Friday, March 24, 2017

What happened to the life of leisure?

Today we see yet another report threatening that AI will replace our jobs. PWC estimate that around 30% of existing UK jobs could face automation over the next 15 years. The estimates may vary slightly by percentage and timescale, but they are all pointing in the same direction.

This report is more positive than others, claiming that new AI-related technologies will boost productivity and generate additional jobs elsewhere in the economy. Along with this they warn that income inequality may rise. They paint a scenario of 'haves' and 'have nots' with male workers being at greater potential risk of job automation than women, with education as the key differentiating factor for individual workers.

We have a world based on full time employment with people needing to work 5 days a week to maintain an acceptable standard of living. Despite the automation of jobs that we have seen so far, we are suffering from long hours working and high levels of stress. We have organisational cultures where the people who put in the long hours are seen as being 'loyal' and 'dedicated'. People who are 'flexible workers' or 'part timers' are still seen as less committed.

What happened to the life of leisure that was coming with all this automation? Robots and computers were going to do the boring work so humans were left to do the interesting stuff. We were all going to work for three days a week and have four day 'weekends' because productivity improved so much with using technology. We would all be sitting on a sunny beach even when we were working, because technology had freed us up from traditional work constraints.

The technology has done the reverse of what we expected. Instead of producing the relaxed environment where we can have enjoyable, healthy working lives, we are overloaded with hundreds of emails in our inbox and are stressed out trying to keep up. We are working 24/7, constantly looking  at our smartphones wherever we are. Our personal lives have been invaded, but don't blame the technology.

The problem lies with the way work is organised and the organisation cultures that encourage bad working practices. If we want people to have healthy balanced lives then we need jobs that deliver the 'life of leisure' promised by technology. As AI takes over more human work and there is less to go round, let's not have half the population stressed out working long hours and the other half unemployed.  Let's all have a sensible, satisfying amount of paid work in our lives and also have time for family, friends, hobbies, sports and a healthier lifestyle.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

We need the older workers

The UK is running out of workers. According to the CIPD current employer plans suggest that we’ll need to fill 13.5 million job vacancies in the next ten years, but only 7 million young people will leave school and college. With fewer people entering the labour pool, it's critical for employers to be able to embrace talent and fill roles.

Andy Briggs, CEO of Aviva Life and the UK Government’s business champion for older workers has called for a million more older people to be in work by 2022. To address the widening skills gap, tackle age bias in work and enable people to stay in work longer, Mr Briggs is urging every UK employer to increase the number of workers aged 50-69 in the UK over the next five years.

Employers in the UK are no longer able to retire someone just because of their age but many are sticking with a traditional approach to the older workforce. Half of the people in a recent CIPD survey over the age of 55 said they would be working beyond 65. But only one in four employees think that their employer is meeting the employment needs of the over 65s. 

The CIPD is recommending five essential components that should form an organisation’s strategy to address the ageing workforce challenges:
1 Ensuring they have inclusive recruitment practices
2 Improving the capability of line managers to manage an age-diverse workforce
3 Investing in training and development that is based on potential, not age
4 Supporting employee health and well-being across demographics
5 Embracing the talent attraction and retention benefits of flexible working.

It seems that flexible/smart working is an ideal arrangement for this group of people who have talent and experience to give to their employers but no longer wish to be in fixed, full-time working arrangements.


Monday, January 16, 2017

The 'fatherhood penalty'

Following straight after the news about men working part time comes a report showing fathers are seeking more flexible employment.

The "Modern Families Index 2017" report has just been published by Working Families. In this they point to a 'flexibility gap'. Almost half of parents are not comfortable raising the issue of workload and hours with their employer. They identified  flexible working as a key way of getting a better balance, but many felt that they could not make use of it because of the nature of their job, manager’s attitude or workplace culture.

Twice the number of fathers compared to mothers believe  flexible workers are viewed as less committed and over double the number of fathers believe working flexibly will have a negative impact on their career. The report points out a 'fatherhood penalty' whereby men move into lower paid and lower quality work because they have become fathers.

47% of fathers agree they would like to downshift  into a less stressful job, reflecting the diffculty they face in reconciling work and home. Just under half of millennial fathers (46%) said they would be willing to take a pay cut to achieve a better work-life balance, vs. just over a third of fathers overall (38%).

So, maybe this survey helps to explain why more men are working part time. As the report concludes "Fathers want to be more involved with their children’s lives. Seven out of ten fathers would consider childcare before taking a new job or promotion. To tackle the motherhood penalty and prevent a
fatherhood penalty taking root, we need to end the zero sum game between career progression and family life."

Friday, January 13, 2017

Part Time Men - Good News?

Today we have had the news that the number of men working part time has grown rapidly. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has published a report saying that 20 years ago 1 in 20 men aged 20-55 worked part-time with low wages. Now it's 1 in 5.

