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Research: Time Off for Good Behaviour

Back to the Hacker Ethic category

"It's not just mothers who prefer working flexible hours. A new study has found that a third of all job hunters feel the same. Hadley Freeman visits a company where every employee decides their own shifts." (intro)

This article describes a small company (~35 employees) where employees decide their shifts, i.e. they decide when they work, so long as they do a certain amount per week, and they have to cooperate with fellow employees, especially those they are "in teams" with, when deciding shifts, to ensure the smooth running of the company, which makes it more of a community working in a building, rather than a company employing workers (i.e. employing the people to work, not simply employing their labour).

It shows that employee participation is practical, albeit in small groups.


Time off for good behaviour

It's not just mothers who prefer working flexible hours. A new study has found that a third of all job hunters feel the same. Hadley Freeman visits a company where every employee decides their own shifts

Friday January 3, 2003
The Guardian

Ian Greenaway, a soft, doughy man, a little smudgy round the edges, has a very sharp view on why we're all so stressed these days, why we feel there aren't enough hours in the day, why we all moan about never seeing our friends and why, when we do, we just continue the moan, but this time about how tired we are. It's because, he says, work is outdated. Not work per se, but how we perceive work to, well, work. "You can't expect everyone to be able to fit their lives around the same schedule," he says.

Greenaway is the managing director of a label factory near Chesterfield. It is small - there are only 35 employees - but in the past five years it has caused a bit of a stir in the working world. For its 35 employees, it has 35 different shift patterns. Greenaway accepts that not everybody's lives fit around the generally accepted work hours of nine to five, or even eight to six. "You have to respect people's individual rights," he says.

For a long time flexible working has been seen as a women's issue, or more precisely a mothers' issue. But, as yesterday's government survey shows, both men and women care more about finding a job that allows them to balance work and other commitments than about seeking a higher salary or other perks such as a company car or gym membership.

For Greenaway this is no surprise. When he arrived at MTM Products Ltd six years ago, it was struggling; now, since implementing his scheme of letting the workers work out their own contracts, it thrives. In five years, MTM's productivity has doubled.

Sex and the City once based a whole episode on Carrie's struggle to pick up her dry-cleaning while working and, more recently, Allison Pearson's novel about a harried working mother, the fabulously titled I Don't Know How She Does It, twanged many chords for readers. But Pearson's protagonist was able to slip out of work for her childrens' Christmas concerts as she was a successful lawyer. For those whose collars are more blue than white, sneaking time off can be more tricky. Even the government has conceded this, saying that it can be harder for smaller businesses to coordinate flexible working hours than for larger ones.

Greenaway is having none of this ("Pah!"). Moreover, he is not just concerned about the serious life commitments, such as childcare and, ahem, dry cleaning: "When you're young, you want to go out late, don't you? So many of the younger kids here come in late on Mondays, but work later that evening. Some people want to have longer lunch hours so they can go to the gym or do their shopping, so it seems daft not to allow them, if they're willing to come in earlier or work later. This means the factory is ticking over from 6:30am to 9pm, without anyone working more than they should or feeling hard done by."

The scheme sounds too utopian to be practical, but Greenaway insists it is workable: "People can change their hours as often as they like, as long as they coordinate their hours with their workmates. Whenever someone comes to me about changing their hours, the first thing I say is: 'Have you talked about this with your team?' "

The strategy is of particular benefit to working mothers. Greenaway says they can alter their working hours when the kids are on holiday. But it is not solely a female-friendly scheme: "During the World Cup there was a little bit of shift shuffling." After all, he says: "Everyone has the right to lead their normal lives and to work, without having to sacrifice either, surely?"

Julie Taylor, 37, logistics manager
Working hours: Mon-Fri, 8.30 - 4.30
"I've worked here for 14 years. My hours have changed as the kids have become older. During the vacations I change them every day. I work with Ian as his assistant, concentrating mainly on planning and meeting clients, so we coordinate our hours. Sometimes I'll come in earlier and if he needs me to stay late to visit clients with him, I'll sort out someone to look after the kids in advance.I don't know anywhere else that lets you change your hours according to term time. My friends who work have trouble with this so during school vacation times I look after their kids. Before Ian arrived my kids had a childminder but that was really expensive."

Beverly Salim, 33, artwork designer
Working hours: Tue-Fri, 26 hours a week
"I opted to have Mondays off so that I can spend the whole weekend with my husband and then concentrate on the housework on the Monday. Also, I don't start until 10 so I can do things like go to the bank and pay the bills in the mornings. I have changed my hours many times, particularly since I got married, but I always make sure someone else in the artwork department will be there if I'm not. Before I was married, I lived with my parents and they sorted things out, like going to the bank. Now I need time to do that. Also, I changed my hours again when Katie arrived - Katie's the dog, you see, and she needs attention at certain times of the day."

Keith Hubbard, 48, team manager of shop floor
Working hours: 8.15 - 4.30, "but it all depends on the work flow"
"It's much easier to keep employees here than at any other place I've been. The lads aren't always more productive, but they are happier. So if one of them has a birthday and wants the afternoon off, he'll just say ahead of time and we can work around it, instead of him calling in "sick" at the last minute. One of the boys is taking two hours out a day to do a computing course. As long as you work your set number of hours and I know what hours everyone's doing, it's fine. Having said that, if I was a manager of a factory, I would use the traditional shift-hours method instead of these flexihours because it's easier to coordinate. But from the workers' point of view, it's better like this."

Lisa Turton, 44, senior inspector
Working hours - 7.30 - 4, four days a week
"I used to start at seven, but I changed to a bit later earlier this year. I was diagnosed with depression and the tablets made me sleepy in the mornings. Ian has assigned me more tasks because part of the problem, the doctor said, was low self-esteem, so doing more has made me feel better about myself, and so I work more efficiently. Anywhere else probably would have let me go. I work with another inspector, Linda - we inspect and package goods - and we just coordinate our hours. We both only work four days a week, but one of us is always in, and if one of is on holiday, the other one will work all five days."

Jayne Chester, 36, senior production operative and team leader
Working hours: Mon, Wed, Fri, 6-4.30; Tue, Thur: 8-5.
"I play hockey a lot and the training goes on until quite late. So on days after training nights I start later. Since I've been able to change my working hours, I've been much more alert at work. Before I used to fall asleep the following day. But now I'm happier and more productive. I work with two other people, inspecting, managing and doing the costing for everything to do with vinyl signs, and we all coordinate our hours. We're lucky in that it rarely works out that we want the same hours off - one of us will want to work late but come in early and another tends to want the opposite. Before Mr Greenaway arrived, everyone had to work the same hours - it seems so funny now."

Time off for Good Behaviour, The Guardian, 03/01/2002 http://www.guardian.co.uk/women/story/0,3604,867801,00.html