘aren’t very good with technology’ like anything other than an email is some sort of devil’s work.  I’ve asked to Skype into meetings to save me a four hour journey to be met with surprise and outright refusal.  I know plenty of people who simply refuse to use tools like Slack because it is ‘too hard’ or they ‘don’t have time’.

I don’t have time is my favourite excuse. Because it rarely means someone doesn’t have time.  It means, for varying reasons, that they just don’t want to.  Maybe then I’m not even talking about capability, but desire.

The technology acceptance model tells us that there two primary factors that influence decisions about whether technology is used (when and how) – perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use.  The good old diffusion of technology model highlights the time that new technology takes to go mainstream – part of which is attributed to individual motivation.

My takeaways from these models (and that is all they are, they aren’t perfect) is that, scratch the surface, and attitude is a key factor at play.

And so, in conclusion, yes, technology is an element of a flexible workplace. But sometimes it’s not about new kit or fancy applications – just choice in using it and working a little differently.

Just like flexible working itself.

technology

 

5 Elements of a Flexible Workplace

Today I’m speaking at the CIPD / ACAS flexible working conference. I’m going to be sharing what I believe are the five, key elements of a flexible workplace.

Together, these elements will lead to a culture where flexibility is truly embraced for the benefit of employees and the organisation alike.

1              Flexibility for all (or as many as possible)

When I say flexibility for all, I recognise that there are some jobs where introducing more flexibility is easy – in theory at least. There are of course some jobs where it is more challenging if not impossible, such as those where a physical presence is required at set times.  But with creativity and open minds, flexibility is often much more feasible than it first might seem – or some believe.  Too often, the stereotype of someone wanting flexible working is a mum returning from maternity leave, or a new parent.  This stereotype is extremely limiting.

Flexibility is about inclusion at its widest sense. It is about tackling the gender pay gap.  Despite what I have said about us challenging the stereotype, we also know that many parents want flexible working – and this includes senior roles. Less than 10% of quality  jobs are advertised as flexible.  If we want true representation throughout our organisations, then we need flexibility throughout the hierarchy.

Because employees want flexibility and that demand is not matched with supply, this makes flexibility a talent issue both in terms of acquiring it and retaining it. A survey by HR Magazine in 2013 showed that a third of people would take more flexibility over a 3% pay rise.  If you offer people the flexibility to work how they want and when they need, this is a clear retention strategy.

Flexibility is also a wellbeing issue – the stress of long, difficult commutes takes a toll on work life balance.  This isn’t about parents, this is about everyone. Flexible working can also open up our workplaces to staff with disabilities.

2              Acceptance of flexibility in all its forms

Flexibility doesn’t just mean working part time or working from home one day a week. It isn’t a family friend benefit.

Work can be flexible in time and place. Where and when the work is done.

There can also be flexibility in the how.

We don’t have to work in an office, we can work wherever we are inspired.  The park, the library, a co-working space, a coffee shop.  Where the role permits, we can organise our own work.  Use different technologies to complete it.

3              High Trust

For flexibility to really work, you need trust.

There is no place for the belief that if you can’t see someone doing their stuff then you can’t manage their work. If you have to have someone in your eye line to make sure they do their work, you’ve got bigger cultural issues to address.

You have to trust the people you work with, unless you have a very good reason not to.

But many organisations are riddled with blame, arse covering, and presenteeism. All too often we reward the latter.  It is seen as commitment and graft.

Whenever I have introduced flexible working the issue of trust has come up in a roundabout way. Usually through the questions about how people will be managed and measured.  My answer is often flippant.  Manage them on output, not time at the coalface.  Desk time and productivity do not go hand in hand.

enabler 2

4              Enabling and supportive managers and leaders

Managers who understand the benefits – and that they exist for both parties.

Managers who get that flexibility is a talent issue, an engagement issue, a wellbeing issue.

Managers who recognise that flexibility will help them keep good people.

