Precedent. It’s not a dirty word.

Five years or so ago, I wrote about the word ‘precedent’. I suggested that it should be banned. I called it a cop out.  The poorest of HR (and manager) excuses for not trying something new, doing something different.

I have changed my position. A little at least.

Someone said it to me recently, in the context of flexible working (of course). The concern around setting a precedent is cited often by their management teams as a reason to say no.

I’d like to approach precedent differently.

Let’s see it as an awesome opportunity.

A Father wants to take discontinuous Shared Parental Leave? Let’s set a precedent by saying yes.

An employee wants to work compressed hours but we haven’t allowed that before?

Someone else wants time off work to attend the development programme of their choice?

Another wants to take a career break?

Let’s set a new, positive precedent.

If there is a risk that a precedent will be set and others might ask for the same, this might just mean that this is because they can see the benefit to them and their lives too. Demand is telling us something about what employees want and value – and in turn what they will join your organisation for, and stay there for too.

Saying yes to new ways of working may well encourage others. But change, challenge, innovation – these are things to welcome, not things to fear.

What is the real impact of ‘setting a precedent’ by saying yes? A few more requests for something or other.  A little bit of management time to assess them.  A meeting to communicate the decision.

When it comes to saying yes to something new, nowhere in the HR handbook does it say that we are then required to say yes to everyone, everything else, that we are ever asked in the future. The workplace isn’t a court of law, bound by the decisions that went before.  We just have to explain that to people.

It’s not rocket science.

 

Reasons to work flexibly, 1,2,3

…. and some more besides.

 

There are many forms of flexible working. There is flexibility in terms of place – where we work, and flexibility in terms of time – when we do the thing that we do.  There’s homeworking and coffee shop working and flexitime and term-time and compressed hours and annualised hours and job shares.

Whatever the type of flexibility we are talking about, it is increasingly clear that flexibility is desired by the many and not the few. For organisations, this isn’t about family friendly stuff, but about inclusion and talent.  Despite this, many employers (or more specifically in my experience, managers) still favour the traditional 9-5 type approach for many types of work.  Having their people where they can see them.

Here are 5 reasons why organisations should support flexible working:

  1. Employee engagement. People like flexible working and want flexible working. Providing it, providing the opportunity for more balance, better commutes, less stress – is going to help towards a more engaged workforce.
  2. Inclusion. Fathers who want to be more involved with the care of their children, individuals with disabilities who might find a rush hour commute impossible, carers, or those with significant family responsibilities. Whatever the reason for not wanting – or being able to – work traditional office hours, flexibility can help level the playing field.   See following point.
  3. Talent acquisition – offering flexibility gives you access to a greater pool of talent. It makes your employer brand competitive.   You can hire the best person for the job – not the best person for the job that can get into your office and work your normal contractual hours.
  4. Talent retention. Engaged employees are less likely to want to leave. Ditto employees who have a working pattern that works for them and their family. Engaged employees are less likely to want to leave. It’s all connected……
  5. Cost. For those organisations that can embrace entirely flexible and mobile working this can lead to the need for less office space. Fewer desks. Lower rents. And there are those employee travel costs too. How many empty desks are there in your office when people are out and about?
  6. Life Work Balance. The often long and grinding commute. Stress of the school run. The worry about who will look after the kids if…..and so on.   Flexible working can, in my own personal experience, lead to healthier, happier staff.
  7. Productivity. Not everyone works effectively in traditional office hours, or in the typical office environment. Allowing people some flexibility around when and where they work, when they are most creative or productive – this is a mind-shift change from judging people on how long they are in the office to what they achieve.

For some roles at least, to be effective all we need is a laptop and a wifi connection. The tech is already there – it’s about maximising its potential. Flexibility shouldn’t be an employee benefit, reserved for the lucky few. For those organisations and role types where it is possible, flexibility isn’t a perk – it should be a strategy.

 

The imposter within

Can I do this?

I can’t do this.

Any minute now, someone is going to Find. Me.  Out.

The voice of the imposter.

The nagging doubt, telling you that you can’t. That you don’t belong.  You probably shouldn’t even try. That you are going to mess this up, any minute now.  And everyone will know, that you didn’t and you probably never could.

