When working from home means something else…but does it matter?

As a manager are you having difficulty saying no to employees when they say they are working from home when they should really be having a sick day, carer’s leave or leave without pay?

Are you finding it almost impossible to schedule face to face meetings on Monday, Friday or before or after a public holiday because people are working from home?

Are you finding the lines are being blurred about how much annual leave is being applied for versus working from home days over holiday periods like Xmas?

Do you worry if you mention anything to an employee about taking sick leave for themselves or their children rather than working from home that you will be seen as discriminatory?

Have you been in the situation when you have asked an employee not to work from home for a specific reason only to be told you allowed other employees to do so and you are being unfair?

For many of the organisations I work with, this concern is being quietly raised to the surface. I say quietly because highlighting some of the issues may somehow reduce the advantages gained from working flexibly and no one wants that in Australia.

I have to admit I have been concerned about writing about the topic. To challenge any aspect of flexibility in the modern workplace, or any possible negative ramifications could be considered heresy. A little similar to when hot desking came into being; anyone who thought it was counterproductive was considered a heretic, yet the data has now proved those heretics to be predominately correct.

Let me be clear, I have no problems with working from home or flexible workplaces. What I am concerned about is the growing acceptance that anything goes when it comes to flexible workplaces and it can be counterproductive. It is becoming a modern dilemma for managers who are struggling to find a balance.

A common example is how to encourage people to take sick leave/carer’s leave when they or a family member is sick rather than agreeing they can just work from home.

  • A manager was audio called on Monday morning by a white-collar employee saying they had broken their arm the previous day. They had their arm in plaster above the elbow and would be working from home for the next few days. He found it very difficult to ring the person to suggest they take sick leave, as they would have great difficulty doing their job, plus it may indicate a lack of trust on his part. He also was aware that if he had no influence in this situation, he would be unlikely to influence others. An example of a manager’s modern dilemma.

To be even more provocative some managers, don’t want to manage the situation because employees may challenge their use of flexible work practices. If I don’t tell on you, you won’t tell on me. I know heresy again. Yet let me share another real-life example with enough changes not to identify the organisation or individuals.

  • One large workplace implemented a security system which identified when people clocked into work just before the Xmas period. It was not deliberate, the timing just happened that way. One HR professional, practicing using an employee analytic tool, decided to do an analysis of how many people came to work verses their leave requested over Xmas. He found there was a 74% discrepancy across the business. The person’s dilemma was what to do with the information as all levels of the organisations were implicated.

Before writing this article, I wondered if any of this mattered at all. Afterall there are swings and roundabout’s in the modern workforce. Yet I could not help wondering if this was a modern dilemma experienced predominately by a western workforce and if so, could this be limiting in any way.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to ask this question to delegates at an international leadership conference where people came from across the globe. In general, they confirmed my impression that it was more a western world dilemma. For some the very idea of carer’s leave, or flexible workplaces was foreign to them. One even asked how Australia could remain competitive, amongst its Asian peers with such mindsets.

The comment that struck me the most however, was the emphatic response by one delegate. He said this was a western dilemma, humans always work around systems for self-interest, however it will be short lived.

He highlighted every aspect of human productivity is already, or in the process, of being measured. The billions spent on developing people analytics reinforced this. Counting keystrokes is just the beginning; measuring emotional states, focusing capability, team responsiveness, and functionality is the way of the future.

The data that illustrates human productivity will drive decisions. He said anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool …. get the data and stop wasting time.

Provocative yes but in your heart of hearts is it a conversation that needs to be had in organisations?

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