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Your flexible fiend



So I know that sometimes I have the tendency to be a little provocative.  Sometimes it takes an extreme position to tease out a proper exchange of views.  Sometimes you need to agitate, to provoke.  But sometimes, sometimes I actually write what I believe.  Today is one of those moments.

Two experiences of recent weeks have set my mind running and I know that what I am going to say may not be popular or PC.  But hell when has that ever stopped me.

This flexible working madness has to stop.  This political correctness gone mad is starting to damage our economy and someone needs to stand up and say this.  Now I’m not against it in the Daily Mail “little woman back into the kitchen” way, I’m against it in the, “this is an insidious disease that is eating away at the competitiveness of British business” way.

Take a look at the rising economic super powers.  Look to India, Russia, China…..look to Brazil.  Are these economies riddled with working practices that are so employee centric that they damage the effective operation of the organisations?

And these are the economies that we will increasingly need to compete against.  Whether we like it or not. And in order to do that we need to radically rebalance the power from employee to employer.

Work is just that.  It is work. We need to stop this mindless drive to have everything, to be everything to everyone and understand that there are trade offs that need to be made.  I’m not misogynist by any standard.  I’m not anti family or anti women.  I’m pro work life balance and I am pro family.  But flexible working isn’t the answer.

What is? I just don’t know. But I do know that ploughing down this path isn’t.  Have we come to far to go back? Probably.  But then when you’re in a hole the sensible thing is to stop digging. Isn’t it?

42 Comments leave one →
  1. murphym1971 permalink
    01/31/2011 08:27

    The devil is all in the details.

    For it to be successful, the employees have to respect the policy, understand the benefit they are getting, and act accordingly.

    A blanket no isn’t the answer, in the same way that a blanket yes isn’t.

    I suspect that the reason why a lot of employers feel it’s not working for them is that front line managers are not doing the best job either for their employees or their employers. To be fair to them, it’s a tricky area to know what to do, and my (limited) experience of corporate HR departments is that they err on the side of caution and advise managers against anything that can be construed as discriminating against the family.

    So HR can, and should, firm up its stance if it feels flexible working isn’t helping the business, and help managers get the best out of everyone available. Employees should treat flexible working seriously. Otherwise employers will rebel against it.

  2. garethmjones permalink
    01/31/2011 09:07

    You write some great stuff Theo but this isn’t one of your finest pieces! I’m assuming you are just looking to stir things up because I cant believe you would be that narrow minded to write such testosterone fuelled garbage.

    To work properly, flexible working has to be adopted and applied properly. The main barrier here is the organisation though, not the individual. In many places its tokenism and not fully supported or properly thought through which means it does nothing but cause aggravation. But in many cases it simply exposes weak planning and poor attitudes from managers/leaders who are reluctant to challenge themselves or their business model.

    Yes, those ‘super economic powers’ you refer to are growing rapidly but one of the key reasons for this is that the same western companies you speak of are shipping their manufacturing off to the cheapest places, where labour can be exploited terribly – all in the name of that strategic imperative you were celebrating in your recent post “Maintaining margins in an environment where inflationary pressures need to be balanced against a squeeze on consumer spending”.

    Its why children in India aged 5 are working 10 hours a day for 50p sewing sequins onto fancy tops. Its why workers in factories across China are producing mannequins for those very same shops, working with fibreglass on 12 hour shifts, with no safety protection at all and being forced to sleep on the factory floor. Running hot water for a wash maybe?

    Also, your research is flawed. You mention Brazil – you should take a night or two off and read Maverick by Ricardo Semler and The Seven Day Weekend, his follow up book which charts the progress of Semco, one of, if not the most, successful companies in Brazil. In a country with eye watering inflation levels, you will see the most flexible working practices on the planet and a CEO that points to these flexible arrangements – where the employees, not the managers or anyone else – decide when they work and what hours. Its totally their call.

    That’s a result of open mindedness and creativity, in pursuit of the profit motive yes, but not at the expense of others.

    Did you celebrate Christmas in your house? Or did you send the kids up the chimney to clean it for Santa first?!

