10 Tips for Successful Flexible Working

I talk about flexible working a lot – but normally I’m being asked to deliver training or write policies. This week, someone who is starting to work flexibly for the first time asked me for some tips for making it successful.  This is what I said to them.

  • Clearly communicate your working pattern. Tell people, block the time out in your calendar so people don’t try and schedule meetings, and use an auto signature or out of office to communicate when you are available.
  • If you work part time, say so. Don’t preface it with ‘only part time’. You are not only anything.
  • Don’t be too flexible in return for your flexible working agreement. There might be occasions where a meeting is taking place at a day or time you don’t work, or people have an urgent issue they need to discuss with you when you are out of the office. Accommodating this once in a while is fine – but don’t make it a habit or let it expand so that you are doing it on a regular basis. Set your own boundaries.
  • Be prepared for ‘banter’. I wish I didn’t have to write this tip, but unfortunately it still happens. The ‘it’s alright for some’ comments are still rife in many workplaces, alongside the sideways glance at the watch. This is not your problem – it’s theirs. Decide in advance how you are going to handle this. You can choose to ignore it or have an answer ready. I tend to go with ‘I work flexibly because it makes me more productive’, often accompanied with a hard stare.
  • If your working pattern involves you working outside of what most people consider ‘typical’ working hours, consider how this will impact on others. For example, you may be online or sending emails at unusual times. Make it very clear that you don’t expect a response until the recipient’s normal working hours – this is especially important if you hold a senior position.

home working

  • Build in reviews of your working pattern. It’s good to keep flexible working under review. Check in with your manager every so often that the working pattern is working from their perspective as well as yours.
  • If childcare is your primary reason for working flexibly, don’t try and mix work with childcare. It isn’t good for you or the kids, and your work life balance will be impacted.
  • If your flexible working includes an element of homeworking, boundaries are also important here. Create a separate space for work if you can, and aim to have a defined start and finish time for work to prevent it spilling over into your home life.
  • If you are working a different schedule or from a different location to your colleagues, be proactive and talk to them about the best ways to keep in touch and stay connected. Make sure you own this conversation to ensure you don’t get left out. Let people know how best to contact you when you are not in the office.
  • Master technology. You don’t need special equipment of software to work flexibly or remotely – but you can make the most of readily available tools to facilitate effective communication and collaboration.

 

And finally….. be loud and proud about your flexible working. Working flexibly does not make you any less committed to your role.  Being open about flexible working helps to change the culture and pave the way for others.  If you feel that you can, be a flexible working role model.

 

Flexible working is already here….

……it’s just not evenly distributed.

Apologies to William Gibson for both appropriating and amending his quote.

Last week I shared on social media that I was really rather chuffed to be writing a book for Kogan Page, entitled ‘The Flexible Working Revolution’.

I have been inundated with connections keen to share the awesome stuff they are doing at their organisations in the name of flexibility.  I am looking forward to featuring some of these stories in the book in due course.

But this morning, the TUC shared the output from a recent poll that found that 1 in 3 flexible working requests are turned down.  I have also received comments from people in recent days, keen to share their horror stories when attempting to achieve even a small amount of flexibility in their working lives.

It’s clear that some organisations get the benefits of flexibility, not just for working parents as so often so stereotyped, but for wellbeing, inclusion, talent acquisition, retention and employee engagement.  But there are others that start from a position of no, of distrust, of flexism.

flex 2

 

Flexible working is in high demand, but more people want it than are able to achieve it.  I believe that flexible working is a key part of the future of work.  While some people are already embracing it, there are others that will continue to resist despite increasing evidence that this will be a talent risk.

Like with most new innovations or ways of working, the late majority will catch up – eventually.  But while we wait for them to do so, the talent might just have up and moved to somewhere more flexible instead.

Flexible working is already here.  Where are you?

 

 

Reflections on training. 

A few weeks ago I attended a training course. It wasn’t anything to do with my usual work, but was about learning to help children with Down Syndrome to navigate the transition to teenage years. 

As someone who regularly delivers training, I take part in learning as a delegate though that lens, experiencing it as a learner, but looking too at way the leaning is designed and delivered. The course left me with much to reflect upon, from both perspectives. 

The training itself was of the type that we now so often criticise. It was PowerPoint heavy, led from the front of the room by experts, and there wasn’t a huge amount of delegate activity. It was definitely low-tech.  There were no signs of flipped classrooms or action leaning sets or planning for knowledge transfer.  Just lots of content. 

There was an ice-breaker. A term second only to ‘role play’ for striking fear into your typical training attendee. From the oh so old school ‘introduce the person next to you’ routine to assembling pasta and marshmallows, we’ve all been there. But this was an ice breaker in every sense of the word. It was a question: ‘what word do you use with your child to describe their penis or vagina?’  Result – laughter, heads in hands, ice broken – but with an important point underneath used as a platform for serious discussion. (Children with learning disabilities should be able to have the appropriate descriptive words for their body in case they need to use them, for example to a doctor or the police). 

