According to an O2 survey, employers think they are more flexible with work scheduling than employees do:
O2 says that 75% of employees say they are most productive when they can change when and where they work, and 11% even rate this as more important their holiday allowance and salary.
But only 19% say their company encourages them to work flexibly, even though 77% of employers claim that flexible working is actively encouraged.
Several elements of the survey show that employers and staff have different perceptions of how well business is supporting flexible working. For example, 56% of companies say they have a clear policy on the issue, but just 30% of employees agree.
On whether staff are given the tools to work remotely, 54% of employers say this is the case, but only a third of employees agree. Also, 70% of managers say they set an example by frequently working from home or changing working hours, but only 18% of staff agree.
There are, of course, some jobs where strict hours are required. If your job is to be there to answer phones, then working at a specific time is rather crucial. Other times, though, it doesn’t matter. Other times still, it’s advantageous for employers to be flexible not just for employee morale, but because they need someone there on atypical hours.
When I worked at Soyokaze, a Japanese electronics company, I had a coworker named Pat. Pat was… not a morning person at all. This drove our Japanese supervisor batty. It was a broader cultural disconnect that when the Japanese said X, they were far more likely to mean X than if an employer says it. And they are used to people understanding that they mean it. So when Pat was told “be at work at 8” he was genuinely baffled when she repeatedly didn’t. But he’d read books on Americans and knew that we had to be coddled to at least some extent. He never liked it, but he did put up with it.
It was, ironically, after he moved on and the supervisor was an American that she was fired for excessive tardiness.
What drove me crazy about all of this is how unnecessary the time requirements were and how utterly counterproductive the firing was. Pat had more seniority than anyone in the department. Half of the department’s tribal knowledge left with her. She was not really promotable for reasons other than her tardiness, so she was a fantastic resource in a department with a lot of churn. She was also unlikely to get a job elsewhere. But she was a fantastic worker. It’s not easy to have employees that are willing to do monotonous jobs without demands for promotion and without constant flirtation with other jobs. A desire to shift hours a couple hours later due to an inability to get up in the morning is, in my view, a miniscule price to pay.
And that was if there weren’t institutional advantages to having someone work late. Our job was deadline-based. So it was not uncommon at all for them to have to ask one of us to stay late in order to get something out the door. They’d have to pay us overtime. But an employee working from 10-7 mitigates the need for that. It would have actually saved them money, if they could just get their heads around letting someone always be “late.”
The job I had before that had a similar situation, though the firing never occurred. We had a team member that struggled in the mornings. My boss Willard shrugged it off and let him start an hour late. At some point, management got wind of it and the project had to shut down. As I said, there was no firing. Instead, we had a half-asleep team member who would spend the two hours of his day staring half-asleep at his monitor before he would finally wake up. Management’s attitude actually meant 2 less productive hours than before, plus he didn’t actually start working until an hour after he was when he was just allowed to sleep in a bit.
It’s because of all of this that I am somewhat skeptical of the telecommuting revolution. It just requires that the employer give up more control than they are willing to. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, made news by destroying Yahoo’s work-at-home culture. Others are suggesting that this move was warranted because the whole project had spun out of control and that this was a way to bring it back under control as well as layoffs-without-layoffs for those who quit.
All of this is quite a shame. With commuter congestion and a desire to reduce energy consumption, both telecommuniting and hours-shifting are both things it would be better to be working towards. Sometimes, it represents a significant cost to the employer and it’s hard to blame the employer for not going along. I question, though, the extent to which it will be resisted for other reasons.