    Debate started…. 😉

    • 01/31/2011 10:39

      I am with you on this one Gareth, but am greatly thankful for this Theo’s post. In fact I believe he is doing us all big favour. Once again TheHRD plays an important role in development of many HR professionals who forgot to ask themselves What,How,Why… Theo is my number one nagger and great muse. I also believe that his responsibility (whether he likes it or not) moved from expressing his own opinion to expressing opinions of many who do not dare to say things loud. All is the price of his fame among all of us “HR geeks”
      Theo, we all need you to be our dark side, and will pay for it if necessary. 😉

    • 01/31/2011 12:43

      Completely agree with you Gareth.

      To compare the UK economy against those of India & China is just bonkers – and an uncharacteristically ignorant chink in Theo’s usually highly erudite armour.

      The UK will never and can never compete in terms of banging out cheap electrical goods or garments or what-not. Those countries are simply living through what is comparable to the coming together of events and resources that resulted in the growth witnessed in the UK during our industrial revolution. Sure at some level we have to be more self-supporting, and the increasing cost of transportation through the dwindling stocks of fossil fuels will help address that over time (all be it a generation or two), but our medium term success MUST come from being better able to tap into all creativity, innovation and world class thinking wherever it resides and at whatever time it comes online. There of course needs to be a degree of conformity – but all too often this is heavy handedly put in place purely as a direct result of a company’s (or more specifically middle management’s) inability to get the best from the workforce – or indeed even know what “getting the best” even looks like.

      If you, Theo, feel the need to keep your staff on a shorter/tighter lead then that’s fine – maybe you feel you need a physical presence for your Line Managers to drop in on as opposed to just having a number to call (although surely having a brilliant virtual resource working flexibly to call on as opposed to having a half-wit on site for face-to-face meetings who was the best you could afford to be 9-5 on site is something a Line Manager would quickly come to accept). You may also find that you can save the business money on the salary you offer – something that’s definitely going to be the case as the cost of traveling to a place of work continues to escalate alarmingly and will increasingly be consciously taken into account in salary expectations.

      But perhaps, just maybe, you need to look at your own issues of control and trust, or else whether you have the ability within your business to truly evaluate what value an employee should bring & whether or not they are delivering to that – and then whether their physical presence really has all that much impact.

  3. 01/31/2011 09:14

    You’ve voiced an opinion (new for you, HRD…). Now make the argument. Can’t see that you have in this post.

  4. 01/31/2011 09:26

    Again, let me set out by stating for the record that I am a complete layman and have no ‘knowledge’ of HR per se. However, I believe that a sweeping generalisation regarding ‘flexible working’ just doesn’t cut the mustard.

    I’ve been privy to conversations with HR folk for over a year now, as an honorary member / bastard child (delete as appropriate) of the Connecting HR community and every practitioner has talked about nurturing talent and ‘talent management’.

    As Gareth claims, the majority of economic ‘power’ in Chine etc. comes from slave labour in manufacturing – Namoi Klein’s seminal ‘No Logo’ remains just as relevant 11 years on. Of course the concept of flexible working in a factory is absurd – unless of course every person has factory equipment in their shed…

    I work in digital marketing / social media marketing / copywriting. I CAN do around 90% of my role from anywhere in the world, so long as I have a computer and an internet connection. So on occasions when I’ve had a doctor’s appointment, I’ve been able to work at home to accommodate this. I haven’t ‘sat around in my boxers playing an Xbox’ – I have genuinely been working at home, producing work that I would have done in an office.

    You state that flexible working is:

    “Employee-centric […] damage the effective operation of the organisations?”

    How can working from home one day per month ‘damage the effective operation of an organisation’? As an employee, having an employer that treats me like an adult and allows me to work from home if occasion demands, in fact motivates me further. I would take great offence at saying I have to take a day of holiday to visit the dentist, as I ‘couldn’t be trusted to work effectively from home’, which, forgive me if I’m wrong, is what you are implying?

    I think the real issue here is that organisations need to look at individual cases, industries and trust. Why deny workers the opportunity to work flexibly – what does that achieve?

