Flexible working

Flexible working seems to be a hot topic at the moment, whether it’s to juggle work with other commitments, or to achieve a better work/life balance. People have moved beyond the days of being a wage-slave, and have realised that free time is often more valuable to them than a high salary.

Some employers do have policies to consider and accommodate requests if they can. However that flexibility doesn’t seem to get translated into staff recruitment. When it comes to professional people (with the possible exception of public sector employees) every job advertised seems to be for a full-time role. If you do a job search for part-time work, the only offerings will be low-paid sales, admin, or hospitality jobs. Nobody advertises for a part-time Project Manager!

Of course, flexible working comes in many forms. There are flexible hours or compressed hours arrangements out there, where you still work the same 35-40 hour week, but you have some freedom about the exact hours you work. Then there’s reduced hours, where you might enter into some kind of part-time or job-share agreement with your employer.

It’s these reduced hours arrangements that seem the most elusive. Some employers will make concessions for working parents, and indeed parents returning to work after parental leave are entitled to ask for a change in work patterns.

However, generally flexible hours and flexible working is generally at the discretion of individual employers, and is not covered by legislation in Ireland. 

So if you’re in a professional role, and you would prefer a 3-day week, what can you do:

  • Check if your employer has a flexible working policy. They may have one even if they don’t promote it, as some employers don’t image that anyone other than working parents would want flexible arrangements.
  • Ask your manager. If there’s no policy, your employer may still consider a reasonable request. It’s probably a good idea to meet with your manager armed with a bunch or reasons why flexible working would be good for both you and the company.
  • Keep asking. The first time you ask about it, you may be refused because the conditions to allow it might not be right. But things change over time, and there’s no harm leaving it a few months and asking again. It will give your manager more time to consider options.
  • Resign and go somewhere else. Unfortunately if you are in full-time employment, you do not have a statutory right to change to part-time work. And so, sometimes you need to vote with your feet and go and work for a more flexible employer.

Applying for a new job

I’d be interested to hear if anyone has experience of asking about flexible or part-time working hours during the recruitment process. I’m sure there must be some employers or hiring managers that would be open to it, but how would you know?

Maybe employers should include in their job adverts whether or not they are open to considering new employees at reduced hours. It would help avoid some of the uncertainty.

And maybe employers also need to reconsider their existing flexible working policies. I’ve seen some that state you can’t even apply for flexible working arrangements until you’ve completed a minimum length of service which seems overly restrictive to me.  It may well force some people to take a new job at full-time hours, against their preference, in the hope that they can try to negotiate reduced hours later.

Removing Meetings

On a busy project it’s common to have a full calendar of meeting; so much so, that it’s often hard to find time to get actual work done!

When something new crops up, people are quick to add another meeting to the calendar, but how often do people go out of their way to remove meetings?

Once a recurring meeting gets established it can be really hard to get rid of it, even if it’s not achieving its purpose. Some meetings often end up as a general talking-shop where everyone feels the need to voice their opinion. And meeting attendance just seems to grow week on week, with more and more people added to the invite list.

I know of so many people that complain about the number of meetings they have – and, ironically, they are often the ones that talk the most during those meetings! But how many people ever question the need for a meeting?

In my project we’ve been looking at the number and length of all our recurring meetings, and have tried to re-focus ones that have got off-track. Some meetings have been shortened, some made less frequent, and some have reduced the number of attendees. We also created a matrix to describe what job roles have mandatory or optional attendance at meeting, which helps people determine if they can legitimately skip something.

The up-shot is that one meeting, which used to last occur twice a week for an hour with around 20 attendees, is now just 30 minutes once a week with 8 attendees – freeing up a total of 36 hours of people’s time. Just think of the productivity! It’s like hiring an extra person, and that’s just from one of our meetings.

My own personal Kanban board

I like lists. My memory isn’t what it was, and a good list helps reassure me that I haven’t forgotten something.

I’ve kept various to-do lists over the years, in many different formats. I’ve had scraps of paper in my pocket, I’ve had reminders written on the calendar (both paper and electronic), and I’ve used smartphone apps like Google Keep to keep track of tasks, but none of them were quite good enough for my needs.

