Making flexibility a reality for all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Who wants to work in a office like this?

This article landed in my Twitter timeline today.  A countdown of the UK’s coolest offices. Apparently (as I could only bring myself to read some of it), the list contains offices with rotating fairground rides, reggae rooms and living jungles (whatever they are).  I am betting that there is also a mix of zany colours, bean bags and maybe a football table or two in the mix.


I cant’ think of anywhere I would want to work less.

Cool is all too often style over substance. Personally, I’d rather work for somewhere that has inspirational leaders, a great organisational culture, decent tech for me to use.  I don’t need clouds painted on the ceiling (yes, I have seen this with my own eyes); I need somewhere that I can think.  I want to work somewhere that will help me to develop, cares about my wellbeing, allows me to be creative and contribute.

A fairground ride will not make any of these things happen.  It won’t impact productivity for the better, create employee engagement, inspire people to be their best or achieve their objectives. If you are lucky it might create a laugh or two in the workplace when it’s first launched.  It will no doubt provide for some fun Instagram shots for the social feeds.

But to me, it just feels like the modern day equivalent of putting up a sign that says ‘you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps’.

If you have money to spare in your corporate budget, I’d suggest that there will always be a better, more impactful way to spend it than installing a slide or a drum kit in the office.  (Memo, you are not Google, and neither is anyone else but Google).

As my friend Neil Usher said, cool is dead.

We don’t need more gimmicks.  We need better workplaces for all.

We can be heroes

My Other Half says that I only have two speeds.  Full on, or dead stop.

He is, in this and many other observations, quite right. I like to fill each minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run. I find sitting still a waste of time that could be spent doing stuff and more stuff. But just occasionally, like when I am on holiday, I stop still. I like to sit, chill, read, be. I immerse myself in books, mostly of a deeply unchallenging nature.

This last week has been spent in stop mode. Total relaxation.

Whilst doing so, I caught sight of a Twitter article referencing some senior leader or other who works 150 hour week. I didn’t read any further –  there is already too much glorification of busy to read more. What I do know, is that our brains and bodies aren’t wired for that sort of schedule no matter who we are or what we do. Get past  a number of hours each week, a number of days without rest, and we will decline in our abilities and our performance.

I’ve worked with many a leader who doesn’t know when to stop, when to recharge.  Who believe, or at least acts as if they do, that if they aren’t around the stuff won’t get done, that others won’t manage without them. At best, this is misguided. At worst, it is completely disempowering to the people around you.

We can be heroes, or we can be real.

Rest, is critical.  For some, it is a week in the sunshine. For others, perhaps a digital detox.  Maybe the recharge from time spent with family or friends.  Out. Of. Office.

Time from which we can emerge, renewed, re-energised, ready to take it all on again anew.

And that is how I feel today. Rested,  restored, ready.

Look out world.

Things that annoy me number 572

Last week a story was doing the rounds on social media.  Over on LinkedIn it was described as ‘uplifting’, ‘inspirational’, a ‘lovely story’ and ‘heartwarming’. 

It’s an American story, but I’ve heard similar tales in the U.K. too. 

A Florida based teacher is undergoing treatment for cancer. He had used up all of his sick leave and still had several rounds of chemotherapy to go.  He appealed for help and colleagues a plenty stepped up and donated their own sick days to make sure he had what he needs to get him through. Now that is absolutely awesome. And it is heartwarming when people, without the desire for anything in return, do something for others in need. 

But where is the employer in this positively framed story?

Inspirational? Uplifting? 

I call BS. 

The employer, and any other that allows this kind of system, should be utterly ashamed. 

Ghandi said that the true measure of society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. The same can be said of employers.

How you treat your sick, disabled, pregnant or otherwise vulnerable workers defines you.  It’s not about employee benefits and wellbeing initiatives and learning opportunities and all that other employer brand and engagement stuff. It’s about doing the right thing.  And from time to time this means sticking your neck out for someone in need, going above and beyond the policy and saying to hell with the precedent you might set. 

