Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It's Work Wise Week

It's Work Wise Week in the UK this week. (May 16th - 20th) This is an interesting time to reflect on how we have progressed in the six years since the WorkWise Uk initiative was launched.

I remember being involved in the first year and the organisers coming up with a problem. The Government Minister who was due to launch the week was only available on a Wednesday. So I was one of the people who suggested that this was an opportunity to make a point and start the week on a Wednesday. By doing this it would illustrate that today's work practices are not restricted to Monday to Friday and that a lot of 'Smart Working' goes on at weekends. I see that this year it is only a Monday to Friday week and is a much scaled down affair compared with the first few years.

Does this mean that WorkWise has run its course and that everyone is now working wisely? No, definitely not. It does reflect the recession which has killed off the sponsorship of the event and made people focus more on survival than reviewing their working practices. Although, ironically, flexible working is a great way of surviving a recession. It improves productivity and creates a workforce that can be more responsive to changing customer demands. So now more than ever we need to challenge some of the outdated assumptions about work.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Why does the government insist on linking flexible working with maternity?

Looking back over my previous blogs, I see that in July 2008 I pointed out the discrepancies between maternity and paternity provisions in the UK and hoped that they would get changed. Today at last I see that the government is starting a consultation process on the idea that parents can share the leave between them. see http://tiny.ly/X7gZ

This looks like a step in the right direction, but included amongst the proposals is the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees, not just parents and carers. Whilst this is a welcome development, one I have argued for over the years, it is a pity to see it bound up in a package of 'family friendly' provisions and still firmly in the 'employee benefit' camp. Inevitably some employers will see this as yet another imposition on business and will equate flexible working with other parental rights that are an additional burden.

In practice there is overwhelming evidence that flexible working makes people more productive, reduces absenteeism and lowers employee turnover. Let's see it promoted as good business sense that also happens to be an employee benefit, not the other way round.

To be fair to Vince Cable, he is quoted as saying "But I’m also confident that we have a good case to make on the wider benefits to business - not least from a motivated and flexible workforce and we will be making this case to employers over the next few years before these changes are introduced." However this still comes as an afterthought not the main argument.

The Book is Written

I've been quiet on this blog for the past year whilst I've been busy writing a book.

I teamed up with Alison Maitland who has an excellent record as a journalist (ex - FT) and co-author of another book 'Why Women mean Business". Together we took most of a year to gather together the information and write it up. We interviewed over 60 people, mostly senior leaders in major organisations and have included many cases studies in the book. We also carried out a survey of managers to find out more about the organisational culture that they are working in and how it compares with their ideal. We asked them about the prevalence of flexible working in their business and found that there is a disctinct management culture that seems to go along with new working practices.

The result is "Future Work: how businesses can adapt and thrive in the new world of work" which will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in October. It's now just a frustrating time waiting for the book to come out but meanwhile you can find out more about it at www.futureworkbook.com. This website has a discussion forum which is initially only being opened to the participants in the survey and invited guests. If however, you are interested in the future of work and how organisations need to adapt to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, then let me know and I will get you an invite.