How often do you see an ice breaker at a learning event that either really breaks the ice, or is relevant to the learning itself? 

The extensive content was brilliantly delivered by two trainers who quickly established both their credibility and knowledge, but also their personal passion for the people that they help and support. They created a space in which it was safe to talk about difficult, deeply personal challenges. A room in which emotion could be expressed. 

It didn’t matter that the training room was bland. That it was a Sunday. That there was lot of PowerPoint and a cramming of content. No gimmicks. No workbooks or handouts. Just people who wanted to learn being taught solid content by people that understood.  

As a trainer, facilitator and occasional lecturer, I love to introduce new stuff to learners. I’m a fan of unconferences and Open Space, using technology in the classroom, MOOCs and flipped classrooms. 

But this course was a reminder, that underneath all the shiny and the new, what really matters is the quality of your content and the desire to learn from the people in the room. 

Symptoms or Causes

My good friend Fiona McBride has recently become a qualified yoga teacher. She has blogged about how, somewhat unexpectedly, she had found a connection between her yoga teaching and her work as a facilitator and coach. You can read her post here https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/crossover-fiona-mcbride.

The post resonated strongly for me as a few years ago I qualified as a Personal Trainer. Completely removed, or so I thought, was this learning from my day to day HR and coaching work.

But not so much.

Good and less good people stuff has similarities – whether we are talking about work or wellbeing (or indeed both).

Too often, personal training tackles symptoms and not causes. You want to get fit? Here’s some cardio. Want to tone? Have some weights. Lose weight? Here’s a diet plan. All laudable, but the missing piece is what lies beneath – and is where you can make a real difference. One that will sustain.

Why someone put weight on in the first place. Why someone suddenly wants to change their lifestyle. How they got to where they are today. Motivation, commitment, will.

Goal setting, starting with why, starting with the end in mind, identifying success, asking good questions, understanding, encouragement, appropriate challenge. Individual coaching, personal training…. the two are often the same in terms of approach. That one takes place in a work setting and the other in a gym barely matters.

But in organisations too, we see similar themes. We see a problem and want a quick, shiny solution. We don’t always take the time to really understand the true nature of the issue or how we got to where we are. We don’t do the deep work. We don’t seek the evidence. Treating symptoms and not causes. Instead, we use unhelpful phrases like ‘we are where we are’.

Whether we are talking about a fitness regime or the latest change initiative, quick fixes don’t work, and neither does ignoring the journey to now.

Doing the deep work is what makes all the difference.

5 reasons why employees don’t engage with wellbeing at work

I’ve been out and about talking to people about wellbeing at work. Talking to employees about why they do or why they don’t engage with wellbeing initiatives, activities and programmes where they work.  I am particularly interested in secondary and tertiary wellbeing initiatives; tools to enhance or boost wellbeing, tools to help people cope.  From mindfulness classes to resilience training, onsite fitness classes to events, health checks and counselling, what makes employees get involved – and what are the barriers to taking part?

These conversations have led me to find there are five main barriers to engagement with wellbeing at work.

I’m too busy.

We are all busy. Many of us like to make sure that other people know that too. Some people say that they simply don’t have time to engage in this sort of thing at work (or indeed at all). But the Personal Trainer in me questions this narrative – because this often what people say when they really mean that they don’t want to, don’t see what’s in it for them, or simply aren’t prepared to prioritise it. It’s a reason many people gave me (usually the first reason), but scratch the surface and you’ll often find something else instead. Sometimes, it is something else in this very list.

Stigma.

We all know that when it comes to mental health many employees are concerned about stigma. According to Mind, about a third of employees wouldn’t want to tell their manager if they are suffering from a mental health issue.  But the people I spoke to felt this about broader wellbeing activity too.  Going to a wellbeing event might make people think you can’t cope, that you need help, that you aren’t up to it.  It’s not what serious, successful people do, don’t you know. They are concerned about the potential reputational impact of being seen to need wellbeing support at work.

Cynicism.

As I’ve blogged before, many organisations work to support their employees in boosting wellbeing or dealing with the symptoms of ill-health when they arise. But they aren’t always quite so quick to tackle the big, strategic, organisational culture related stuff that works at the preventative level.   This in turn can to cynicism on the part of employees. The organisation isn’t serious, it’s all just window dressing, there’s no substance, no desire to do the difficult stuff.  It’s just care-washing.

Lack of awareness.

I recently organised some focused wellbeing activity for an internal event. I communicated on every channel known to a HR professional.  Several times.  I covered emails, intranets, social media and some old school posters too.  Why didn’t you come along? I asked people.  Didn’t know about it, came the reply.  It doesn’t matter how much you think you have communicated and communicated, your message won’t necessarily be getting through to the people that need to hear it.

Lack of management support.