    Surely a revert to Draconian ‘be at your desk until the alarm sounds’ is highly regressive and would lead to a de-motivated, demoralised and UNPRODUCTIVE workforce. THIS would be far more responsible for dragging the British economy further behind the rest of the world than a few slackers who give flexible working a bad name.

    • garethmjones permalink
      01/31/2011 10:28

      “Of course the concept of flexible working in a factory is absurd”

      No it isn’t. Check out Semco as referenced in my comment. They are a manufacturing business.

  5. MegP permalink
    01/31/2011 10:11

    Is it just women who want flexibility? If your concerns are about working mothers could you directly say this as your comments imply that it is working women’s demands who have triggered this.

    Every system has people who will abuse it, so for every worker that milks the flexible policy to the nth degree there will be many more who are conscientious and put in extra effort to compensate for any perceived shortcomings as a result of their flexibility. Effective management creates a workforce where each individual understands how their contribution adds to the success of their employer so that these abuses are discouraged not just by the manager but by the peers. A flexible employer doesn’t have to say yes to every situation but too many managers vaccilate, avoid, placate or polarise the situation.

    The digging hole you describe could also be journeying into a new world.

  6. david permalink
    01/31/2011 10:16

    Creating one-sided relationships in the work place does not serve the long term interests of anyone except those who would exploit – employers and employees alike.

    The problem is that flexible working all too often means one sided. I’ve seen as many individuals visibly disengage and add less value as a consequence of flexible working as I’ve seen cope and continue to perform their function well. I’ve never seen anyone perform better than they could do in the workplace as a consequence of flexible working.

    To me the answer lies in a rebalancing of the working relationship. It requires a shift away from “a bargain based on money” to a position where there is greater understanding & connection with what we value.

    Organisations already know this is required – just look at their interest in employee engagement, CSR and authentic leadership as examples…. Lip service perhaps. The wrong kind of focus maybe. However, a move to more mutual relationships rather one-sided must form part of the answer

    By the way, SEMCO is a great example of mutual relationships at work but is a bit of a lone example out of the thousands of major corporations in the world…

  7. 01/31/2011 10:20

    It really depends what you include in the ‘flexible working’ category – if it is just those rights given to parents or carers, we should remember that the right is only to ASK for flexible working – individuals cannot demand that they be allowed to do so. Given the legislation also gives employers a handy checklist of all the areas that enable them to say no, then I am not sure that there needs to be much rebalancing here, for most employers. If it works for the employer and keeps a good employee, then why not?

    However, (and there is always a ‘however’), working with small business there is often a disproportionate impact on them in just working through the process to say ‘No’ – and a real fear that they sometimes have to say yes or face a tribunal claim, the defence of which could be crippling to the business. (If they are happy to say yes, then it tends to be a quick discussion and no formal process in any case – a win – win).

    A bigger impact for small businesses is the maternity and now potential paternity absences. One person absent in a company of 100 may be relatively easy to cover – one person in a company of 10 can often be critical. One of my clients (22 staff) had their Office Manager out for a year on maternity, then just as she was due back she informed them she was pregnant again. She used up accrued holiday (and don’t get me started on that!) to bridge the two maternity periods and ended up being off for 26 months. Two days before she was due back to work she advised them she wasn’t coming back.

    It is this kind of experience that leads small business to seriously consider whether they want to recruit staff, and whilst the above example is rare, it does happen and it is the kind of issue that gets talked about.

  8. 01/31/2011 10:23

    Once again Theo, you are a master in stirring up what was in opinions of most of HR professionals “just fine”. We can all nothing but thank you for that.

