Monday, July 24, 2017

What is Good Work?

I've just posted this on a CIPD discussion forum on Good Work, so thought I'd repeat it here...

It's great to hear that the CIPD is championing Good Work and encouraging the HR profession to think more broadly about Work as a topic.

Work is not just jobs and employment. Good work is not just engaging with employees and providing them with rewarding conditions of employment. Work is an activity carried out by people in order to produce a result.

To provide a product or service to a customer in exchange for payment is work. Many people do 'work' for charities and don't get paid but they get other rewards. We have to include all these activities in the definition of good work.

The Taylor Review recognises that we are seeing a major change in the way work is performed. Platforms, such as Uber or Ebay provide individuals with an opportunity to do paid work for a customer. Hence we have seen a growth in self-employment where individuals take responsibility for their own benefits but have control over when, where and how they get work done.

What Taylor tries to do is to apply 'good jobs' criteria to 'platform' work by creating the 'dependent contractor' category. This misses the point that many of these workers enjoy the independence of not being an employee and are prepared to miss out on benefits in exchange for being their own boss. Are we in danger of applying 'good jobs' criteria in a world where 'jobs' are giving way to 'work'.

One example of this is the assumption that work is measured by the hour. This conflicts with the idea of paying for a service or product based on what it is worth not how long it takes. Why should I pay an incompetent plumber for two hours work when the leak could have been fixed in an hour? This leads to confusion for platforms like Uber, where I'm happy to pay a fee for someone to drive me from A to B and there is no 'rate per hour' involved. Trying to apply National Minimum Wage in these circumstances becomes meaningless. (Maybe Universal Basic Income is the answer but that's a whole separate topic!)

Yes, we should stop unscrupulous employers from exploiting people by classifying them as self-employed to save NI contributions and avoid employment legislation. But we need to move away from the assumption that a secure lifetime career with a responsible employer is good work and the 'gig economy' is bad work. At least Taylor didn't fall into the trap of condemning all zero hours contracts, but recognised that they bring valuable flexibility and are popular among the majority of people involved.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Modern Working Practices need further reviews

The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices has taken a fresh look at the way work is evolving and has come up with some sensible suggstions. It looked at non-standard working patterns and the introduction of ‘gig working’ using platforms such as Uber which has resulted in confusion about the status of workers.  When are they ‘self employed’ versus being employees of some sort?

The review goes part way to a solution by recommending a ‘dependent contractor’ category fitting between employees and the self-employed. These people would get some of the employment rights currently enjoyed by employees such as holiday pay, sickness benefits and the minimum wage. There would still be genuine self-employed workers but it would reduce the number of people currently treated this way by employers attempting to save money or avoid other commitments.

Importantly the review recognises that a high percentage of people with flexible work patterns are very happy with the arrangements. Many of the ‘gig workers’ are fitting in tasks around their other priorities and do not want conventional employment. This is also true of zero hours contracts, where the report concludes “To ban zero hours contracts in their totality would negatively impact many more people than it helped”.

But it still makes the assumption that good work has to be expressed in time units and not output. If people are getting the national minimum wage then they are being treated ‘fairly’. If they are working flexibly without guaranteed hours then they should get the minimum plus 20%. This cuts across the whole idea of the ‘gig economy’.

If a customer wants a service and a supplier is prepared to provide it, then work is done to make this happen. If I want to go from A to B and someone is happy to take me for a fixed price, then we have a deal. This is not expressed in an hourly rate and there is no statutory minimum I am obliged to pay for the service. Applications like Uber connect a service provider with a customer at a defined price. This is ‘work’ in the Digital Age but it’s not employment in a ‘job’ with an hourly wage or annual salary.


As these new ways of working continue to grow we have to have laws and business practices that reflect the gig economy. Trying to apply outdated ideas of employment in the new world of work is not keeping up with the times. The Taylor Review is a start, but the journey needs to continue.

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?