There are two aspects to this. Firstly, a lack of role models (especially at a senior level) talking about wellbeing, being seen to (really) care about it, or even attending some of those activities for themselves. The second aspect rests with the actions of the immediate manager in terms of encouraging their team to get involved, creating the permission and providing the time. Where managers and leaders are aware of wellbeing and their role in enabling it, this can make all the difference.  Where it doesn’t happen this will impact on take up.

 

When it comes to wellbeing at work, there is no silver bullet.  There is no single solution to supporting people, engaging people, even tackling that bigger strategic stuff.  Wellbeing is personal, contextual.  What it means to live and work well is different for each of us.  There will be some who will never choose to get involved and that’s just fine.  But for those who just might want to but feel constrained or unable, tackling some of the stuff on this list of barriers is a good place to start.

 

Wellbeing: start where you are

wellbeing

This meme (and some similar variations) has been doing the rounds on social media for a while.

I get why it’s amusing and why it has been so widely shared; because for many of us it is likely to feel a little bit true about where we work.

Wellbeing interventions in the workplace are generally defined as being of a primary, secondary or tertiary nature.

The secondary stuff is about helping people to cope and health promotion. It’s resilience training, mindfulness classes, fitness and free fruit.  The tertiary stuff is about supporting people who are already unwell or in a crisis situation.  Occupational health, EAPs, counselling services.  Both secondary and tertiary initiatives address symptoms.  These initiatives focus and place the responsibility on the individual.

I’m seeing increasing criticisms of organisations who are operating only in the secondary and tertiary spaces. This is of course, the basis of the meme.  But there can be real value in the secondary and tertiary.  This stuff helps to shift culture, give permission, create conversation.  It can give people valuable skills and information, and nudge them to work with wellbeing in mind.

Wellbeing at work is a tripartite relationship; it involves the individual, the manager, and the organisation itself. So the secondary and tertiary activity will always need to be a big part of any workplace wellbeing focus, whatever else is going on.

Of course the primary intervention…. that is where the magic happens. Primary interventions are strategic.  Tacking the big issues, whether that is systemic, sector wide, structural or cultural.  It is tackling the causes of organisation ill-health, and not the symptoms.  Primary interventions focus on the organisation, not the individual.  This is the hard stuff.  Much harder than handing out free fruit or offering some desk based massage.

To be truly effective, a wellbeing strategy needs to have all three types of interventions. This is where real change will be felt because together they address both the source of any negative impact on wellbeing as well as the consequences.

But if you aren’t there yet, that is okay too. Start where you are and with what you have got.  And if that is a mindfulness class, that will do for starters.

Train life: the rules

At the weekend I came across a train etiquette guide. It was, in my opinion, far too brief.  I have therefore compiled my own guide, issued with thoughts and prayers to everyone who has to commute to work via the train.

  1. If you don’t regularly get a train during rush hour, try not to comment incredulously on the state of the railways to more regular commuters. Phrases such as ‘is it always this bad?’ and ‘I couldn’t do this every day’ will not be welcomed.
  2. Always, and I mean always, have your ticket ready to go through the station exit turnstiles. Try not to leave getting it out of your purse as you approach said turnstile when there are 45 other frustrated people behind you.
  3. Don’t speak to fellow commuters unless there is an absolute emergency. In my case, for the avoidance of doubt, this should only be if I am on fire and you are certain that I have not noticed.*
  4. When [insert useless train company of your choice] don’t sent enough carriages and you are forced to stand with your body so uncomfortably close to a total stranger that you can tell what they had for lunch, you will both pretend that this is not happening. There will be absolutely no eye contact.
  5. Take the following items on a train journey: tissues (to blow your nose – no sniffing, ever), headphones* (no, we don’t want to listen to your videos and Facetime calls) and something to read (this also helps with points 3 and 4).
  6. Do not take: smelly food, smelly dogs, smelly feet (retain shoes on feet at ALL times).
  7. If you take a large suitcase with you on your journey, please store this in the appropriate place. The appropriate place can vary from train to train, but is not ever a) on your seat when there are people standing, and b) in the middle of the bloody aisle so no one can get passed it.
  8. Don’t buy the coffee on the train. This has nothing to do with etiquette. It’s just always vile.
  9. Try not to use the toilet. See above.
  10. Wait for people to get off the train BEFORE YOU TRY AND BOARD IT.
  11. Please, oh please, don’t have loud business conversations on the train. If you need to form, norm and storm, sell several tonnes of steel, provide interview feedback or pick some low hanging fruit, do consider doing this somewhere (anywhere) else. It’s both a potential breach of the GDPR and deeply irritating.
  12. If you leave a train part way through its journey, consider taking your rubbish with you and putting it in an actual bin so that another traveller doesn’t have to sit next to your empty cans of Stella.
  13. Aftershave.  Don’t bathe in it before you leave the house for your commute.
  14. TAKE YOUR BAG OFF THE SEAT. Do not wait to be asked. Just do it. Or be aware that I will sit on it.

