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Women want inspiration and leadership at work

18 Apr

Women value inspirational leaders and working environments over other benefits such as healthcare or pension, according to new research from O2.

Women also want their bosses to take the lead on issues such as flexible working. More than half say they want reassurance that working flexibly won’t have a detrimental effect on their career and that they can be trusted to work from home. In short, they don’t just want to stick to the traditional patterns of working, and they want that set out in black and white. An inspiring workplace is a flexible and empowering one for women.

Ben Dowd, O2 business director, says: “To create a truly flexible working culture, actions speak louder than words. And employers must lead by example to ensure that every member of staff feels empowered to shape their own definition of the nine to five.”


Women with ‘elite’ education are increasingly opting out of full-time work

11 Apr

Work-life balance has taken a new turn. The higher the levels of study, the higher the chance that women will choose to opt-out of full-time work, says a study from Vanderbilt University.

The research found that 60% of female graduates from elite colleges are working full-time compared to 68% of women from other schools. Children are the key factor in hours women choose to work. Among graduates from ‘elite’ colleges, married women without children are 20 percentage points more likely to be employed than those with children.

The biggest difference is with women who have MBAs. Married mothers with an MBA and a first degree from a selective school are 30 percentage points less likely to be employed full-time than graduates of less selective schools, the study found.

Even though elite graduates are more likely to earn advanced degrees, marry at later ages and have higher expected earnings, they are still opting out of full-time work at much higher rates than other graduates, especially if they have children,” says Vanderbilt professor of law and economics Joni Hersch.

For a more in-depth understanding of her findings, read her full report: Opting Out among Women with Elite Education.

Home working: does it help or hinder productivity and creativity?

5 Mar
Who says home workers are less productive and creative? (pic:

Who says home workers are less productive and creative? (pic:

Home working is a hot topic, thanks to the ban on employees working from home by Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer. She outlawed home working after checking the stats on how often homeworkers logged onto work systems from home, and she decided it wasn’t enough. Her argument, set out in a memo that was leaked, is this: “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”

Ms Mayer’s decision has sparked outrage and support in equal measures. Some have pointed out the irony of the head of a digital communications company wanting to work face-to-face. Others have said competitiveness and long hours are what’s needed at Yahoo!

A business owner argues that social media has made us more isolated, and there really is no substitute for human contact in business relationships. “No level of Skype Calls or FaceTime conversations will ever replace the reality of looking a colleague, customer or supplier in the eye and shaking their hand,” argues Pimlico Plumbers CEO Charlie Mullins.

A childcare expert from the NCT has said that working from home benefits neither mother nor child. Elizabeth Duff is quoted as saying: “You can’t adequately look after a child and do a job well if you work at home all week. In emergencies, it has to be done. But in general it shouldn’t be.”

My view is that home working can be fantastic for productivity. Continue reading

Why inflexible bosses are stifling business

18 Nov

Working flexibly gives employees the freedom to be productive. (pic credit: istockphoto/alexsl)

For any of you stuck at your desk on a Friday evening wondering when you’ll ever be able to go home, then you’re probably among the 40% of employees who feels pressured into ‘presenteeism’ to prove your commitment to your job.

A survey of 2000 office employees by mobile phone company O2 found that line managers prevent their staff working flexibly, even though staff believe they’d be more productive if they didn’t have to work under their watchful eye of their inflexible bosses.

Yes, there’s a recession on. Yes, employees need to be productive because there’s no room for passengers in any business. And yes, managers may fear that people may take advantage and use ‘working from home’ as an excuse to laze around all day. But surely employers can’t think that implicitly or explicitly expecting their employees to be tied to their desks is going to improve productivity – because it certainly isn’t going to improve staff engagement.

O2 spokesman David Plumb said: “Employees spending more time at their desks because they believe they have to is not going to contribute to driving UK business forward.” While O2 clearly has a commercial interest in people working remotely, Mr Plumb does indeed have a point.

I’ve seen it from both sides, as a manager and as an employee. Continue reading

Less presenteeism and more flexibility can help reduce workplace stress

6 Oct

I’ve never been able to tolerate martyrdom in the office: the people who sniff and shuffle to their desks, struggling through the day, spreading germs as they go – and all because they feel guilty about taking time off.

Presenteeism – turning up to work no matter what, in the belief that people will think you’re not committed to your job – is making workplace stress levels worse, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) Simplyhealth Absence Management Report 2011.