It is the voice of all of the fears.

I recently attended a lecture on Imposter Syndrome at the University of Manchester. The speaker said that around 70% of people agree that they have suffered imposter syndrome at some point in their careers…. and the other 30% might just be lying.

I can remember the last time it happened to me. Two years ago I decided to qualify as a Personal Trainer.  I’d been on a personal journey from morbidly obese to running a half marathon.  It inspired me to learn more about maximising my own fitness, and a desire to share my learning with others.  On the course, there was no one like me.  No one just starting out, no one only a little bit fit.  No one still carrying around some excess weight and a whole load of insecurities.  The course was full of powerful women.  Literally.  Women who could boss around some big weights.  Who were lean and strong and supple.  For whom fitness and focus wasn’t something new but something everyday.

And the voice started up. What are you doing in this room? With these people? Just who do you think you are?

The first coffee break came (only they all drank water). Discussions about diet and protein and plans and just how much time did you spend working out in the gym and what is the most you have bench pressed.

Outside of my comfort zone. Inside, all of the fear.

I nearly ran. But I didn’t.  I stuck it out, tried not to listen to the voice in my head that said I didn’t belong.  That any moment now, someone would find me out.

For me, the learning from the lecture was this. Imposter syndrome is normal.  It is something we all experience a little or a lot, at some time in our lives.  But it is just a voice, the manifestation of all of our fears.  It isn’t reality.  There are some true frauds.  But it usually isn’t us.  To decide whether the voice in our head speaks reality or belief, we must look at the evidence.  Often, that evidence points away from suggesting we are an imposter, to something else entirely.

For me, after all of the doubt and the uncertainty, I passed the course after all. No imposter here. Just me, doing the best I can.

 

You can find the Storify of my tweets from the lecture here.

 

Human Up Recruitment

This is a very long blog post. I’m not even sorry.  Because there is a lot to say.  Earlier this week I published a blog post on human workplaces.  I’m trying to look at it from a practical perspective.  What can we actually do?

I’m starting with recruitment not just because it is the beginning of the employment lifecycle, but also because it is an area that is crying out for a dose of the human touch. Consider the last time you were looking for work.  How much of this did you see?

Wordy, long job descriptions.

Job descriptions masquerading as advertisements.

Unwieldy application systems.

The need to provide unnecessary information.

The need to copy information into boxes that was already on your CV.

Application forms so long they take hours and hours to complete.

Getting nothing back in return but a standardised email.

No feedback.

No contact from a person, just automation.

A lack of information about what it will be like to work there, apart from a list of generic statements and benefits on the website.

Questions that seemed to have no relevance to the job you are applying for.

 No way to ask questions during the process.

Fixed interview dates with no room for flexibility.

Interviews that don’t start on time.

The application black hole.

 

Human? Not so much.

Remember the saying that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression? Your recruitment process is your first impression.  More than that, it is a window into your organisational culture.  How you treat your candidates says much about how you treat your employees.  For those who are successful, the candidate experience is the first step to their whole employee experience – it is your first opportunity to create engagement.

There are many organisations who are still so arrogant as to think that people should be queuing around the block to work for them. Who don’t feel that they have to put in the effort.  Who don’t treat recruitment as the strategic work that it is.

Of all the elements of the employee lifecycle and that people stuff that we do, in many ways it is also the easiest to automate and build technology around. It is absolutely possible to leverage technology in recruitment, but at the same time provide a human, people focused experience.

There are some questions to ask yourself first of all. What is it like to apply for a job through your processes?   Apply for a job yourself with a candidate’s eyes.  Get out and talk to those who have recently started working with you , and ask them how it felt.  What was good and what was not.  Ask too, how good are your managers at recruiting?  Do they understand the changing context of recruitment?  Do they know how to interview in a human way?  If not, train them.

Start with the end in mind. What would you like your candidate experience to be. How would you like people to feel at the end of the process, whether they are successful in their application or not?  What does a great, human, candidate experience look like, at your place?

Once you have answered these questions – turn to your process. Is it human?

And just from me, here are five more simple tips to make your recruitment processes a little more human.