 

*A colleague gets my train regularly. Most days we then get on the same bus at the other end.  Sometimes we even sit next to each other.  We have never, ever spoken.  This is the British way.

**Headphones can also be utilised as a defence mechanism for people who break rule 3. You don’t even need to be listening to anything.

On Kindness

This is a story about kindness, and the difference that you can make to someone else without even knowing it.

My mum works in a supermarket. Recently while she was at work, a stranger walked up to her and spoke her name, took her hand. ‘I have wanted to see you again for nearly 40 years’ she said.

When I was a young child, my mother had been involved in the local community baby and toddler group. One day they had held a sale of pre-owned children’s clothing.  The woman holding my mum’s hand had been a young, single mum, struggling for money.  This was the late 1970s.  She told my mum how she had often experienced negative reactions to her single mum status.  Judgement and disapproval.  My mum had chatted to her just for a little while, been kind, and given her some of my old baby clothes and didn’t charge her for them.

This woman remembered my name, my mum’s name, every detail of the encounter. She told of how she had wanted to say a proper thank you during all of the years in between.  She had never forgotten a moment of kindness from another mum.  It doesn’t surprise me that my own mum doesn’t remember this particular meeting, because this is just who she is, every day.

We should remember that no act of kindness is ever wasted. People will always remember how you make them feel.  We can make a difference to others as we walk through the world.

Be kind, always.

kind

Employee Engagement: A Rant

I’ve recently been asked to deliver a workshop on employee engagement. It’s been a while since I’ve run a session like this, so I dug out my material and refreshed my thoughts.

And got very grumpy.

Now I know that there are issues with the concept of employee engagement as it is often presented. There are many unanswered questions too.

What do we actually mean by the term?

Exactly what are we asking people to engage with? The job, the company, the mission statement, their profession?

Is employee engagement anything new or is it just re-mixing and updating the old theories about motivation and job satisfaction?

Can we measure it? Especially if we don’t know what it is?

Can a feeling ever be a percentage?

Has Engage 4 Success ever said anything useful?

Is it even a thing, or is it snake oil?

 

But it struck me that there is a bigger, more fundamental question.

However we label it, we know lots and lots of stuff about what people like, want and value about and from work. We also know plenty about what demotivates and disengages people too.

So why don’t we apply it?

I’ve worked in HR for more than twenty years. During that time, in no particular order, here is a list of people related stuff, all of which contributes to creating good work and good workplaces and making people happy that I have seen side-lined, budget removed from, ignored and paid lip service too:

  • Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
  • Wellbeing
  • Flexible Working
  • Learning and Development
  • Leadership development
  • Candidate experience
  • Supporting working families
  • Fair approaches to remuneration
  • Recognition
  • Decent toilets and basic facilities like somewhere to make a nice cup of tea.

If we want employee engagement, job satisfaction, effect employee experience, motivation, self-actualisation, discretionary effort or just simply happy people, we know much of the theory.

So the big question is simply this.

If organisations want employee engagement so badly, why aren’t those same organisations doing the things that we know will get us there?  We can make an industry out of this stuff, make it more complicated than it needs to be.

Or we can get on with it.

 

Here’s a stock image of some people looking really happy at work. Cos, you know, engagement.

engagement

Dad Life

Yesterday new research was published by Deloitte about the millennial father (I am going to forgive the terrible title on the basis that the data is interesting). You can find the report here.

The research looks at the experience of working fathers. Here’s a few points of note from the data that stood out for me.

  • 1/3 of fathers surveyed reported having left a job for one which will allow them to spend more time with their children.
  • Another 1/3 of fathers are currently looking to do just the same.
  • Only 1 in 5 of those who requested flexible working had their request approved.
  • A 1/3 of fathers experience tension when needing time off to attend appointments or illnesses.
  • The tension felt by fathers doesn’t just come from the organisation itself (and its managers) but colleagues too.
  • 37% of fathers say that they have experienced negative impacts on their mental health as a result of trying to balance work and being a parent.
  • Guilt is a prominent emotion for fathers – guilt with line managers, partners, children, colleagues.

This headline findings within this report are loud and clear.

This is a talent issue.

This is a wellbeing issue.

This is a 2019 issue.

I’ve talked to fathers who have been subject to banter, inappropriate pressure and outright discrimination for wanting to work more flexibly, do the school run or take shared parental leave.  The not-so-subtle glance at the watch, the casual ‘part-timer’ comment.

This is Not Good Enough.

Few fathers really want the old model of fatherhood of the semi-absent dad, doing all the long hours and leaving the wife to go the school events. Dads want to be involved in their kids lives – shock.

But the old attitudes within organisations and too many individuals still exist.

Many employees now understand that there’s more to life than work. Now it’s time for employers who haven’t realised this too, to catch up – or lose your talent.

This really isn’t hard unless we make it so.

The report tells us what fathers want. More flexible working, better policies, improved manager attitudes and behaviours, more information on the leave and pay available to them.