Managers who don’t see flexibility as a pain in the ass to be managed and seek reasons to say no, but see it as an opportunity.

A senior leadership team that does the same.

Managers who are open minded to try stuff.

Managers who work flexibly themselves.

Managers who don’t search for barriers that don’t exist, or bring their personal opinions to the table.

Managers that are trained.

5              Good Policy

A good flexible working policy is one where there’s no gap between the rhetoric and the reality.

Good policy isn’t a document that explains how to say no, but encourages innovation, working together to find solutions, experimentation.

Good policy goes beyond the statutory minimum.

There is stuff around the policy like guidance and good advice on how to implement and trial new ways of working.

A good policy is one that easy to read and understand, and there’s a place or a person for more questions.

A good policy has an encouraging, welcoming tone.

Together, these elements will create a culture in which flexible working and flexibility can thrive for the good of both people and organisations alike.

Together, our challenge is to create them.  And there has never been a greater need for us to do it. 

 

Can we talk about Jane?

In recent months my coaching clients have been almost exclusively women.

Superwomen most of them.

But they don’t feel like it.

Let me tell you about Jane.

Jane isn’t one woman, she is many. One of many facing similar issues.

Most of the Janes have children. Some their own, others are step-parents.

Some of the Janes don’t just have children but other relatives to care for too.

All of the Janes have jobs. Some of them work full time, others part time.  Many of latter have often found however, that whilst their hours and pay have reduced, the work certainly hasn’t, and nor has the size or the needs of their teams.

Some of the Janes have flexible working – but often it is precarious, on the whim of an individual manager. Some of the arrangements are formal, others are of the ‘please can I work from home tomorrow’ variety.  Without this little bit of flexibility, often begrudgingly given, the house of cards would fall.

Most of the Janes are, of course, doing a whole heap of the emotional and domestic labour of their family lives too. Carrying the mental load of remembering birthdays and school PE kits and food shopping and getting the ironing done.

Some of the Janes have senior roles, big teams, plenty of responsibility.

Some have partners who are genuinely sharing the domestic and family load, others are very much on their own with it all.

Many have hobbies and interests that have fallen by the wayside as they juggle and juggle.

balance

They come to coaching to talk about their work life balance. To talk about their wellbeing.  They feel that they aren’t (delete as appropriate) exercising enough / being a good enough manager / developing their career at the pace they wanted to / finding any time for CPD / not getting to the school events / eating properly / spending enough time with their children, parents, siblings or friends / networking / reading books / being a good enough mum,  partner, step-parent, daughter /  giving their children healthy enough food.  They believe they are too unfit / relying on childcare too much / not coping / forgetting stuff / not delivering on their objectives / failing to have it all.

Here’s the thing all the Janes have in common.

They think it is them.

They don’t realise it is structural, societal, organisational.

They don’t realise that their company or their manager could be more flexible or the work could be organised differently and that would make them more productive and their lives easier along the way. That they don’t have to take all on all of the emotional labour even if they have been conditioned to believe that they must.  They don’t realise that it’s the organisations that is at fault with its presenteeism and its obsession with 9-5, face to face.  They don’t know that they don’t have to have it all, do it all, that it is okay to say that you are tired and need a break. They don’t know that you can just say screw the ironing and go to work in a crumpled shirt.

The strive for perfection is a heavy burden. The shoulds, the musts, the ought tos and the got tos.

The Janes don’t realise that I listen to them in awe as they balance and juggle and strive. As they manage families and relationships and careers and teams and all the day to day fuckwittery of life.

As a coach, my biggest challenge is not to over empathise, to over identify. Not to stand there and shout ‘Yes! Me too!’.

I so want these women to see and stand in their own power. To see their own awesomeness. To realise that it isn’t them, it’s the system.