  1. Stop, just stop, putting ‘if you have not heard from us in XX days assume you have been unsuccessful’ on your recruitment adverts. If people have taken the time to put in an application, complete your forms and tick your boxes, you can have the common decency to send them an email rejecting them. Automate it if you have to but just do it.
  2. Many organisations have an ATS (or recruitment system if you will). Some organisations have hundreds of vacancies and applications and it would be unfeasible to suggest that they can personally contact everyone who applies. But you can review your standard emails and make them warm and friendly. They can have a tone of voice that says a meaningful thank you.
  3. Stop scheduling the interview date before you even have the applications in. Are your senior people just so busy that they can only commit to one date? This approach is unbelievably outdated. Candidates have jobs. They have commitments. They may have caring responsibilities or children or medical appointments and they just can’t do your date. If you don’t change this, risk talent deciding just not to apply at all.
  4. Remember at all times: your job description is not your recruitment advert.
  5. Train your line managers. Not just in how to ask interview questions but how to create a great candidate experience. We bet for many it’s a term that they haven’t even heard of, something that they don’t even think about.

Okay. So I lied when I said there were only going to be five things.  So here is one and it is a biggy. Stop doing competency based interviews.  Just stop.  Right now.  Because do you know what? They don’t work.

Competency based interview questions are those that ask for real life examples of when you have done something, based upon the prescribed competencies for the role. The idea behind competency based interviews is that interviewers will be able to satisfy themselves that potential employees have the experience needed to do the job.  Only there is a problem.  They fundamentally ignore the importance of context.  Past experience does not necessarily predict future performance.  The ability to succeed in any given organisation can be attributed to many factors.

There is no guarantee, even with the shiniest answer in the world that scores the most points on a grid that a candidate will be able to replicate what they did in a previous organisation or under a different set of circumstances. Context is everything. The team, the culture, the management, the resources available.  Unless these are identical, then the answer is irrelevant.

Another key problem is that people know how to answer them. They can be practiced, and it isn’t all that hard to make something up either.

Competency based questions assess people in the past, not the now or the future.  They tell you nothing about someone’s potential to do a good job other than their ability to find a good example in the moment.

If you currently use competency based questions, consider replacing them with the much more human strengths based type.  They allow you to get to know the real individual.  And that is who you are hiring.  Strengths based interviews allow you to get to know the person in front of you.  What gets them motivated?  What they like doing, and dislike too.  Assess potential.  You are also much less likely to get some sort of pre-prepared, scripted, generic reply.  They allow candidates to bring their real self, not their example one.

Can we make recruitment a little bit more human? Pretty please?

 

Human Up (again)

The human workplace is getting a lot of interest of late. Let’s be honest,  I haven’t invented this term.  There is a risk that we are jumping on a bandwagon here.  You know what we mean.  Someone starts talking about something at some conference.  People ooooh about it a bit in the audience and on twitter.  People start to blog about it.  Consultancies start to charge for it.  It makes it from the niche to the mainstream and then we all get bored of it and show disdain for it and think that people who are still talking about it and implementing it while we have moved onto the next shiny thing are Just. Not. Cool.

But, all the same, there is something about the concept that sticks with me. That resonates and feels like just maybe, combined with a focus on employee experience, this is the place to put our focus right now.

The Human Workplace is an imprecise term. It is capable of interpretation in more than one way.  For me, a human workplace is one that has people at the centre of their focus.  It is one that does not buy the cliché that people are your greatest asset (said by many, proved by few) but does recognise that people that work for them, are affected by them, are a user of their services, matter.  The human organisation considers how the stuff that we do makes people feel.

It is an organisation that can embrace technology and all that it brings us, whilst retaining what is inherently human. It is an organisation that doesn’t automate the heck out of everything just because it can.  Human organisations have heart.  Emotion isn’t a dirty word in the human organisation.  It is safe to be real.  It is safe to speak out.

From an HR perspective, if that is even a term that fits with the concept of a human workplace, is certainly focused more on people as people and not as resources.

Why is this stuff even important? Why does it matter?

There are plenty of reasons.

