This week: Our working weeks

Two interesting pieces on how we work, and how we want to work, made the mainstream media last week.

One of these was a story about PwC who are inviting recruits to specify when they would like to work (be it two days a week or just two months a year), and then trying to match those people to projects where they can do that. They call it their Flexible Talent Network, an initiative which is in response to a study they carried out which showed that just under half of the respondents prioritised flexible working and a good work-life balance the most when looking for a job.

This sort of idea is inevitably easier for some types of organisations to implement than others. But it does prompt the question of whether the flexible working that other organisations profess to offer as a benefit to staff is really that flexible. In comparison, it feels like finite flexibility within a framework. The default position still very often seems to be 9 – 5, Monday – Friday, in the office, and only a reluctant agreement to accept something like a 30 minute earlier start and finish time, or one day working from home, where a reason to refuse can’t be found. PwC is looking to tap into a talent pool that doesn’t want to, or can’t, conform to a traditional view of working and 2000 people have signed up in the first 2 weeks. It is often said that these sort of changes in employee attitudes are driven by the Millennials amongst us but everyone could take some benefit from a fundamental rethink about what flexible working actually means.

The second story of last week that caught my eye showed the significant proportion of employees who are opting to exercise flexibility as to where they do the work that they can’t find time to do during their official working hours. The results of a study by the University of the West of England confirmed what those of us who travel by train will see everyday (i.e. the significant number of people who are working whilst they commute).  With the advent of technology, it is easy and efficient to catch up on emails on what otherwise would be dead time, allowing an earlier exit from the office or avoiding the need to log-on once home. As it happens, I am writing this whilst I do my commute. The study asks the question of whether time spent working in this way should actually count as working time – the office worker’s equivalent of the Tyco case on mobile workers. I can’t see the law changing in that way but the study does raise other questions which employers ought to consider about employee wellbeing and data security. As an employer, how important is it to know how many additional hours your employees are doing? What monitoring arrangements would you put in place to find out when this is happening outside of the office? Ought you actually to prohibit employees from working on the train if the person next to them could read over their shoulder, or the train wi-fi be insufficiently secure?

And for those of us who do work on trains, what right do we have to ask the person who is actually unwinding whilst they travel by listening to their music, but causing a distraction in our unofficial working environment, to TURN IT DOWN??!!

Kirsty Thompson, Partner, works within Devonshires Employment & Pensions Team.

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