So to the full time women and the part timers, the single moms and the married ones and the ones in between. To the biological moms and the step moms, the organic moms and the frozen fish fingers moms (because that is all they will bloody eat this week).  To the carers for relatives and the team leaders.  The senior managers and the newly promoted.  To the women navigating the school drop off and after school club pick-ups and still remembering to do the Tesco big shop on your phone on the train.  To the women studying into the evening or working a side hussle.

You are awesome. All of you.

And remember, even Superwoman occasionally needs a day off.

 

In other news, I searched for an image on the site I usually use for a hero, to accompany this blog post. It only gave me pictures of men…..

Commute Off

This tweet from the DWP yesterday gave me the hump. It appears to be an old post that has somehow resurfaced.  The premise, and that of the accompanying link, is that if job seekers would only travel a bit further (the just ‘try a bit harder’ merely implied) they will open up the opportunity of so many more job vacancies – and you will undoubtedly be paid more if you commute into the big city too!

tweet

YES! You too can spend your life in a car or on a dirty, unreliable train. You too can spend all your money on travelling!  Increase your stress levels!  Spend your time wondering whether you will get back through the traffic or the rail chaos in time to pick your kids up before nursery closes and they hand your children over to social services!  Have no time at all for activities that are important to you! 

But you know, money.  And dedication.

I do a 90 minute commute, and it is no fun at all. It is expensive, and I spend a lot of time waiting for delayed trains, standing in packed carriages with my face in a stranger’s armpit, and generally grumbling about it.  Sorry not sorry.  My commute stops me from getting to the gym, and means that there is often a pressurising mental list of life stuff that doesn’t get done.  I do it because I like my work, but that is a privilege that not everyone has.

Instead of suggesting people just get on their bike, why don’t we do something more radical instead? Like realise that cramming everyone onto the same packed roads and creaking public transports systems all at the same time isn’t helping anyone.  And embrace flexible working, technology and new ways of working, so that we can have both a job, and a life?

Just a thought.

 

 

Making flexibility a reality for all

On the 28th September I am delighted to be co-hosting a joint Manchester CIPD / ACAS conference on a subject close to my heart; flexible working.  Our key note speaker, CIPD CEO Peter Cheese, will address the subject of making flexibility a reality for all.

According to a recent Xpert HR survey more than half of organisations have experienced an increase in flexible working requests over the last two years.  These organisations attributed this increases to more supportive organisational cultures and changing workforce demographics.

Flexible working is often categorised as a family friendly benefit; something that’s all about working parents or perhaps carers.  But there is more to flexible working than going part time and formal requests following maternity leave – and it is valued by a much wider range of people than we might expect.

Flexible working is also about employee wellbeing, talent acquisition, employer branding, employee engagement and retention.  Flexible working is an opportunity.  More and more organisations are seeing the benefits and embracing it.  Only this last week PwC demonstrated how they are taking flexible working to ‘the next level’ by introducing a scheme through which staff can choose their working hours in a response to increased demand for flexible working patterns.  Their own research found that 46% of people say flexible working and a culture of good work/life balance are the most important factors when choosing a job.  This isn’t all that surprising when we stop and think.  Perhaps it is more of a surprise just how many organisations are still attached to traditional working patterns and upholding all the old barriers to more flexible approaches.

I believe that flexible working is essential for organisations in order to attract and retain a diverse pool of talent, at all levels. Along with a flexible working strategy it is key to inclusion, plays a part in reducing the gender pay gap and can improve workplace wellbeing and productivity.  Last year CIPD Manchester held the Big Conversation about work and families.  Through those discussions, we learned that there is much to do to enable parents and families in particular get the flexibility they need to fully contribute to the workplace whilst also raising a family. There is still too much getting in the way, too much ‘banter’ toward those that have to work flexibly, too much manager resistance. Stereotypes still thrive.

If you want to explore how to make flexible working work for you, hear case studies from those who have already had success and take away practical tools and tips, then why not come along to our conference as we attempt to move beyond the stereotypes and embrace better way of working.

You can find more information about the conference and book your ticket here.

conference