Shall we just get on with it?

dad

Reflections on learning

I’m currently studying for a Post Graduate Certificate in Higher Education. It’s been a fascinating course for many reasons, partly for the content but partly because of the delivery and assessment methods the course employs.

I wanted to share a little of my experiences here – and reflect on why it works so well for the learners. It is my full intention to borrow heavily from the approach for learning I’m currently designing for the workplace.

The overall approach is a flipped classroom. Reading, watching and consuming content done in your own time.  The face to face classroom element was about exploration, debate and discussion.  Learning together, not side by side.

For my most recent module, the assignments were submitted in blog form (my joy was unconfined). They were posted over on Medium, tagged to the course.  The reading list for this year’s students included the blogs written by the previous cohort.  Next year’s students will read ours.  We were encouraged to reference and build on the ideas of past learners.  Working out loud for the win.  I wrote about my own approach to open learning and MOOCs.  In the spirit of openness I’ve included the links if you’re interested (they haven’t been marked yet, just so you know).  I’m currently designing some new learning and I’m planning to include this approach as a final reflection piece for the learners. It brings together the benefits of personal reflection and sharing learning experiences and ideas with others.

blog

Much of the pre course reading was provided online via Medium. Instead of doing your pre-reading alone and bringing your notes along to the classroom learners were encouraged to reflect online first, open for all to see.  These ideas where then developed later, together.

There was encouragement to use social media tools to enhance learning. The course used a wide range of tech tools.  Padlet, Popplet, Camtasia, podcasts, video. We were also encouraged to undertake some MOOCs alongside the primary course content,  with specific recommendations made by the course tutors.  There were minimum requirements for the learning, but how much or how little you interacted with outside of these requirements was in the gift of the learner.  There was a great deal of signposting to content – but nothing compulsory.  There were deadlines, but much of the pace of learning was within your control too.

Recognising that most of the learners on the programme had busy day jobs, there was no formal requirement that you would make the face to face lectures. Everything was recorded and available online afterwards.  No fancy film crew required,  most of it was done by simple tech.

Finally, when it comes to assessment, there was plenty of freedom. You could choose to do the standard essay format, or pitch something you felt was more you.  For my first assessment I wrote the first three chapters of an e-book that I intend to complete when the course has finished, which will be made available to new colleagues as part of their induction.  For another module, I submitted a storyboard and a screencast – this is now about to become an in-house MOOC.  The aim was to centre your research and assignments within your own areas of interest and work at the organisation – and then most importantly, do something with it.  We’ve all been on a training course that uses hypothetical case studies that lack context, or established an action learning set that quickly died out.  Letting students direct and focus their learning to their specific interests has led to real action across the cohort – surely the aim of all learning programmes.

I’ve experienced plenty of learning over the years.  I’ve done full time study, part time study and distance learning. I’ve attended lectures, undertaken role plays, completed e-learning and written essays.  In terms of experience, this has been by far the best – and the one where I have most fully transferred the learning into practice. It’s improved the day job – and that should always be our aim.

Learning with the learner at the heart.

 

 

The great homeworking debate

Homeworking is in the news.

Recent data from the Office for National Statistics shows a jump in the numbers of homeworkers over the last ten years. This isn’t all that surprising if we consider how much technology has moved on during the same time frame.

The BBC covered the story here.  It references concerns from Mind about the loneliness and isolation that can result from home or remote working.  The article does the typical thing of finding some people who think working from home is awesome, and some who find it a challenge for a range of reasons.

Here’s the thing.

Wellbeing is individual, personal, contextual, changeable.  We are indeed socially driven, and research from the New Economics Foundation has found that connecting with others is a driver of wellbeing.  But we are all different.  For every one of us that thrives in being around others and engaging, there will be someone else that craves quiet and time to themselves.  One size only fits one.

For me, my regular working from home is a benefit to my wellbeing. My long and stressful commute is challenging, so a day without it is a boost. My office days are usually frantic and coffee fuelled, food grabbed on the go. Working from home gives me time to focus and breathe.  Proximity to the biscuit tin aside, I usually also eat better, and fit in some exercise too.

But that’s me. This is an anecdote, not evidence from which we should draw any wider conclusions.

Instead of trying to decide whether homeworking is good or bad or something in between, instead we need to enable people to work in the way that works best for them; their productivity, their wellbeing, their efficiency and their personal commitments. For some that will be in an office, for others it’s their sofa.

Let’s just focus on adult to adult.

What and how the work is done, not where and when.

home working

Asking better questions

A little while ago I put a call out to HR folks via Twitter, asking them for their best open ended questions for employee surveys.

Now I am something of a cynic when it comes to surveys. I believe in the importance and power of employee voice, I’m just not convinced that a survey every year or two is the best way to get it – or the only way to get it at least.  Voice should be a dialogue.  Surveys have a part to play but organisations have a tendency to over rely on them – and then when it comes to taking action – seriously under deliver.