There are the traditional arguments to the people first approach. Retention, attraction, motivation, the war for talent (sorry). There is of course the never ending quest for employee engagement.

But it is more than that too.

When organisations aren’t human, when they don’t have heart, when they are not sufficiently people-focused, there are often found deeper and more troubling problems.

Sadly, there are organisations without much heart. We know that.  No matter what the careers website says, many – most – organisations are much more focused on profit and shareholders.  It’s that thing called capitalism.

We have all seen the examples on our news reports or in our Twitter timelines. Companies that are offering sweatshop-like working conditions. Others that still embrace the worst of scientific management principles.  Exploitation of workers remains an issue, today, in the UK.  There are plenty of organisations that are anything but human.

It is not, in my experience, that most organisations set out to be inhuman. Most HR teams don’t create their policies and processes with the aim in mind of forgetting the human touch, or simply not caring about how people feel about their work and experience their organisations.  Many organisations genuinely feel that they put people at the top of the agenda  – but this doesn’t stop them being no-so-human.

It happens not by design but by default or accident.

There is too much bureaucracy. Leaders lose sight of the small stuff.  The policies and the processes get bigger and more complex.

The people get lost along the way.

The way people feel gets lost too.

Let’s take that website cliché, people are our greatest asset – in much the same way that anyone can come up with a generic list of corporate values, anyone can say that their people are their greatest asset. Meaning it and proving it are two very different things.

If people really are your greatest asset, it will show up in everything that you do. It will show up in how people are recruited and inducted.  It will show up in the reward and recognition.  How people are led, the spaces in which people are expected to work in, the way the difficult stuff is dealt with (or not).

It will show up too in the performance review, the policies and procedures, the learning and development on offer. No one needs to be told whether they are valued by their company.  When it is true, they instinctively know that they are – or they are not.  It is cultural.

Not-so-human workplaces are everywhere. Perhaps you even work in one yourself.

So I’m thinking about this stuff. In the practical, not the abstract.  If we want workplaces in which we genuinely place how people feel at the top of the agenda, then there is much that HR can do in the everyday.   Blogs coming up…….

In praise of the Working Time Regulations 

“You’ll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?” said Scrooge.

“If quite convenient, sir.”

“It’s not convenient,” said Scrooge, “and it’s not fair. If I was to stop you half a crown for it, you’d think yourself ill-used, I’ll be bound?”

The clerk smiled faintly.

“And yet,” said Scrooge, “you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work.”

The clerk observed it was only once a year.

“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Scrooge.

 

How ironic it seems to me that we are hearing about the potential of reduced rights for workers at Christmas time. Reports are circulating that post Brexit, the Working Time Regulations will be an early target for change or even repeal. The gutter press would have us believe that this is about reducing that great enemy of the economy; red tape.  That it is about taking back control of our laws, reducing the power of those meddling European judges.  It was even suggested by one ‘newspaper’ that the removal of the maximum 48-hour working week was a victory for all those hard working families (e.g. not anyone in receipt of benefits, claiming asylum or anyone else that isn’t the appropriate type of deserving poor) as they will be able to earn so much more overtime by way of their zero hours contracts, low paid gig economy task, modern day sweatshop or otherwise insecure employment that pervades our labour market.

But make no mistake, reducing hard fought for employment rights is what it is really all about.

For the uninitiated, the Working Time Regulations aren’t about unelected European bureaucrats, red-tape, immigration or anything else that the press routinely stir up hatred against. Nor were they about improving employer brand, Glassdoor score, employee engagement percentage, winning the war for talent or any other HR related intention. 

The Working Time Regulations are about health, safety and wellbeing. They provide, inter alia, limits on the amount of work and hours that people can undertake to ensure that health, safety and wellbeing – of the worker and of others.

Naturally, some relevant facts were left out of the headlines. Specifically that, in relation to the maximum 48-hour working week, employees have had the ability from the introduction of the Regulations in 1998, to opt out.  To choose to work more, if they wish to do so.  There is no ability to opt out of other provisions of the act, namely those that relate to rest.  20 minutes rest after six hours work.  At least a day off a fortnight.  20 days paid holiday a year*.   Not too much to ask, is it?

