flexibleWelcome to 2015. Here’s hoping that you had a decent break and the weather treated you well. Hopefully, you will be treated well by your employer this year and here’s something for you and the boss to consider. Productivity increases when you allow flexible working, unlimited sick leave, unlimited annual leave, and, not working on a Friday. Of course, all paid. It sounds mad, because we are taught that working many hours on pointless activities and being seen at our desk equals productivity, and so, success. It’s a lie.

“Huge swaths of people spend their days performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed.” – Anon

Don’t forget to fill in our New Zealand Government Worker Annual Survey

I had a boss a decade ago who I drove insane. I had a large extended team of over 32 staff and my first order of business was to introduce flexible working and tell them that none of them had to work on a Friday afternoon unless there was some kind of emergency, or at their discretion. My boss would come in every morning without fail and say “Where the f*ck are your staff?” Every. Morning. That was some kind of management style I can tell you.

My team were happy. They were so happy that they topped the employee satisfaction survey year on year. Why? Because they weren’t micro-managed, and as long as they got what they needed to get done done, it was all good. Trusting them to make the right calls allowed them to work to their style and how they needed. It worked. My boss was wrong.

New research, surprise surprise, shows that people who work an excessive amount of hours per week are less effective than those who work less. For example, people who work 32 hours a week are more productive than those that work 60. It’s a simple, proven rule. Work less, more productive, work more, less productive.

“The Greeks are some of the most hardworking in the OECD, putting in over 2,000 hours a year on average. Germans, on the other hand, are comparative slackers, working about 1,400 hours each year. But German productivity is about 70% higher.” – Source

We are taught a lie. That working hard, or in reality, being seen to work hard, is a virtue and makes us more effective. It’s simply not true. This is dinosaur thinking.

So I started to look at other things that boost productivity as well as the one above.

Flexible Working: Trusting your staff to work whenever they need too, from wherever they choose, using their own tools. This boosts productivity again. By an estimated ten percent in some studies. It makes sense, rather than monitoring your staff by the time they sit at an uncomfortable desk (why do you think we have so many meetings) you measure them on real outcomes and let them get on with it.

Unlimited sick leave: This boosts productivity, decreases the amount of sick days taken, and overall increases morale. People have a “use it or lose it” attitude to sick leave. If you give them as much as they need, which quite frankly is a nice human thing to do, then they tend to only use it when they really need it.

Unlimited annual leave: Both Netflix and Virgin HQ have implemented this. They aren’t the only ones. Again, it boosts productivity and it is very rare that it is abused. It self-polices. Team members need to work out between themselves when is a good time to go on leave. Again, it’s trusting people to make the right decisions. And it works.

There will always be bad staff. However, studies seem to suggest that with these initiatives, you are likely to have less. If your staff are off sick all the time, for example, then you need to ask yourself as a manager what you are doing wrong. Because it’s probably the environment, and that’s your job to manage.

Work does not have to be an unending grind where you feel as if you are tied to a desk and have to generate a large amount of activity and hours in order to appear “committed” and successful, when you are miserable. There are plenty of companies that are starting to figure out the benefits of changing behaviour to allow employees freedom to work.

In a world of neo-liberalism where the threat is “work for less, work longer, be more productive, or you’ll lose your job, these are tough economic conditions you know” it is refreshing to see companies taking a different approach and rejecting the lie.

My old boss had advice for me. If you don’t like it, leave. I did. It was the best thing I could have ever done. It’s great advice. If you aren’t happy this year, move. Plan it, research it, talk to a decent recruiter (AbsoluteIT are great in my opinion) and find a company that will let you work your way. Don’t compromise.

For the employer. Just try one of these ideas this year, and measure the result. I think you will be surprised.

Happy New Year.

One comment

  1. Great post Ian. It would seem obvious on the surface of it, wouldn’t it, but I’m guessing a fairly ‘aged’ management culture still in place in most companies/entities would ‘balk’ at even considering this, let alone trying it, despite the results & facts from those succeeding with it. I have witnessed those companies and government departments (many in WN) whom insist on employees being at their desks (when not in meetings) from 8:30am – 6:30pm (when most people actually leave their offices).

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