One of my key issues about surveys is the often used approach of including one or two open form questions at the end. Most organisations use very similar wording.  There will usually be something about the best bit about working at [insert name of organisation] and an opportunity to say something that you think ought to be changed or done differently.  Hardly ground breaking.

I’ve rarely found an organisation that seriously looks at the ‘things I’d change’ text and does anything meaningful with the data. I have however seen shrugs and eye rolls.  Suggestions often get dumped into one of two categories – stuff we know about and can’t / won’t change or stuff that we justify not changing because the employees got it wrong and we know better.

It’s my view that asking people two questions every couple of years with a limited character count ain’t employee voice.

I wanted to take the opportunity to ask some better questions the next time around. So I asked for help and my network delivered.  In the interests of sharing my learning, I’ve detailed them here.  In an example of shocking form I noted the question but not who suggested them and this is now lost forever in my twitter history.  Apologies to you if you gave me one of these cracking questions and I’ve  not give you credit.  Here’s the list:

  • What one thing should we do between now and the next survey to get your score to be significantly higher?
  • What is the one thing we should have asked you but didn’t?
  • What is the best piece of advice you have been given since you started here?  Or, what is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting here?
  • What gives you joy about working here? (I guess there’s a risk with this one that some people might say ‘going home)
  • What do we do that would help you be awesome at work?
  • How could we better support your career?
  • What is the biggest and smallest thing that we could do better?
  • What is the most challenging thing about working here?
  • What has happened in the last month to make you happy at work?
  • What is it about your job that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning?
  • What would you do if you were leading the organisation.

My personal favourites are the top two. Questions to get people thinking, not writing the same old stuff that they did last year that you took no notice of.  Of course, a good question and fresh perspectives can’t prevent organisation inaction – but just maybe they will provide you with a whole new set of ideas and challenges.  Just try and do something with the feedback…….

 

pexels-photo-263532

Where’s your flexible working policy?

Almost all organisations will have a flexible working policy, even if all it’s doing is stating the minimum requirements of the legislation.

But where is it?

Where on your intranet, where in your managers guidance, your welcome booklet or your induction material?  Where in your recruitment material and processes?

Is it next to the maternity, adoption and parental leave policies?

If the answer is yes, what lies underneath that decision? And what message do you think it sends to the people that work for you?

Flexible working is for parents. And for everyone else.

This article I spotted last night hits all the nails on the head.

Flexible working is about inclusion, wellbeing, talent attraction and retention and engagement. It’s also about sustainability (just how many people do you have travelling unnecessarily into a city for a face to face meeting that they could do on Skype just because that’s how you’ve always done it?).  Flexible working is also key to addressing the gender pay gap.

The placement of your policy speaks to your intention – and your bias.

If your flexible working policy is sat next to your maternity leave policy, then I’d respectfully suggest you think about moving it to somewhere a little more inclusive instead.

flex 2

Top 10 commuters to avoid

It’s a funny old thing getting the train to work. It is, quite often, a fairly miserable experience. The unreliability, the cost, the dilapidated trains.  But most of all, the biggest challenge is often the fellow commuter.  Here is my list of the worst of the worst.

  1. The one who has their bag on the seat next to them and pretends they can’t see all the people standing up. Note to this commuter. This isn’t going to work. It really isn’t, no matter how much you harrumph or how slow you move your stuff. Be fair to others.
  2. The one who watches video on their phone without headphones.   This should be illegal. I tolerate quite a lot on the train, but this is the one thing that I will ask someone to stop. With, it must be said, varying levels of success.
  3. The manspreader. Nuff said.
  4. The one with the excessively loud ringtone. Most often accompanied with and excessively loud conversation when answered. I’M ON THE TRAIN.
  5. The one who breaches the GDPR. I am amazed what people do on the train. I have seen people assessing CVs, reading legal papers, sending emails about other people, all with personal data on display. I’ve also overhead people getting interview feedback.   I recently sat next to a legal type and read his court papers over his shoulder. It was fascinating stuff, but I bet the claimant wouldn’t have been all that happy about it.
  6. The ones that are drunk. Whether it’s the Christmas party season or that lone dude who is nailing can after can of Stella Artois, this is never the commuter to sit next to.
  7. The one who only gets the train occasionally and loudly reflects how they are glad that they don’t have to do this every day.  Lucky you.  And just for the record, we already know how awful it is.
  8. The one who won’t give way with their laptop. You are sitting at a table trying to do a little work on your laptop. Only the person opposite to you has their laptop out too and is taking all the space. Note to this commuter. If you are sitting opposite me, it’s going to get a shove.
  9. The one who talks to strangers. The person sitting next to them is a new potential friend!  AVOID AT ALL COSTS.
  10. The one who overshares. You know the one. They spend the entire journey on the phone to their mum or their BFF and you know everything about them. Including lots of stuff you never, ever wanted to know. Shhhhh.