    I do believe that flexible working practices is the answer, but I also believe that most of the organisations have real mess in their policies and generally the way how it is suppose to work. It is one of the great ideas on paper borrowed from companies where it was successfully applied into practice with great effect on employee moral and participation schemes. Nevertheless once again, not all corporate cultures can apply the same concept. So I believe that you are right about that it doesn’t work in many cases but also believe that rather then abolish the idea of working with people’s needs and trying to achieve WLB I would learn from mistakes and fix it.
    If it comes to the effect of HRM on the economy of different countries, I offer two different perspectives for those of you bothered to keep reading. Germany has learned its lesson focussing on stakeholders with more power given to works councils than to shareholders, loosing many opportunities to attract foreign businesses. They have missed on many growth generating prospects as globalisation of the market moved on and surely economy growth was affected, yet I don’t think there are many Germans willing to go the US way.
    Is moving to more market based regulations as seen in US way forward? US is powerful economy but not sure how long will the US folks follow “yes we can” attitude as the social securities and CSR get worse. Low level of collective bargaining, with very little unions being present, still existing resonance of Taylorism (o yes it is) and short-termist nature of financial system, makes moves towards ‘best practice’ HRM very difficult.
    So, there is no US or Germany way how to grow healthy economic and socially responsible climate. I believe lack of coordination of many “best practice” HRM concepts is the problem numero uno in this country. I say stick to flexible working but learn how to make it work for your organisation. DO NOT copy what has worked in one case study but take it as an inspiration and learn learn learn.
    Balance between stakeholders’ and shareholders’ focus of HRM systems is and always will be an ongoing debate as we all want to be rich and happy in the same time.

  9. 01/31/2011 10:49

    I don’t think it’s a matter of flexible working, it’s the work ethic itself that’s been lost. And flexible working isn’t the only cause. Kids would rather day dream of being on the X Factor than the best brick layer; banks have made having access to ‘money’ so easy that the reward for effort ratio is nil but the appetite for a free lunch is epidemic; technology has so surrounded and punctured our consciousness that concentration in one direction for more than a few moments is too much, well, hard work; we’ve destroyed our industrial and manufacturing skills in favour of ‘services’ that service nothing but dreams and ultimately a debt that we can’t be bothered to work hard enough to pay off – we can dream though…I could go on. This isn’t meant to sound like it might do, but the same mainly white middle aged overweight lazy materialist work/life proud generation – to which I belong – who grumble about immigrants taking – which loosely translated means willing to get up and work in their jobs – makes me laugh. As do student protesters who want 3 free yrs off then an all expenses paid gap yr ‘while they think about it’. As do fit and well pensioners who can’t now retire on cruise ships, but who raised children who don’t want to look after them – again, too much like hard work. My father gets up at 5am works all day often without eating anything until it’s too cold to work anymore. He doesn’t know or care about ‘weekends’ or holidays. He’s 63 and twice as fit as I am. His ethic is ‘never burn daylight’. Too late for us. Everywhere we look are reasons and excuses to not work. So we don’t. And yet were all so unhappy.

  10. 01/31/2011 11:40

    Provocative piece. It’s great to take the debate to the extremes.

    It sounds like some people think flexible work is a new thing. Factory workers doing shifts and milkmen and postmen working an early day are all examples of how businesses have used flexible working to be successful for years and years.

    We emphasise to potential clients that flexible working is not an employee benefit. It *must* fit the needs and demands of the business and the job for it to work just as it always has.

    What we do ask is that they consider what the job actually needs. Many jobs can be done in fewer hours if the employee is focused, doesn’t mess around on peripheral tasks (that may of us are guilty of) and doesn’t attend countless unproductive and unnecessary meetings. We know people that embarrass their full-time colleagues because of their productivity.

    As a business, you can afford people with great skills and experience by being smart about the working week and then benefiting from the reduced salary bill. We’ve worked with many businesses that could never have afforded talented professionals if they hadn’t focused the job on 25 hours a week.

    And, as a previous commentator mentioned, the work ethic of a committed employee, part-time or not, means they will get the job done.

    So we’re all for it but as in everything, it comes down to execution, execution, execution.

  11. 01/31/2011 13:27

    I don’t really understand what your specific objections to flexible working are, as you are being very vague – is this a complaint about shorter hours, or shorter working weeks, or certain patterns of working, or excessive maternity leave or what? Is your beef about managing absences, or teams, or covering shifts or what? I can see that it may be difficult to manage, but is that honestly anything to do with national competitiveness??

