About hrgem

HRD working in healthcare. Fellow of the CIPD. Writer, speaker and blogger on all things HR and work. Author of 'Putting Social Media to Work, A practical guide'. Believes that HR is all about doing good people stuff. Blogs at www.hrgemblog.com. Also writes for Glassdoor and the HR Director Magazine. Tweets as @HR_Gem.

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.

Never stop working….

… on your work life balance.

Everyone has competing demands on their time.  Work, family, home, responsibilities.  For many of us, daily life is a juggling act as we attempt to meet the challenge of doing it all.  Talk of finding balance between work and life has been around for a long time.  But it seems somehow, elusive.

But work is part of life.  Life and work don’t have to be two competing concepts.  They are not binary. For some work is also a personal passion.  A fundamental part of who we are and how we define themselves.

Technology has both enabled and challenged the idea of work life balance.  It has allowed work to be done more flexibly in terms of time and location, but at the same time it brings with it the challenge of being constancy contactable.  The pressure of the immediate response.  Ever more ways of contacting and notifying us of something to look at Right Now.   If there are lines between home and work, they are ever more blurred.

I have seen mention of a new term lately: work life integration. An acknowledgement perhaps that it is not balance that we should strive for but something else.  A way in which we can integrate these two dimensions, these two fundamental parts of ourselves, and seek a way that that they can come together that is conducive to both good work and personal wellbeing.  Or maybe, it is just old wine in new bottles.  A new terms to blog about.

Many organisations are thinking about the work life balance of their employees, in some form or another. From family friendly policies to flexible working to wellbeing programmes and EAPs, there is no shortage of initiatives. Of course the question must be asked….. is there a gap between the rhetoric and the reality?  Is it real care, or simply care wash?

But whatever an organisation does, however enabling and supportive it may be, work life balance starts with us.  The individual.  All too often we don’t do enough for ourselves.  We don’t make us a priority.  Instead our work, our never ending ‘to-do’ list and the stuff and the stuff….. it all takes priority over our own health and wellbeing.  Perhaps it feels a little selfish sometimes, to put yourself first.

What amounts to good work life balance is different for everyone.  There is no simple, one size fits all formula.  It isn’t, as the term suggests, about finding an equality between the two, but something that works for us and sustains our physical and mental health.  What that looks like, change too.

I once read that if you love something, if it nourishes you and gives you energy, whatever it is, make it non-negotiable. Fight for it if you have to.  It is a sentiment that stuck.  For me, for a long time, it was exercise.  And even though I’m no longer as focused on my physical fitness as I once was, when I need to relax, when I need to breathe and find a little calm jus for me, I swim.

The few things that I know about work and life and balance, is that if you need to make changes, speak up. Your company might offer you some free fruit or publish a policy, but they can’t own it.   Protect what is good for you.  And finally, feel free to say no to the things that are not.

The best work life balance is the one we have created for ourselves. Only we can make it happen.  Every day.

 

Choice and Trust.

You know when you read something and just say….

Yes. This.

This is what I really meant in all of those posts I have written about flexible working.

This is the thing.

My morning commute today was spent reading an ACAS Research Paper (yes I really am that geeky). Flexible working for parents returning to work: maintaining career development.  You can find the full report here. It is well worth a read if you are interested in the subject.

There are a few sentences that stood out. If you don’t have time to read the full 32 pages, here they are.

Flexibility is about choice: choice about how to deliver against contractual commitments whilst we balance all the parts of our lives. Choice is core to intrinsic motivation and therefore emotional engagement.

At the heart of success lies trust. Trust that flexible working really can be good for business; trust in the employee to do the right thing in getting the work done regardless of the particular hours that they work or their location and trust that a flexible worker is as committed, productive and worthy of career development as their more traditionally working colleague

There is really nothing more to be said.

Apart from of course, how we make businesses understand this truth.

People policies. The good, the bad and the awesome.

I write people policies for a living. So it’s no surprise that I have strong views on them.  Policies are often used as a stick to beat HR with – you’ve only got to consider the ‘policy police’ tag as an example.  It certainly isn’t considered the most exciting area of HR.  They are necessary though.  Whether your organisation is big or small, simple or complex, you need to have the policy basics in place.  I see good examples.  And I see terrible examples.

Bad policies:

  • Treat people like children.
  • Create distrust.
  • Include unnecessary detail.
  • Attempt to define every eventuality.
  • Tell managers what to do and how to do it..
  • Get in the way of the day job.
  • Assume bad behaviour is likely.
  • Are long and over formal.
  • Are just about ‘proof’ employees have been told something. (Repeat after me, you do not need everyone to sign your HR Policies).
  • Are accompanied by terrible e-learning.
  • Sit on the website and intranet.
  • Are based on a downloaded template, or copied from somewhere else the HR person used to work.

On the flip side are the good examples. Good people policies……

  • Treat people like adults.
  • Don’t just deal with issues or potential issues.
  • Meet all legal requirements and consider good current practice.
  • Have a tone of voice that matches the organisation.
  • Don’t constrain decision making.
  • Explain what is required of everyone.
  • Reflect the rest of the organisation – they aren’t just ‘off the shelf’ or best practice. They are contextual.
  • Are aligned to organisational aims, missions, values.
  • Build in management discretion.
  • Are not overlong.
  • Consider the first impression for new starters.
  • Are well communicated.
  • Are user friendly and easy to understand.
  • Are supported with other useful information and a range of formats.
  • Are aligned to the rest of the people activity.

But you can go even better than that. You can have progressive people policies.

    • That treat people like they are going to do the right thing.
    • Challenge people to do the right thing.
    • Create permission for change.
    • Create trust.
    • Further the aims / strategies of the organisation.
    • Are focused on and ready for the future.
    • Are merely the foundations of your HR practice on which you build learning and skill.
    • Take into account how their drafting will make people feel.
    • Have a straightforward tone of voice and talk to people like they are adults.
    • Encourage and enable desired behaviour rather than have a list of ‘do-nots’
    • Further the rest of the people activity.
    • Are constantly changing to meet the needs of the organisation.

 

 

Don’t make your policies boring, formal, unhelpful.  Make them awesome instead.

 

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: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-big-conversation-about-families-parents-and-the-workplace-tickets-36952087689

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.