Good enough for jazz


I recently completed an ILM programme in wellbeing coaching. In the days that followed I got to thinking.  How could I take the essence of my learning to help others, beyond the few coachees I could work with at any one time?  How could I help people to think about their wellbeing and their health, and make positive change?  The answer seemed to be a workshop of sorts.  Creating a space in which people could explore how they feel about their wellbeing.  A space to encourage reflection, planning, change.  So I wrote the outline of a workshop.  I sent it to a colleague who helped shape it.  I put a post on our internal network to see if anyone was interested in trying it out.  Within a couple of hours I had an email from someone who is running a team event and would love to try it – the day after tomorrow.  From concept to delivery = 11 days.

My point is this. The workshop might be useful (I think it is, I hope it is).  It might not be.  But we will find out.  The content might not be perfect or polished.  But it is out there in the world.  The team know what they are getting: an experiment.  In return, I will get feedback.  The workshop will then get better for the next time.

I have worked in organisations where this would not be possible. Where I would have needed sign off and a project plan and a formal pilot with a de-brief and a lessons learned wash up.  A concept and a terms of reference and some aims and objectives and so on and so on.

There is so much stuff in organisations that slows down the doing. Sometimes, we strive for perfection when good enough might be good enough.  Other times, it is because of the ways of working, culture, bureaucracy.

In my experience, here are some of the worst offenders.

Consulting everyone

Voice is important. So is collaboration, diversity of thought.  But you can do too much of it.  If you have to get the opinion of every man and his whippet, you will not only slow the work down but risk diluting it.  You can never take into account or accommodate every single opinion and item on the wish list.  Talk to enough people (the right people) to get a range of views, and the push ahead.

Setting up a working party

The first meeting will inevitably be spent talking about the purpose of the working party and agreeing some terms of reference and a reporting mechanism. The second meeting can be used to sign these off.  By about meeting five, you might start getting some actual work done.

Having too many people in the room

Jeff Bezos from Amazon is known for his two pizza rule. Never hold a meeting in which two pizzas can’t feed everyone there.  We all know what happens when we have too many people in a meeting room.  The introverts and reflectors get lost, their voices unheard.  The meeting loafers sit back, taking no actions or responsibilities.  Groupthink kicks in.  Everything. Slows.  Right. Down.

Having too much project bureaucracy

Taking minutes, circulating them for comment, singing them off, apologies, action logs, printed papers…… You might need this stuff if you are doing highly complex work.  Massive projects.  Work were at some point in the future, someone will really need to look back to see what was decided and why.  But you don’t need to do this for everything.  When you have a set of minutes and an action log circulated after a meeting, you can pretty much guarantee that its main use will be someone opening it just before the next meeting to see what they had forgotten they were supposed to do.  Just make sure everyone knows what they need to be doing and crack on.

Sometimes we need governance, structure, data, reflection and perfection. Sometimes we just need to JFDI.  If it’s good enough for jazz, go play.


Do you care?

Today, the Telegraph published this article suggesting that women in their thousands will be forced to quit their jobs to look after ill or ageing relatives if the supply of care workers from the EEA falls post Brexit.  My first reaction was to reflect on the whole misogyny of the headline.  But on reflection, sadly, it is probably true.  Domestic labour and care work, falls, for the most part at least, onto women.  The reasons for this are many, complex and structural.  Women still often earn less than men, so in many families this will be the most economic decision.  Women are already more likely to be working part time as a result of having children so again, such care work will naturally fall to them.  And so on.

But it isn’t just women who face workplace penalties when providing care. Working Families recently published their research ‘Off Balance’, looking at the issues faced by the parents of disabled children.  A few of the findings from the research:

  • 47% of mothers of disabled children are in paid work, compared with 64% of other mothers. There’s a difference in fathers too, but only2%. It’s those pesky gender roles once again.
  • 45% of parents of disabled children describe themselves as working in a job at a skill level below the one they had before they had their child.
  • There is a significant lack of specialised, affordable childcare to allow parents to work, a situation that gets worse in school holidays.
  • 76% of parents had refrained from seeking a promotion, declined a promotion because of their caring responsibilities to their child.
  • Nearly 50% of parents desire a different or more flexible working pattern than the one they currently have.
  • Parents are fearful of the impact of their caring responsibilities on their careers. Real life examples of parents forced out of jobs as a result of their caring responsibilities. Others taking all of their annual leave for medical or other appointments.

