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.

Improved music while you work

Sometimes in the office I find it helpful to listen to music. Simply the process of putting on a pair of headphones helps me zone out of the distractions of the office, and concentrate better on the task in hand.

My problem was that I wasn’t convinced the quality of music produced by the work laptop, and so I tried to see what I could do to improve the sound quality.

High Quality Streaming

The first thing was to ensure the source of the music was as good as it could be. There are music services like Tidal that offer lossless audio – but they charge double the price of other streaming services, and its debatable whether you can tell the difference unless you have very high-end audio equipment.

I use the Spotify premium service, and they offer a high quality streaming option in their desktop app (see Edit->Preferences). The high quality option doubles the bit rate from 160 kbps to 320 kbps, which should improve the quality of the music.

Better Headphones

Music through a €5 pair of ear-buds is never going to sound as good as through a €500 pair of audiophile headphones. But again, there’s a balance to be made here – and a law of diminishing returns. As you spend more, the incremental improvements get smaller and smaller. As such, I’d say don’t spend over €200 for headphones in a noisy office environment.

When buying new headphones, you’re looking for good noise isolation. You don’t want your music interrupted by the conversation across the room, and similarly you don’t want your music to leak out and annoy your colleagues. Look for closed (or closed back) headphones to avoid noise leakage.

For very noisy offices, you might want to consider noise-cancelling headphones, which alter the audio to try and actively block out ambient noise. They are useful if you do a lot of air travel, as they are designed to block out low frequencies (such as airplane engine noise) – but there are disadvantages to using them. They are often more bulky, they need battery power to operate, and the noise-cancelling effect can reduce the audio quality.

Bulldog clip providing a handy place to hang the headphones

External DAC

Once you have a good quality source of music, and good quality headphones, the only thing that can let down the music is the thing that sits in the middle – the computer. The headphones socket of your PC can often let you down in terms of sound quality, and an external DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) will go a long way to improve the quality.

I have a DacMagic XS which has provided me with a noticeable improvement in sound quality. It’s tiny – smaller than a matchbox – and plugs into one of the USB ports of the laptop. I then plug my headphones in the other end. It’s small enough to look unobtrusive on my desk, and can also be used to improve the sound output of a smartphone or tablet.

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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