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.

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