Presenteeism is just one of the factors cited as exacerbating stress, which is now the number-one cause of long-term sickness absence. Over a quarter of organisations surveyed said they had seen an increase in the number of people coming to work ill in the last 12 months, and two-fifths noted an increase in mental health problems. The report says: “Such presenteeism can negatively affect an organisation’s productivity, not only if illness is transmitted to other colleagues, but also because ill employees are likely to work less effectively than usual, may be more prone to costly mistakes and take longer to recover from their illness. Presenteeism is also a sign of anxiety. Failure by organisations to address employees’ concerns may lead to mental health problems and costly longer- term consequences.”

Lack of job security is a major factor, especially in the public sector, where half of employers report an increase in stress-related absence over the past year. Stress is worse in organisations planning to make redundancies – not surprising, really, especially as half of employers use absence records as part of their criteria when deciding who to make redundant.

Other top causes of stress are workloads, management style, family issues, and organisational change. Home/family responsibilities are in the top five most common causes of absence for two-fifths of organisations.

CIPD recommends that organisations lead from the top in promoting attendance, and supporting line managers in helping to deal with stressed employees. They should also foster an “open and supportive culture” where people feel they can take time off when genuinely ill, and they should make a serious commitment to flexible working practices to allow people to juggle the various aspects of their lives.

Could more time be the secret to workplace happiness?

4 Oct

The beautiful weather may have prompted unseasonally sunny demeanours this week, but there’s no hiding the cloud of unhappiness that’s hanging over the UK’s workforce, according to two surveys that gauge the nation’s happiness.

The Happiness at Work Index from recruitment firm Badenoch & Clark reveals that just a third (36.5%) of workers are happy in their jobs. A quarter said they were “distinctly unhappy” – and levels of unhappiness have been falling this year. The company’s managing director Nicola Linkleter puts this down to “a lack of tangible job security, longer hours, increased financial strain at work and home, and reticence from senior management to invest in additional talent”, and says that workplace morale should be addressed as a business-critical issue.

The delicate balance between work and home is the subject of the second survey, from My Family Care. Its Working Parents & Carers Flexible Working Survey 2011 reveals that just 40% of the 40,000 respondents were happy or very happy with their work/life balance.

Interestingly, there is a correlation between flexible working and being happy with their work-life balance: two-thrids (64%) of people  who are ‘very happy’ with their working pattern say they are ‘really committed’ to their employer, compared with 23% in the ‘very unhappy’ category who feel similarly committed to their employer. Happiness links to productivity, say respondents. However, flexibility does not equal career progression, with 54% in the ‘very happy’ group concerned that that their promotion prospects may be hindered by working flexibly.

So, what’s the common denominator in all of this? There’s no magic cure to the unhappiness, but I agree with one of the conclusions reached by the My Family Care survey: that the underlying issue is the pressure caused by lack of time. Working parents have jobs, children, possibly elderly parents to take care of; so many “mandatory” elements to their lives. The survey adds: “So ways to save time and use it more productively will nearly always help; from the practical – working from home during rush hour and putting convenient childcare in place, to the developmental – training designed to help workload management and productivity for flexible working.”

Are business meetings at the hairdresser the ultimate in multi-tasking?

5 Jul

The latest trend to hit high-flying City businesswomen is apparently the ‘power cut’: a trip to the hair salon that combines a haircut with a business meeting.

As reported in the Evening Standard, the power cut gives a whole new meaning to the working lunch. Senior businesswomen come in to the salon for their manicure or their blow dry, and continue their conference call – or brainstorm ideas with colleagues – while the stylists unobtrusively do their work. They do this for breakfast meetings as well as at lunchtimes and after work. One salon – Charles Worthington in Covent Garden – has even given this phenomenon a brand name: Executive Meet and Treat Service.

I’m all for multi-tasking; anything that ticks several things off my to-do list at once gets my vote. You can be there with your Blackberry racing through your emails, or catching up on those important calls – buying into that 24/7 culture of always being at the beck and call of your bosses and your business. Maybe the power cut is fine before an important meeting or presentation when I have to look my best – or perhaps for a novel way to catch up with a colleague.

However, there is a part of me that treats a visit to the hairdressers as a sacred space in my diary that’s just for me. Without the interruptions. Sometimes, it’s a relief to keep a little distance between work time and play time.


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