    Personally, when I first had a family, I found it very difficult to work in a large company with a long-hours culture. In the end I set up my own business, where I could create the flexibility I needed without endless arguments about whether I could really be promoted to director level on four days a week. I don’t think I’m exactly workshy.

  12. 01/31/2011 13:33

    Hello – lots of comments already 🙂

    I’m genuinely interested as to why you feel that flexible working is such an issue and what experiences have taken place in your organisation or elsewhere that lead you to believe that it is damaging to business.

    As with all things we need balance – and all flexible working patterns should be considered firmly in the business context, which is what happens in my organisation, and we turn plenty of requests down.

    I think as a nation, we are employee-centric in a lot of our working practices, but I don’t think that flexible working is particularly the root cause of this, nor the most irritating offender.

    So, if we need more rational discussion (and less knee-jerking!) then fine and lets have that debate…but I’d like to have a bit more background on why you hold the view you do and to identify the real root cause in our employment culture that that needs to be challenged and potentially changed. I personally don’t think that flexible working per se is it…but then I am of course biased, given that I am a flexible worker 😉

  13. 01/31/2011 14:22

    OK I’m going to check in earlier that I would normally do, because rightfully people have asked for some points of clarification.

    @murphym1971 – Thanks for taking the time to comment and welcome. I agree with a lot of the points that you make. But the moment you confer a “right” on employees, you are tipping the balance wholeheartedly in their favour. Employers are then seen (rightly or worngly) as denying the right…..even if the actual right is to request.

    @garethmjones – Gareth, Gareth, Gareth…you really need to avoid the red descending mist and start to think for yourself. Just because one rejects one model, doesn’t mean that we automatically accept another one. Nowhere in the post does it mention employing children or slave wages. Read it again with your feet in a cold bucket of water and it might help. As for my research being “flawed” you highlight one company from four countries with a combined GDP of $9.1 trillion as the basis for that assertion? I think that shows a level of naivety and willingness to suck up the nonsense that they feed you in management books.

    But sparring aside….because that is all it is. You can either stand on the sidelines and shout “that’s not fair” at the practices used elsewhere, or you can realise that it is all fair game. I’m not suggesting we employ the same standards as are used in sweatshps, for example, but at the time when western economies are being put under more and more pressure from the new economic superpowers, I don’t think we should be wading into the sandal wearing, granola eating HR territory that some people seem to think represents “modern thinking”.

    @Alex Hens – You somewhat arrogantly suggest that the rise of these countries is down to “banging out” cheap consumer goods. Personally I have as much respect for them as Western economoies, for their innovation, for their entrepreneurship and for their Research and Development capabilities. Anyone who thinks this is purely about cheap means of production is sitting on a ticking time bomb.

    @Hung Lee – As I say in the post, I don’t know what the answer is, but I have this foreboding sense that we are legislating our way to inefficiency. It is therefore a fair challenge to say, don’t criticize if you don’t have a solution, but it is also fair to say that questions don’t get answered unless they get raised.

    @Callum Saunders – You make some good points. I’m not suggesting that we revert to a draconian stance, I think that we need to look at the whole issue again. How about paying people a proper wage and providing the sort of framework that means families can live off one wage for example?

    @MegP – You are very right that it isn’t just women, I was conscious of that when I wrote it, however, I think we’d all agree that at the present stage it is predominantly women.

    @david – I agree whole heartedly. It is about a balance and a two way relationship. Whilst that may be the case for many individuals, when you look at it from an organisational level it can often not be the case.

    @Barry Rees – You are making exactly the points that I was trying to tease out. These are real and valid issues that are damaging the effectiveness of UK Plc.

    @HRbeginner – Interesting comments and no there is no right way for everyone. But I would say that in the UK we have a mash up between the two types of models that you share and that this is taking the worst of both worlds.

    @Stuart Shaw – Thanks for commenting Stuart and you make some really interesting points. Maybe it is about attitude rather than mechanisms. But sadly I think the mechanisms do little to support a “healthier” attitude towards work. I think you’ve hit on something there.