Do we really want to consider taking any of this away? Do we really want to have a society in which people can be exploited by unscrupulous employers, or can even choose to work themselves into a state of ill-health?  Put the health and safety of others at risk because of fatigue?

Maybe it is a terrible inconvenience for some employers that they have to provide the occasional break, paid holidays or rest periods. Maybe it’s just too much of an administrative burden for organisations to monitor the working hours of the people that work for them, or to provide an opt-out form, or check the health of a night-worker.  Perhaps the challenging economic position in which we find ourselves is all the fault of the Working Time Regulations.  Perhaps that all employees want for Christmas, is a return to Dickensian working conditions? is the ability to work more overtime?

Vital employment rights and protections must not, cannot, be sacrificed in the name of reducing red-tape, via the Brexit back door. Otherwise the working conditions of Scrooge and Marley will not be an amusing fictional exchange, confined to history, but the reality of some in our labour market.
*It should also be noted, for anyone wishing to jump on the Europe bashing bandwagon, that in respect of holidays, it is the UK that extended the right form 20 days leave (which could include eight bank holidays) to 28 a few years ago. I’ll stop now.

Reasons to be flexible

I read an article yesterday, all about flexible working. Contained within, three reasons why companies need to consider it.  One of them?  Because the law says so and it might be illegal not too.

And herein lies the problem.

The flexible working discourse is mired in the legislative framework. It is all about how we ‘handle a statutory request’, as opposed to having actual conversations with people about their wants and needs.  It is also the basis of our policies and processes.

Many of those policies do only that which is required by that statute. Often, the list of statutory reasons to say no right up front in the document.  The legislation was initially written for those with children or caring responsibilities – and we continue to associate the need for flexible working with these limited groups.

Approaching flexible working in these terms will mean that we forever miss the point. We will continue to view it through a family friendly lens, rather than one of talent or inclusion, or many of the other reasons why flexible working can be a Very Good Thing.

So in the interests of balance, here are my reasons why flexible working should be the rule, not the exception.

The current model of work (for the traditional office based worker at least) is predicated on the idea that we all go into an office at similar times of day.  This leads to poor outcomes for individuals and the environment – and even the organisation.  Long, crowded, expensive and stressful commutes.  Not good for wellbeing of any kind.  We know too, that many of us don’t do our best thinking in an office environment, surrounded by distractions and even more traditions of work that are often not conducive to what an organisation really needs (excellence, innovation, agility and so on and so on).

So why do we do still do it? These working patterns are hard wired and traditions die hard.

There are plenty of reasons as to why we should have more flexible working.

Flexibility is an inclusion thing. If we truly want rich, diverse and inclusive workplaces, then they need to be open to everyone, whatever their personal situation.  Consider someone with a physical disability.  How much harder is it for them to even get into a workplace on public transport in the crowded rush hour?  To travel to a workplace probably not in many ways set up for their specific personal needs, as opposed to their home which will be.  Whilst I don’t want flexible working to be a gender thing, a lack of flexible working at senior levels is a contributing factor to the lack of women the further up we go in the hierarchy.  Want to tackle your gender pay gap?  Start by thinking about making work more flexible.

It’s not just an inclusion thing – flexibility is also a talent thing. We’ve all heard about the much clichéd war for talent. We are so bought into the concept of employee engagement that we spend significant amounts of money and effort surveying it and action planning it and communicating all about it. We worry too about our retention of our talent.  Sadly, offering true flexibility is still a rare thing.  Which means that it is also a big talent opportunity – a way to attract, retain, engage and motivate.  All at very little cost.

Finally. And I saved the big one for last.

People want it. It is that simple.

I could go on about millenials and the new world of work.

But ultimately, the best reason of all is simply this one. Many of the people that work for you today, want more flexibility in their work and their lives.  If you don’t offer it, just maybe they will go somewhere that will.

The Monday to Friday 9-5 pattern of office work is a one size fits all model that meets the desires of the few.

It is 2017. It is time to put aside our prejudices and stereotypes and yesteryear glasses about where and how we work.

Let’s make flexible work, work.

 

If you want to read more about this subject, check out this great post from Paul Taylor.