These aren’t the only challenging commuters; there’s the ones who bring stinky food, the ones who take their shoes off, the snorers, and those who have dubious personal hygiene.

I hope if you are reading this, you aren’t one of these commuters. I don’t think I am.  Although I do crunch Werthers Originals all the way to the office.  Which means that somewhere, I’m probably on someone else’s list of people not to sit next to.

 

PS: commuting is a wellbeing issue. It is stressful, expensive and takes away from people’s time with their family.  Flexible working is a potential solution.  Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk. 

train

 

Hanging out the washing

I was chatting recently with some female colleagues, and we got to talking about flexible working. In particular, we talked about some of those negative perceptions of people who work flexibly, especially those who work from home for some of the time.  Flexism.

The idea that we are skiving. That somehow we are less committed. That it’s alright for some.  That we are probably watching Homes Under the Hammer.  We talked about how when we do work from home, we feel that we do deeper, more focused work.  We are more productive, without the constant disruptions of office life.  We have time to think, plan, create.

And then one of my colleagues said…. ‘well of course, I also do the washing’.

One by one we all agreed. One of the key benefits of working from home is getting your washing done.

A conversation of epic domesticity followed.  Get a load in first thing.  Get it on the line at lunch.  If you are organised, you can get two loads done and dry in a day.  The joy!  Each of us nodded along, completely understanding because we do it too.

Behind the humour, a serious point. This is just another small way in which domestic labour falling on women is taken for granted.  Another small way in which we are constantly balancing the work stuff and the life stuff.  Fitting it in. Because this is where the bulk of it still falls.  On women.

Back to the myths and the stereotypes of flexible working. All too often we see flexible working through the ‘family friendly’ lens.  It’s something that mums want, when their children are young.  It’s something that skivers want too.  We don’t think about it as being for wellbeing, inclusion, talent attraction and retention, engagement, a potential key to tackling the gender pay gap.

We got it wrong. Turns out, flexible working is for people who want to do the laundry.

wash

 

London’s Calling (or is it)

I recently attended a work life balance event for International Women’s Day. Inspiring female academics spoke about their experiences of balance, wellbeing, of finding their way through the challenges of demanding careers, family and all of the other life stuff. There were a few things that stood out to me, that are at the forefront of my mind a week later. I wanted to share some of those thoughts and ideas here.

We talked about whether you can really have it all. The conclusion….. yes. Probably. Just not all at the same time.

Work life balance means different things to different people at different stages in their lives. It’s important to work out what it means for you and what resources, whether individual or organisational, exist to help you. I hear this…. as a wellbeing coach, I always begin with new coachees by talking about the meaning of wellbeing to them. There is no one answer. There are a few formal definitions if you go googling, but wellbeing is contextual, personal, changeable.

Back to the speakers. We must recognise and move through the tough days. Acknowledge when you are having a tough time and take some steps, no matter how small, to support self-resilience. Connect with the people around you. Others will have experienced this too. Do some physical activity, take time for yourself and your leisure. Find time to do nothing.

Share your tips with others. In the organisation, set a good example. We change culture through small actions. Don’t join in with the evening and weekend emailing.

Create discipline within your working day – this is both a simple but difficult thing to do. Time is a precious resource. We need to protect it. Time is not a free gift, it’s finite. Some people say yes to everything they are asked to do. This will not serve your wellbeing. There are other, better ways to prove yourself than turning up to every meeting. Work out the ones that matter and go to those. Brevity is key.

We need to let go of trying to be a superman or woman. Let your standards in housework drop if you need to. You don’t need to be perfect and you need get comfortable with that.

And here comes my favourite tip from the session. Pretend you are in London for the day. Tell everyone you aren’t around. Shut the office door. Block the time out. You’ll be amazed at what gets done in your absence.

I think this session resonated with me so much, as I am pretty bad at this stuff. Despite coaching others on wellbeing, I’m not so good at taking my own advice.  Over committing is my downfall.  Here is what I have learned about wellbeing and trying to have it all, even if I don’t always put it into practice.

  • No is a complete sentence.
  • Guilt is a useless emotion. It hurts you and keeps you stuck.
  • Work (knowledge work at least) never actually ends. It just pauses until you come back to it.
  • The Queen is probably not coming for tea. Even if she does, she’s been a working mum, she will understand.
  • It’s not me/you that is at fault for finding this balance stuff difficult. It’s the system that we operate in.
  • If you don’t take care of your own wellbeing, who will?
  • Protect your you time. That thing that sustains you, that gives you a sense of wellbeing, or just reduces your stress, do that.  Deliberately, proactively and without guilt.

Or…..just tell everyone you have gone to London.

london 2

 

If you are interested in fitness, health and wellbeing I also write a blog over here

On hugs.

I watched the recent Ted Baker hug story with interest. For those who haven’t seen the headlines, their CEO has recently resigned following a leave of absence, after staff spoke out about harassment including forced hugs and asking female staff to sit on his knee and cuddle him.  The resignation statement on the Ted Baker website talks about learning lessons and making appropriate changes.

