Tuesday, 14 July 2009

How rigid should staff hours be?

Alan Young has just posted on Twitter;
The staff get full flexi time. They can take an hour off at any time in the day.
That's how it was at the practice where I qualified. Nobody minded if you went out for lunch at 2pm so long as you popped your head round the door and told the receptionist you were going then.

And that's great. Not only does it display a welcome level of trust in your staff, improves the partner-team relationship and encourages a relaxed and happy feeling to the working day, it also means that if you're right in the middle of something at 12 noon, you don't have to drop everything and go for lunch.

But, at the practice where I did some subcontract work earlier this year, they had set hours for staff lunches. You either went at 12 noon or at 1pm, for an hour. Which time you went was agreed with your manager. Any changes to that also had to be pre-approved by your manager.

So if you were due to go for lunch at 12 noon, and you were in the middle of a complicated VAT reconciliation which you wanted to finish and ended up not going till 12.15 - by default you'd lose 15 minutes of your lunch break. Stay out till 1.15? Not allowed unless you agreed it with your manager.

The two firms were very different. The first one was staffed largely by older, qualified individuals. I was 22 when I first went there and there were only two other team members anywhere near my age.

At the second, on the other hand, the accounts team was much larger, and its members were nearly all late teen or twentysomething trainees. At 31, and fully qualified, I was definitely an odd one out.

I guess that you do need to teach young staff good habits, like that staying out for longer than an hour at lunch-time is bad news. And the receptionist does need to know where everyone is in case clients phone - and with a big team, that's harder to manage flexibly.

But does it really have to be so rigid as the second firm had it? I'd be interested to hear what people think.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Emily,

    I guess I was lucky during my corporate career. Although it was only in the later years that we had a kind of flexi-time officially, my bosses had always taken a pragmatic view. We often had to work late if a board paper had to be finished or something equally important was urgent. We always worked more hours than we were paid for. So if we had to pop out to the shops, for example, that was no problem – always an advantage when it came towards wife’s birthday or Christmas! In fact one Christmas my boss even came shopping with me!

    A good few years back when we had a full hour for lunch and lunchtime drinking was more acceptable, half the department would adjourn to the pub on a Friday for a couple of hours to discuss a wide range of issues, sometimes even work!

    Other departments that were more strictly regulated had a somewhat ambivalent view of us and our wayward habits. And yet when there was a big problem to fix it was always our department that was called upon because it was understood that we would do what it took to achieve the desired result. I believe that you only get that commitment from employees if you treat them like adults and let them make their own decisions and set their own rules.

    Whilst ours was a limited experiment in workplace democracy, it has led me to believe fully in the approach taken by the Brazilian industrialist Ricardo Semler, described in his books, ‘Maverick’ and ‘The Seven-Day Weekend’. I re-read Maverick while on holiday to remind myself of all the completely ridiculous things that he has done … that just happen to have worked!


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