And then it dawned on me… I work in agile software development all day, and use project tracking tools all day. And I figured that, if these tools work well to keep an agile team of 9 people aligned, then I could easily apply their use to my personal life.

The most obvious choice is a Kanban board. It’s great for tracking the progress of non-time-bound tasks, and helps focus the mind on getting tasks finished to completion due to the WIP limits on the “doing” column.

A simple Kanban board has three columns for To Do, Doing and Done, but I decided to expand mine a bit and add a fourth column for “Blocked”.

I also wanted my Kanban board to be electronic. They can be physical, and many agile teams use physical boards in an office with post-it notes or index cards stuck to the wall. But I wanted mine to be a bit more portable.

There are loads of online tools out there that do Kanban boards, but it seems that they’re mostly commercially focused and cost money to use. So I eventually settled on meistertask who have a free account option. And best of all, I can access my board on the web and via their mobile app. They don’t have WIP limits defined on their boards yet, but I guess I can enforce that myself for now.

Anyway, so I’ve been using my Kanban board for about 2-3 weeks now, and I’m finding it very useful to keep track of personal chores and tasks.

My only dilemma now is whether to invite my wife to share the view of my board. If I do then it might help us both track and share our domestic jobs. But it would also have the down-side of allowing my wife to allocate lots of jobs to me!

Why you should probably quit your job, right now!

Most people delay the decision to quit their job for far too long. They put up with a stressful or unhappy position, and sometimes put their physical and mental health at risk, in the hope that things will improve.

Most of the time, that never happens.

The colleagues that piss you off, the boss that bullies you, or the customers that treat you like shit. You can put up with them all for so long, thinking that if you “just hang in there” things will get better. However, most of the time people don’t change. If a co-worker is a jerk today, then he will most likely stay a jerk for ever. And no amount of wishful thinking on your part will make them behave better.

Many organisations tolerate bad behaviour in their staff, as long as the staff member remains fairly productive. A weak management team will often try to ignore a problem, rather than tackle it head on. It’s much easier to ignore incidents of bad behaviour, and hope they will sort themselves out.

But people don’t change. A person that is not tackled about their bad behaviour will take it as a mandate to carry on. And before you know it, it’s the accepted culture within a team.

I worked for one place where a team leader was a bully. He used to belittle and humiliate team members in front of the rest of the team. Many of them complained to the owner of the business, but because the bully was one of the best performing employees, the owner refused to do anything about it. And over time people learned not to bother complaining, as nothing would be done. Morale hit rock bottom, absenteeism was at an all-time high, and productivity dipped – all of which fuelled more bulling.

It was only when about half the team members quit and left the company that anyone took notice. And by then the damage was done.

nelson

Sometimes the only option available to staff is to vote with their feet, and quit a company.

It might seem like a drastic measure to quit, particularly if you’re not sure of getting rehired elsewhere. And sometimes the decision comes down to the balance of job security against being happy.

Indeed, the chances are there are a good portion of people reading this article, right now, that are miserable at work. And my advice to you, is to quit your job – today!

The feeling of finally being free from the toxic environment will be amazing.

Sure, the prospect of being unemployed can be scary, but maybe not as scary as you think. Indeed, I quit a job about 8 years ago, and moved to a new country with no work, no home and no friends – and within weeks I had found a great job, a lovely new home, and some great friends. I took a leap of faith to leave behind a situation where I wasn’t happy, and I found the experience liberating – even life-changing.

Localised Flooding

It’s been raining pretty hard over Ireland for the last 24 hours, and all of the news reports this morning were about localised flooding. What I didn’t expect, however, was that the flooding would extend to inside my office.

I arrived at my desk this morning, which is on the 5th floor of the building, to find the entire open-plan area where I sit cordoned off. Water was pouring from the light fittings in the ceiling onto the floor and over people’s desks. Thank goodness that we have a clean-desk policy at work, which has no doubt helped save IT equipment and documents from being lost and damaged.

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