Tag Archives: Working well

My four-day weekend

This June I’d expected to be completing a three-year contract and looking for new full-time employment (without dismissing the possibility of a part-time role). I’m lucky enough to love my work but regard my paid employment as more of a cause than a career; I describe all purposeful activity as ‘work’ – sometimes it’s paid, sometimes it isn’t, and sometimes that relates to the same activity! The line between the two has become increasingly blurred and I have concluded that work-life balance between different types of work is what determines my level of health and happiness.

Back to my non-career career, and what was planned for this June didn’t happen. My previous employers cut short my contract six months early but, luckily, I was able to seamlessly take up another role which, seven months in, I find really rewarding. That reward may be partly because the role is part-time – I enjoy a four-day weekend and can recommend it!

As an aside, I can confess to having worked an unofficial four-day week many years ago. I’m a believer in the principle of getting paid for work done rather than ‘hours on the job’ – a not insignificant difference. I was in a full-time job, which wasn’t office-based and I honestly felt I could get it done in four days (and I don’t mean by working 9.5 hours on each of those days). I was thinking of trying to make it official – discussing the idea with my employers – but my brother-in-law advised I simply do it unofficially. Which is what happened – I kept my phone on and was available for the five working days, but I reduced my hours to give me more time to be a father (commuting for six years I’d missed out on my daughter’s development). I got the job done, never missed any meetings and, to the best of my knowledge, no one was any the wiser about my ‘informal arrangement’.

But now I work Wednesday to Friday by arrangement and I can confirm I don’t get that dreaded ‘Monday feeling’ on a Sunday afternoon, nor even on a Tuesday! I don’t really know whether I can afford to be paid for only three days a week (the sort of charity jobs I enjoy are never particularly well paid…) but I do know the non-monetary compensation is massive. It’s taken a little getting used to; I have to keep my head down on a Friday afternoon when full-time colleagues around me are, understandably, winding down for the weekend. But for me the prospect of the four-day ‘weekend’ ahead keeps me going, committed to making sure my three days are fully worked.

Planning becomes all the more important when you know you’ll leave on a Friday and, in theory, you’ll be unavailable until the following Wednesday. My work involves 1-2-1 meetings so, with my flexibility reduced, almost invariably some of that planning has to happen on one of my days off, but that’s a price I’m prepared to pay for my re-balanced life.

Which is not to say that my ‘days off’ are spent sitting back doing nothing; I don’t even have enough time for some serious reading for pleasure, something I promised myself when I knew I was going part-time but have not achieved… yet. I have too many other interests to sit around idly but I now have half a chance of ticking off most of the items on the same to-do lists that I previously tried to cram into a two-day weekend.

Meanwhile, I’m also following with interest a national campaign for a four-day working week – something about which I blogged some years ago. How many people on their death-bed say with regret ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work’? Time for us all to focus on what really matter maybe…

The three day weekend https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/time-trials-3-the-three-day-weekend

4 Day Week Campaign https://www.4dayweek.co.uk

Regrets of the dying https://bronnieware.com/blog/regrets-of-the-dying

 

Is agile working the answer?

In our ever-changing world of work, management theories have had trouble keeping up with the speed of that change, and the ways of coping with the impact of these changes for workers. The ‘new’ solutions are often nothing more than a re-hash of old ideas (that may or may not have worked in the past) which is not in itself a criticism – most change is cyclical and re-inventing the wheel isn’t always a bad thing.

The idea of ‘flexible working’ has underpinned discussions about working practices for decades. Traditionally, standardisation with workers being treated as ‘units of production’ – a conveyor belt mentality – was seen as the panacea for running efficient and cost-effective organisations. Since then the pendulum has swung the other way. Flexitime – flexible start and finish times covering certain ‘core’ hours – has been part of the management speak lexicon for at least the past four decades; the concept was actually trademarked in 1971. Hotdesking may be seen as a more recent idea, but its origins date back to the 16th Century and the naval practice of ‘hot-racking’ where one sailor would vacate a bunk bed for use by another (so sleeping and working in shifts).

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, one of my heroes, Charles Handy, popularised the phrase ‘portfolio working’ – being employed by different businesses at the same time, often on a freelance basis. Handy’s book The Empty Raincoat was some brilliant crystal-ball-gazing into the future of work.

Behind all these concepts is the theory of making the best use of time and space.

Since the global financial crisis of 2007 at least, I’ve noted the rise of management-speak, business bullshit – call it what you like – that tends to put the focus on the individual worker’s behaviour, rather than that of the employer, as the potential remedy for inefficiency and under-use of resources in organisations of all shapes and sizes. This may be dressed up with words like ‘empowerment’ but, not surprisingly in the age of austerity, it’s more about cost-cutting than anything else.

We see increased use of phrases like ‘mobile working’. With the advent of technological advances, and the mobile phone in particular, not only can we work anytime, but we can work anywhere – at home, in our cars, in cafés. And if someone else is picking up the cost of heat, light and rent so much the better. In the name of increased efficiency and cost-savings in the wake of the financial crisis, a decade ago I also noticed the introduction of the phrase ‘smart working’. It was easy to say, sounded good but, in my experience, no one ever really defined what it meant (perhaps because we all already knew it was about getting people to do more for less).

