A recent survey of employees by employment law and discrimination solicitors Doyle Clayton found 20% of staff think flexible and part-time workers are less committed than their colleagues, with Generation Y workers, aged 25 to 34, most likely to hold negative opinions.
The perception of lack of commitment is one that persists and even if it is only held by a minority, it gets a significant amount of coverage by the media as they look to highlight potential schisms for more spicy stories – something that has led to the rise of figures such as Katie Hopkins.
It’s one that becomes slightly wearying over time, particularly when up till now the majority of those working flexibly have tended to be parents who, one could argue, may be more committed to their jobs as a result of having to pay the family bills.
The problem is that it may look as if a colleague is “bunking” off at 5.30pm to pick up the kids if the rest of the office is staying put until 7pm, but, due to the wonders of technology, many are logging on later and putting in extra hours.
The Workingmums.co.uk annual survey shows that 15% of part timers work at least 6-8 hours extra a week and that 74% of working mums are logging on to emails outside of their working hours, with 48% doing so regularly.
Of course, many of those who stay till 7pm [or later] are also logging in at night. It makes it hard to talk about part-time work. In the past full time was eight-hour days, five days a week. Now it’s practically all the time. What is part time of practically all the time? Probably the old equivalent of full time. The hours have been slowly ratcheting up and everyone feels resentful: the part timers because they are being paid less, but feel they are doing a full-time job and the full timers because they feel they are having to work longer and longer hours because emails never stop coming in.
But isn’t it more to do with unrealistic expectations? To cut a team’s hours by a certain proportion and expect the same productivity doesn’t appear to make much sense, even if, as many part timers argue, they often become incredibly focused and efficient if the deadline of nursery or school pick-up looms over them every day. Any negotiations over flexible working have to be based on a serious and realistic assessment of what is feasible in the hours agreed and what the impact might be on colleagues. Moreover, in a climate of email overload, workloads need to be regularly reviewed, including of remote workers who often get missed out and, according to employers like BT, are the most likely to overwork.
What too are the long-term repercussions of flogging an exhausted, fractious staff for greater and greater output? You wouldn’t do it to a horse so why does it make sense expecting your staff to perform at their best under such conditions?
Employers who recognise that this is a zero sum game have been behind the increasing focus on well being. But you can’t just talk about well being without addressing the causes of stress in the workplace and most of those come down to workload. That’s why the initiative of German carmaker Daimler that its employees can opt out of email while they are on annual leave is welcome. Workers can have choose to have email sent to them when they are on annual leave forwarded to another colleague and deleted. People who send email are notified by a ‘Mail on Holiday’ message that the employee is on leave and advised to contact a colleague.
Daimler board member Wilfried Porth told the Financial Times: “Our employees should relax on holiday and not read work-related emails. With ‘Mail on Holiday’ they start back after the holidays with a clean desk. There is no traffic jam in their inbox. That is an emotional relief.”
It certainly is. A recent survey by community organisation Glassdoor showed the average UK employee only uses three quarters of their annual leave entitlement every year. Forty four percent of UK employees reported doing some work while on holiday, with employees in Scotland most likely to do some work on holiday, followed by those in London (51%) and the Southeast. Younger employees, aged 16-24, were least likely to use all their annual leave awarded – just 12 per cent say that they use their full holiday allowance.
One in 10 employees had worked while on leave because they were concerned that they may get behind in their work. This rose to 17 per cent for employees in the Southeast. Ten per cent of employees worked because they wanted a pay rise and nine per cent because they felt that no one else at their company could do their work while they were out. Again, more employees in the Southeast (15%) than any other region admitted working while on holiday, citing that no one else could do the work.
Many of these will be part time or flexible workers. It is this overcommitment to work which fuels resentment and it is not good for either employers or employees.