It is clear that the parents of disabled children face significant challenges in finding and retaining work, and then progressing their careers. It’s also a fact that more and more people are providing care to relatives, of some degree or another – and this is only set to increase in the years to come.

The Government has committed to introducing Carer’s Leave, that will provide a period of adjustment leave for the parents of disabled children, along with a statutory right to time off to attend children’s medical appointments. I am supportive of this – to a point.  Because it’s not really new legislation that we need, it is new attitudes.

Unfortunately some managers don’t want ‘messy’ staff. And by that I mean people with real, actual lives outside of work.  They don’t want staff that might get sick or pregnant or adopt a child. They don’t want staff with disabilities requiring adjustments, however reasonable.  They don’t want staff who might have to care for an ageing relative or a sick child.  They don’t want staff with depression or anxiety.  For those managers, and every HR person I know will have experienced a few, this real life stuff equals an employment PITA.  We know these managers exist.  They are the ones that don’t want to hire women of childbearing age.  These are the managers who don’t want to hire people with disabilities.  Who resist adjustments or flexible working.

My approach, when faced with these managers, is to ask them to reflect on what they would want from an employer and a manager, if it was their situation, their real need. Sometimes this works.  Often it does not.

We remain locked into the default model of work. Same times, same days, some locations.  Presenteeism.  Where, all too often, individual needs aren’t given individual consideration.  In my experience, most carers don’t actually need all that much.  Some understanding and empathy. Some flexibility.  Some trust to get the job done in the way that works best for them.  Recognition of achievement and contribution instead of hours at the coal face.

Changes in legislation can help. They can provide a lever for those that need it, and a recourse to the law when things go badly wrong.  But it’s bigger than an amendment to the statute books.

It’s the culture we really need to work on.  And then we might really show that we care.

A healthy email policy?


I saw this article today.  There is much good advice in here, but most if it I have seen before – or we instinctively know for ourselves.

But something in the piece did catch my eye. The idea of  healthy email policy.

As someone who has been involved in policy work for a good while, I remember the days when creating an email policy was a big deal. It had the same level of focus that social media policies get today.  I’m sure that when workplaces first introduced desk phones we felt the need to tell people how to use them too.  Eventually, these things become so part of the everyday (or even passé) that the need for a policy wanes.  I reckon there are plenty of email policies out there though, all the same.

A healthy email policy though….. that I could get behind.

We know that email can be a problem. Not the tool itself but how, and often when, it is used. Organisations where the email culture isn’t healthy at all.

Competitive late night emailing. Expectation of immediate responses.  Meaningless out of office messages, because employees feel like they can never really switch off.  The passive aggressive cc.  The ‘confirming our discussion’ ass cover.  And so on.

Of course, it’s not just unhealthy organisational habits, but personal ones too. We jump to the inbox ping, an ingrained Pavlovian response. Our emails are often in our pockets or on our smart watches, following us everywhere, quietly nagging us for a response.  And we do.

So just what could a healthy email policy look like? For some organisations it means banning emails ‘out of hours’ or automatically deleting emails when people are on holiday.  For me, both of these feel too much like treating employees like children who can’t manage their own workloads.  It also risks enforcing the idea that there is any such thing as a ‘normal’ working day.

Instead, a healthy email culture is one where someone does not feel like they have to respond immediately or be thought of as less committed or motivated. Where you can put an out of office on and mean it.  Where, if someone wants to work late at nights or weekend, they do so in a way that doesn’t role model unhealthy or unhelpful habits (just put them in your drafts folks and send them in the morning).  It also means an email culture where sometimes we don’t send one at all and just get up and have a conversation instead.

Do we need a healthy email policy? Probably not.  Instead, we need to start with ourselves by creating our own healthy email habits – and challenging the unhealthy ones we see from our colleagues too, along the way.