The story resonated with me because I have been there. My first proper job after graduation was with a recruitment consultancy.  The owner and CEO was what some people might describe as ‘touchy feely’.  He would often walk into a room and hug you and kiss your cheek, let his hand linger on your back. There are worse forms of harassment in the workplace, but those hugs were a little too close for comfort for my liking.  I’m sure that there are some people who won’t see this as all that bad.  At the time it was generally laughed off as ‘just what he is like’ and ‘he doesn’t mean anything by it’.  Excuses for inappropriate behaviour.

I’m all for a hug. With people that I like.

And there’s the thing.

It’s not about the hug or the kiss or the cuddle.

It’s about the power. It is about someone with the power that comes from seniority, choosing to use it.  Underneath every unwanted hug or kiss from boss to subordinate is the subtext that the individual on the receiving end doesn’t have that power, and can’t say no without fear of consequence.

In my case, the 20 something year old me was straight out of university and skint. I needed that job. So I didn’t feel that I could tell a man in his 50s, who owned the company that ultimately paid my rent, to get the hell away from me.  There was no one to complain to.  So like most of the other women in the office, I put up with it.  It’s not something I would do today, but I’m older, and wiser and have more power of my own.

This stuff wasn’t acceptable 20 years ago and it isn’t today. The more we talk about it, the more we highlight cases like these and the more that we show that there are consequences for inappropriate behaviour, the more we empower others to tell those that choose to exercise their power in harmful ways that they can hug right off.

That’s nice.

From time to time I run workshops for managers and leaders about wellbeing. We explore what we mean by wellbeing, what a well team looks like, the role of the manager in enabling staff wellbeing, and how to have wellbeing conversations.

Typically, the delegates are self-selecting, so to some extent I am preaching to the converted – or at least the curious and interested. The question often arises in some form or another about how we reach those who aren’t so interested. Because in many respects those are the folk that we need to reach the most.

Recently, this discussion came up in the form of comment.  A delegate shared the responses she had received when telling fellow managers that she was attending my workshop.

That’s nice.

She didn’t think it was nice. Neither did I.

We thought it was necessary.

Kittens are nice. So are fluffy bunny rabbits.  Also, wine.  And biscuits.

Wellbeing isn’t nice. It’s serious stuff.  Work can be a force for good.  It can also be a source of stress, ill-health, pressure.

Caring about the health and wellbeing of the people that work for you is the right thing to do. As a people manager or HR professional we have responsibilities in this space.

It isn’t nice to be capable of having a conversation about mental health. About working with wellbeing in mind.  Role modelling, tackling behaviours that can negatively impact upon health, promoting a healthy culture.

It isn’t nice, it is a critical part of management responsibilities.

If you want nice, here are some cute rabbits.

bunny

Flex is for women. And everyone else.

The Labour party has announced today that should they return to government they would introduce flexible working from day one. Apparently there would be a presumption for flexible working with all roles.   It’s hard to see how this could work in practice.   But of course it all depends on what we actually mean by flexible working.

Talk of flexible working brings with it a range of assumptions and biases. Many people take flexible working to mean working part time – very often for family reasons.  Something of interest primarily to mothers. In that definition it could be possible to have a legislative framework in which any full time job should be considered as suitable for working fewer hours.  The 37.5 hour working week is after all, a fairly arbitrary invention.

But flexible working is so much more than that.

All too often we look at it through the family friendly lens. This article from the Guardian illustrates that nicely.  Check out the accompanying stock image.  A woman in a business suit, baby on shoulder.  Flexible working isn’t something that mums want when they have a small child – but this is how it is often portrayed – both in the media and within organisations.

There are so many reasons people want to work flexibly. Some of these are practical; caring responsibilities, financial reasons (just consider the cost of commuting), disabilities, children.  Others are lifestyle or wellbeing choices.  Combining work with study or hobbies, the desire for greater life work balance.  None is ‘better’ or more important than others.

Yes, women do the bulk of the childcare in our society, and broader care responsibilities too. That’s part of a bigger problem.  The solution isn’t to make it easier for women to get flexible working, but to make flexible working an accepted norm.  The 26 week wait to request flexible working is undoubtedly a barrier to flexibility.  The statutory framework could also be much improved, not least because it’s all too easy to reject a request on the flimsiest of grounds.

The real issue however, is attitudes.

Too often, when it comes to flexible working, the answer is no, now what’s the question?

A belief that flexible working will be exploited. That it’s an excuse for skiving.  That there’s nothing in it for the organisation.  That men don’t need it, and those that do are somehow weak or available for jokes.  That those who work flexibly are less committed and motivated.

This is the stuff  that needs to change, perhaps more than the legislation.

Perhaps we can start with our stock images – and our own internal framing. Where’s your flexible working policy?  In with your employee benefits – or next to the maternity and adoption policy?

enabler 2