    @John@Ten2Two – Thanks for commenting John. sadly my own experience doesn’t match with yours bar a few exceptional individuals…..and I agree they do exist. My questions is whether we have just pushed the balance too far in one direction?

    @Alison – Thanks for taking the time to comment. I guess my issue is that when an individual case of flexibility, whether it be reduced hours, work patterns etc. is looked at, it may not look like a major issue. However, when you take the collective effect on the organisation and then again to the country, it becomes a much bigger issue. But these losses of efficieny (and I’ll stick my neck out here to have it chopped off) because there are often losses of efficiency on a micro level don’t look too bad. I’m not arguing for a long hours culture, just that we need to have a serious debate about the impact.

    @Alison Chisnell – I appreciate what you and others say about considering the impact in a business context. But as you and I both know, Tribunals are a law unto themselves and an arrangement being “inconvenient” is not sufficient! 🙂 I hope I’ve laid out a few points above, as I say I am not anti family, or long hours driven I just think the current system is a road to ruin for UK plc.

    • murphym1971 permalink
      01/31/2011 14:51

      Spot on… the issue is that people forget that the “right” they have is to have their request heard. Not a “right” to flexible working. So that’s a problem with communication and employee engagement, not the policy itself.

      The ensuing mess arises when companies, and ultimately front line managers, aren’t clear in their communication of what is and isn’t allowed/possible, and even-handed in administering it.

      Where HR can and should be making a difference is in teaching/helping managers to know when and where to hold the line. Unfortunately, it seems that people are scared to say “Your request is denied, for these reasons: …” or “Your request is granted, subject to performance being maintained at these levels. Should this not happen, the decisionwill be reviewed”

    • 01/31/2011 15:46

      Think there’s some great commentary and discussion going on here – and 100% agree that legislation needs to be addressed, because forcing a company to act in a way that it’s not set up to or happy doing based on over consideration of “employee rights” is simply counter-intuitive to immediate and wider economic success. But I have to come back to you directly in regards to your response to my comment:

      I am not so ignorant, or indeed arrogant, to think that the new economic super powers are not driven by innovation and entrepreneurship – but just like the industrial revolution in the 18th/19th century the thing that rocket fuels this is access to natural resources and cheap/abundant labour (skilled and otherwise). I certainly respect them – but you have to accept that they are living through now is that which fueled the western economies 2 centuries ago: a perfect storm of opportunity.

      It is critical for this country to find out where we can create or add the value that will represent exportable goods or services so that we can afford that which we import – going toe to toe with modern day superpowers simply ain’t gonna cut it. And if being a little more creative in the workplace helps keep overheads down or increases access to sectors of the community that would otherwise have their potentially highly valuable creative input untapped, then I say nimble business and associated practices are the way forward – not the mentality of being at the desk 9-5 because “that’s just how it is”.

  14. 01/31/2011 14:44

    Can I work from home, today?

    Oh wait. Rats. I do work from home. AND IT IS AWESOME, SUCKERS.

  15. 01/31/2011 14:59

    Ok I am going to add my two penny worth here. I ,like Callum, am not an HR professional but I am an SME business owner. We operate ‘unofficial’ flexible working among our team of 10 – as long as it fits in with the needs of the business. And that’s the point here. I have to agree whole heartedly with your point about rebalancing the power from employee to employer. There is a broad brush approach to employment law which takes no account of the size – or needs of the smaller business! If push came to shove, because of the way we operate I could potentially be accused of treating some employees more favourably than others – and all because I am trying to embrace the whole concept of flexible working to attract and retain the best talent- and to serve the needs of the business – and thats just crap!

  16. Rick permalink
    01/31/2011 15:01

    Oh get off it Theo! At least Gareth quoted some evidence which is more than you did.

    Try looking at the WEF’s global competitiveness rankings. Countries like Sweden Finland and Denmark are regularly in the top ten.

    According to the Fairness in Families Index (based on OECD data) the top countries for ‘family friendly policies’ are Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark.

    Click to access FI-FiFI-Report-2010_FINAL.pdf

    There is, in short, no evidence of a link between flexible working policies and a lack of competitiveness.

