Long hours, high workloads, out-of-date leadership style and cultures do little to retain staff. Flexibility and good leadership is key to a happy workforce, says Lynne Copp.
In the UK we work 46% longer hours than our European neighbours and are 27% less productive. Long hours and high workloads do not create successful businesses or sustain customer excellence. Companies need well-motivated, rested and fully-skilled employees who are creative, productive, customer focused and, most of all, drive process improvements that will break this workload demon.
Sadly, too many short-sighted senior managers still demand ‘more for less’ and the result is employees that have no choice other than to play the long hours game until they become ill. Today, 80% of all sickness absence is stress-related and 46% of that due to work-life imbalance; an avoidable cost. The history books refer to ancient man as the naked ape; surely modern man is the knackered ape?
Imbalance in organisations is caused by:
- Management style
- Legacy processes and rules
- Persistent change
- Lack of development
- Self-driven behaviour
Therefore, if we are to create environments where people come to work to do a great job, give their best and achieve great things for their customers, all these issues must be addressed. It’s essential to invest in those things that will make a difference. Our recent research has identified five main areas of focus for leaders, this article focuses on two:
The vast majority of employees leave organisations because of their manager. Therefore, when creating great places to work, start at the top and be clear about the organisation’s direction and the culture needed to deliver it.
Senior leaders need to let go of the internal focus (staring at the numbers) and start looking externally. A leader today must have a clear focus on the external markets, customers, trends and create a compelling vision that will motivate the whole team. This vision should be focused squarely with the customer. Too many of our leaders today have become introspective and create visions linked to financial gain. Creating a great place to work means that a leader has to create an externally-focused organisation that knows exactly where it is heading and has a keen sense of the values and behaviours of its people that will get it there. Smart leaders recruit for behaviour and attitude, knowing that they can train technical skills. It doesn’t matter how good an employee is technically, if they don’t have the right attitude and behaviours, customer delight is unlikely; not to mention peer relationships.
A flexible mindset means:
- Flexible in your attitude to change, improvement and driving out waste
- Flexible in your self awareness and development
- Flexible in the way you run your business, time, work-life balance and wellbeing
A manager once said to me: "You might be on the right track, but unless you keep moving, sooner or later you will get run down." I have never forgotten this statement and it is true. But how many of us move with the times? Keep ourselves up to date? You must be flexible in your attitude to change, self-improvement and growth.
Flexibility also means providing choice and creating a culture of give and take. The reasons that employees need flexibility are irrelevant, therefore policies should be inclusive and ‘reason neutral’. Flexible working is not just a parent need; it should be for all employees. The reasons a business needs flexibility should be customer driven.
Our current research shows that flexible working provides staff as well as customer loyalty. HR and customer service teams need to work together to create flexible-working systems that support employees and customers. There are generation, gender, cultural and personal reasons for creating a system that is as unique as every customer who comes knocking at the door.
There is a direct correlation between customer and employee satisfaction. We all know this, but how do we sustain it? Firstly, managers must address workload. What really needs to be done?
It is suggested that up to 75% of a process is not focused on the customer but on some legacy or bureaucracy that is maintained for the sake of internal comfort and rules. Get rid of it. Set your people free to look for better ways to do things. Imagine if you could save even 45% of time in a particular process? The workload on people would reduce, they could focus on delivering excellence - and live a little too!
Drive waste out of every system and create a culture of challenge driven by the question: ‘Why do we do this and is it adding value to the customer?’
When you put this article down and scramble back onto your hamster wheel of workload, consider this: a machine that runs continuously without maintenance eventually breaks down. It is serviced regularly to prevent this. So why should employees be treated less favourably than machines?
Flexibility linked to customer satisfaction and underpinned by modern leadership will support your business to address the issues of high workload, long hours, absence and attrition. These activities are also integral to attracting and retaining suitably skilled staff and customers. Some organisations might think they can’t afford to do these things. The fact is, they can’t afford not to.
Lynne Copp is managing director of The Worklife Company, which delivers professional services that champion innovative working environments that create great companies to work for and great companies to stay with. They deliver work-life balance, wellbeing, work-space and culture change consulting, training, communication, keynote presentations and coaching. She can be contacted at [email protected]