And coupled with the idea of doing more for less, if that endangers out mental wellbeing we can now learn to be resilient – to bounce back whatever life and work throws at us. Resilience in technical circles is a measure of what stress it takes to break something… The NHS is awash with resilience training for staff which at least acknowledges that the service and the people who work in it are at breaking point.

This focus on the individual continues with ‘agile working’ which seems to differ from flexible working in that the latter is about what primarily suits the employer, which agile working is intended to (also) meet the needs of the employee. This is a 2013 definition…

Agile working is a way of working in which an organisation empowers its people to work where, when and how they choose – with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints – to optimise their performance and deliver “best in class” value and customer service. It uses communications and information technology to enable people to work in ways, which best suit their needs without the traditional limitations of where and when tasks must be performed.

Asking ‘Is agile working the answer?’ – the title of this blog post –  begs the question, what is it meant to achieve?

Cost-saving? Almost certainly, transferring core costs away from the centre and having them absorbed by others, often the employees (and owners of public meeting spaces such as cafes and bars).

Time-saving? Agile working, like home-working, implies less unproductive time spent travelling made ever more possible by technology. But I fear the reduction in face-to-contact with colleagues and customers may bring new costs (in terms of effectiveness) down the line.

Increasing productivity? More time ‘on the job’ – in your pyjamas at home late at night, on a laptop or mobile phone in your car (a mobile office) – is certainly more possible in theory but relies on the commitment of workers that will be increasingly managed at arm’s length. It also increasing blurs the line between work and play.

A happier workforce?  Being empowered and in greater control of our working conditions are objectively ‘good things’. But everyone is different, and many employees are happier working regular hours in a structured environment alongside colleagues they can see and bounce ideas off, rather than working alone with the freedom to decide when and where the job gets done.

At the heart of the debate about different ways of working is the difference between efficiency and effectiveness, about balancing short and long-term gains, and the importance of the health of the individual relative to the health of the organisation (the two may not always go hand in hand).

Efficiency is about the relationship between inputs and outputs, effectiveness is about inputs and outcomes. In a service-based business, the first tends to be about quantity and profit, while the second – effectiveness – tends to be about quality and people. As is the case in politics, when budgets are squeezed short-term decisions may be made for financial expediency without due regard for long term cost (and potential future savings). Witness pressure on the NHS to treat symptoms of ill health rather than the causes.

Employees across the UK are being asked to accept unpalatable changes to their terms and conditions for the greater good – sustaining services, making sacrifices now for jam tomorrow. This is all about changing cultures and mindsets and the best ways to do this will be as various as the organisations needing to make those changes.

My primary concern about this, borne out in part by personal experience, is that short term sacrifice is rarely rewarded in the long term. This is not just for individuals that feel the pain most personally, but also for the organisations and causes that are the reason we get out of bed in the morning. The health of well-run organisations is intrinsically tied up with the health of those running them; if staff get burnt out and leave, I fear for the future.

Further reading on agile working http://www.nhsemployers.org/~/media/Employers/Documents/SiteCollectionDocuments/Agile%20Working%20Guide.pdf

Green and Grey Repurpose – standing desk

img_0006Did you know that standing up at work for an average 3 hours a day for a year is the equivalent calorie burn (approx 30,000 calories) of running ten marathons? I discovered this amazing statistic when I discovered a beautiful standing desk (the Eiger) at the Entrepreneurial Spark ‘Hatchery’ in Milton Keynes (where I also got excited about their reclaimed scaffold board tables).

I couldn’t afford the Eiger, so it got me thinking… could I make one by re-purposing a slatted wooden chair? I put a call-out for such a chair through our local Freegle group. I got offered three!

With a bit of head scratching (I haven’t got hair to pull out) I can up with a low-tech height-adjustable design which also folds flat for easy storage and/or transport. I’m pretty happy with the result – I use it now at my work – and some days I stand up all day.

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I’m a runner, but I don’t do marathons (standing is more my scene)

9 more health benefits from using a standing desk:

  1. When sitting down, your metabolic rate crashes to an absolute minimum. You only burn 1 calories a minute – that’s less than chewing gum!
  2. As soon as you sit, electrical activity in your legs shuts down and enzymes that help break down fat drop 90%
  3. Sitting 6+ hours a day makes you up to 40% likelier to die in 15 years than someone who sits less than 3 hours (even if you exercise)
  4. Worldwide studies have warned that a sedentary lifestyle could be causing as many deaths as smoking
  5. People with sitting jobs have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease as those with standing jobs
  6. Regular exercise regimes do not negate the effects of a sedentary lifestyle – going to the gym two or three times a week isn’t enough
  7. Being sedentary slows down the circulatory system, blood, oxygen and vital nutrients
  8. In the UK, 30 million working days were lost in 2013 from musculoskeletal disorders
  9. Research published in The Lancet in 2016 on more than 1 million office workers found that sitting for at least 8 hours a day could increase the risk of premature death by up to 60%

Source: www.iwantastandingdesk.com  (click to learn more about the Eiger)

Interested in other re-purpose projects?  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/green-grey-repurpose