So the Guardian puts this under the headline "Bleak trend ....is revealed". It seems that the growth of anything other than conventional full-time jobs is a bad thing. But, wait a minute. I thought we were moving into an era of equal opportunities where men were taking their fair share of child care responsibilities. Maybe this is a sign that dads are going part-time whilst mums are keeping up their full-time careers. That sounds like a good thing to me.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Long hours mean low productivity

The UK remains consistently near the top of the working hours league and well down the productivity table.  Maybe there is a connection?

A recent survey from Morgan McKinley showed that 84% of respondents work beyond their contracted hours. And it's not just the odd extra hour. 27% work between 6 and 9 hours more per week and a further 31% work 10 hours or more over their official working time.

The survey disproves the theory that these are all keen and willing workers putting in the extra time happily. Three quarters of them say they are obligated or very obligated to work the long hours. This reflects corporate cultures that are encouraging these work patterns.

Not surprisingly, 47% say the extra hours have a heavy impact on their work-life balance. Only 18% always take their full allocated lunch break and 34% never take a full break. 76% eat their lunch at their desk and just 6% use the time to take exercise.

But after a long day at the office it doesn't stop. 78% of respondents sometimes or always work from a mobile device after leaving the office at the end of the day. So employers should be benefiting from all the extra effort. However, only a third of those working extra hours feel they are more productive.

Maybe we need to move from presenteeism and low productivity to managing by output and results-based rewards. When asked 'What would make your working day easier?' the top answer (52%) was flexible working. Are leaders listening to this, or are they turning a blind eye to the problem and making it worse by setting a bad example themselves?

Friday, March 04, 2016

Mobile working will reach tipping point next year

The Work Foundation have just produced a fascinating report on mobile working. They have trawled through a wide range of existing literature and surveyed over 500 managers across the UK to build up a picture of the extent of mobile working today and the way it is headed over the next few years.

Their survey showed that mobile working was the norm by 2014 for over one third of the individual respondents and over one third of the organisations they worked in. Over half will have adopted this way of working by 2017 which is why they describe this as a 'tipping point' beyond which the phenomenon becomes unstoppable. They also predict that by 2020, 70% of both individuals and organisations will have adopted mobile working.

Over half of the managers surveyed said they get more done through mobile working. 49% said they felt trusted and 41% felt empowered. Interestingly, only 24% said they felt disconnected from their team. Three quarters of managers said implementing flexible working will be a challenge for their organisation, with 84% saying performance management changes will be needed and 82% citing the need for changes to employment terms and conditions.

The report lists improved productivity, employee well-being, talent acquisition & retention and reduced accommodation costs as clear reasons for businesses to embrace flexibility. However, survey respondents overwhelmingly identified the HR burden and manager challenges inherent in the transition.

Their advice in adopting a strategy for mobile working is that leadership is critical. Organisational culture is pivotal in addressing the barriers and trust is key to successful implementation. People policies need to change and careful planning is essential.

Whist none of these conclusions are a surprise, it's good to see a well researched report reinforcing the message that mobile working is here to stay and that organisations need to wake up to the fact that flexible forms of working are rapidly becoming the norm.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Zero Hours contracts - here to stay

The CIPD have recently issued a research report on zero-hours and short-hours contracts. It makes interesting reading. It should certainly be studied by all those people criticising these flexible working arrangements and calling for more legislation or even an outright ban.

The government's Labour Force Survey shows that the number of people on zero-hours contracts has almost tripled in less than three years. Although some of this may just be greater public awareness of these arrangements it does look like they are growing in popularity. And that is not just popularity with employers. Employees like them as well.

People who want to fit work around the rest of their lives appreciate the flexibility of these arrangements. Not surprisingly, they are more positive than other employees about their work-life balance. But they are also slightly more satisfied with their jobs and feel less pressured than employees on the whole. So, far from being exploited, they are happy with the arrangements.

The most common reason for using zero-hours contracts is 'to manage fluctuations in demand' (mentioned by 66% of employers). But this is closely followed by 'provide flexibility for the individual' (51%). This shows that these contracts are a way of delivering flexibility for the individual not just the organisation. And it's not all about saving money. Reducing costs is a specific objective for just 21% of employers.

The CIPD concludes: "An outright ban on zero-hours contracts could do more harm than good... Employers with little concern for their employees’ well-being could simply change contracts to
guarantee a very small minimum number of hours or replace zero- hours contracts with casual labour.
The best way to improve the working lives of the zero-hours contract workforce is to help employers understand why they need to develop flexible and fair working practices and how to implement them."

It seems that we have found a working relationship that works well for employers AND employees. It may be open to abuse, but let's not deny the majority the benefit of a flexible working relationship they enjoy, in order to curb the few cases of exploitation.