    Hung Lee (above) didn’t say “don’t criticize if you don’t have a solution” (nice try Theo, pretend he said something else instead of answering his challenge!). He said “You voiced an opinion, now make the argument”

    If you have any evidence that we are legislating our way to inefficiency, let’s hear it.

    • 01/31/2011 15:19

      @Rick – Of which the UK sits 12th and 18th. So are you seriously arguing that by increasing flexibility we will raise ourselves up the table? Or do causal links only work when they justify the left leaning happy clappy agenda that HR wishes to propogate…..?

      Seriously, I know this is a complex argument and I know that I don’t have answers….I’ve been honest about that all along. But I absolutely do believe that we need the debate and from the number of you that seem to have drunk the Kool Aid, I am convinced that the HR profession isn’t up to it.

      • Rick permalink
        01/31/2011 15:29

        I wondered if you’d try that one. I didn’t say that family friendly policies made you more competitive! I just said that there is quite strong evidence that they don’t make you uncompetitive.

        Different thing! But it still blows your argument right out of the water.

  17. 01/31/2011 15:08

    ‘providing the sort of framework that means families can live off one wage for example?’

    There are a lot of assumptions packed into that line.

    • 01/31/2011 15:23

      @Alison – There are…..I know….however I should categorically state that I don’t not mean that on the basis of one gender. I think we should have an intelligent debate about everything that impacts the work life balance. Just making work fit around family isn’t the only solution.

  18. 01/31/2011 15:40

    I’m afraid that, provocative though the original piece may be, it’s what a colleague of mine would describe as a Data Free Analysis

  19. 01/31/2011 16:05

    @Rick – I don’t think it blows anything out of the water……unless you can show a controlled causal link then either way their is no causal link. Which bring is back to opinion and viewpoint. I’m happy to stand by myopinion and we will see in the long term. It may not be tomorrow, it may not be the next decade, but we need to rethink the whole agenda and think radically different, not just propogate the same old HR bollocks.

    @Graham Salisbury – Mea culpa. I accept that completely. But then you need to create a hypothesis before you can test it. And as long as we are having the debate, that is the main thing. I hope! 🙂

    • Rick permalink
      01/31/2011 16:25

      Verbal summersaults, my friend!

      If flexible working and all that makes you uncompetitive, why are countries like Finland, Denmark and Sweden always near the top of the competitiveness league?

      We might need to think ‘radically different’ about all sorts of things but nothing you have written convinces me that flexible working is one of them.

      It might be awkward to administer and the proposed sharing of maternity and paternity leave is probably unworkable and will be a major headache for employers but things like this are just a pain in the arse; they are not a major threat to our economy.

      • 01/31/2011 16:34

        We’ll see……at least you’re all thinking about flexible working now eh? 🙂

  20. 01/31/2011 16:13

    Flex working conditions work with some organizations and are dreadful with others. It’s not the flex work that is the problem, it’s the lack of insight of the people trying to implement it in an organization that isn’t well suited for it.

    Nothing wrong with being employee centric to have a healthy blend of work/life, but the balance of that approach is having a clear understanding that it is still a business and accountability and all that still must be in place. Well engaged employees will get that and help make it happen.

    It’s important to understand the huge difference between employee engagement and employee satisfaction. I linked to a blog post that talks about that very thing. Love the discussion around this topic. Very needed!


  21. 01/31/2011 16:35

    Very interesting debate. Here is an article from the Director Magazine as far back as 2007:

    It would appear that if you are not feeling the benefits of flexible working, it has far more to do with the culture of your organisation rather than the system being flawed. It is work checking out the IOD website. There is a whole heap of evidence based argument on this subject.


  22. MegP permalink
    01/31/2011 16:53

    Competition and flexibility don’t have to be opposing forces – do they? Employee engagement and I think it’s more than rhetoric, is proven to be a key lever in organisations that have a track record of sustainable growth and agility. I think murphym1971 says it all for me in relation to this point.

    I wonder how many managers understand what is changing/has changed in the UK labour force over the last 20 years, something like 66% of women work and a large percentage work part time = looking after dependants – parents as well as chidren. It’s a reality. The thing is, regardless of policy, each situation, each family, each working relationship, it’s all unique and whilst every system has those who will take advantage, HR at it’s best educates the management population to cope with ambiguity whilst being informed. A bit like one to one blogging discussions to help them think about legislation and it’s application so they can deal with each situation with a bit more sensitivity, confidence and commerciality, and possibly, balls.

    Maybe HR itself is bollocks and managers should be left to it, to make a few mistakes to learn from.

  23. 01/31/2011 17:28

    Not surprised to see mass support for flexible working here. The only people that seem to get away with systematic slacking (sorry, I mean flexible working) seem to be on the HR team. This is probably the main reason why HR teams struggle to be taken seriously in large organisations. The rest of us are staring jealously into the goldfish bowl wishing we could get away with it. To be continued later at #connectinghr 🙂

  24. Karen (Sayya26) permalink
    01/31/2011 18:36

    Coming from what the developed nations would call a ‘third world’ or ‘developing’ nation, our labour laws are pretty archaic to say the least.

    Flexible working hours? HELL NO. It’s only now being bandied about because the trade unions (specifically the ones that are for public sector employees) are in some serious negotiations for pay increases etc.

    But otherwise- everyone works, everyone has alloted days off, anything more than that you don’t get paid for and no one’s making any big fuss over it.

    Before there was flex time- did anyone miss not having such leniency? didn’t you find a way to work stuff out around your working hours? I don’t get it…

    Personally though- the policy actually doesn’t sound so bad- but it seems to be the nature of people to abuse the privileges they are given. I know if we adopted flexible hours with the mentality of most of the nation- it would be abused from here to kingdom come….you’d have to seriously police it.

  25. 01/31/2011 22:44

    I don’t think that part-time or flexible work is the problem. I’ll even pretend that many employees working 4 days per week get just as much done as their colleagues working 5 days.

    Also I’m convinced that flexible work in terms of time and/or location can increase productivity, retention, engagement and x (replace “x” with your favorite HR buzzword).

    However, these things should be at the company’s discretion and only be granted if it makes sense for the business. I think that there is a tendency on the old continent to see employers as the bad guys who want to take advantage of the poor employees. But it’s still a reality that companies need to make money to survive and to pay salaries. If I was the company owner I wouldn’t want the state, the unions or HR sandal-wearers to tell me how to run my business.

    Considering how often I hear from employees that they don’t really know what their manager expects from them, defining the goals and deliverables would certainly make things easier.

    I know this isn’t always possible, but in some cases it wouldn’t really matter where and when employees work, because the managers would get the results they asked for instead of making sure that everybody shows up on time.

  26. 02/01/2011 00:41

    @Gareth – I’m a supporter of Ricardo Semler’s Maverick and Seven Day Weekend! Put into practice a few of his suggestions – worked well! Last year contributed to a presentation made by a colleague to an HR conference in Malaysia. Government there are looking at ways to help keep skilled people (mainly women who are skilled in technical and crafts) in work through homeworking methods. As someone who has worked flexibly for at least 20+ years (in corporate life) there is an element of getting ones head down to finish the work in 3 or 4 days – doing what I would have done anyway in a full-time post. I know many people who are ‘flexible workers’ and they fill the time productively because they know they have to get the work done in a finite amount of time. It is the outcome that matters. I know also that not all businesses can cope but it does need to be looked at carefully. I’m with @Etienne on this.

  27. 02/01/2011 06:21

    I’d say you have been pretty provocative with this post.

    I think it is interesting that we still have the perception that the number of hours spent at work = productivity. Who decided that it takes a minimum of 8 hours to achieve something at work each day?

    I’m not sure what happens overseas but here in Australia, flexible working hours are practiced in most organisations. They allow highly productive employees to remain with the company, whether it is a return from maternity leave or a cutting back of hours by an older employee close to retirement.

    The days of every employee able to give the organisation 80 hours per week are over. People want a life outside of work and why not…

  28. 02/14/2011 08:42

    @judythesweetspot – I’ll leave the last word to you….. 🙂


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