Monday, October 01, 2012

The Flexibility Trend

Over the span of history there has been an undoubted trend of improvement to work-life balance. The average working person in the 19th century worked an estimated 60 hours per week, whereas today in the UK the average is 42.7 hours.  Maternity and Paternity leave are both enshrined in law and in April 2011 new legislation came into affect increasing the flexibility of entitlement for both parents.

In  the last two decades  there has also been a considerable increase in other schemes that positively impact work-life balance, such as flexitime, home working and part-time working. Today, some 26% of employees are estimated to make use of flexible hours arrangements, some 25% occasionally work from home and 27% of UK employees work part-time.  The figures for all these statistics were between 10 and 15% in the Eighties.

Yet despite these trends there are some significant imbalances. One in six UK employees works 60 hours a week or longer.  There are also significant imbalances between the public and private sectors, and between large and small businesses.

Many public sector organisations have a considerable amount of schemes to assist work-life balance. These include provisions for:
  • Special leave including  bereavement leave, parental leave,  elderly or ill dependent leave
  • Career breaks and educational leave
  • Very flexible part-time work including term-time working
  • Job sharing
  • Time-off for community working
Whilst some larger private sector organisations offer a similar range of schemes, there are actually very few legal requirements for flexible working.  The employment act of 2002 introduced a parental leave provision whereby parents of children under 6, or disabled children under 18, are entitles to up to 4 weeks of unpaid leave each year.  For all parent of children under 16 you do have the right to ask for flexible working, and your employer must ‘reasonably’ consider it – but that’s about as far as it goes. The only other clear right that exists is for youths of 16 or 17, where employees must allow a degree or paid educational leave.

The argument for flexible working and other work-life balance schemes does have other potential benefits other than those for the employee.  Most surveys suggest there is an increase in morale, productivity and staff retention where employers offer good schemes. There are wider potential benefits too. The energy conservation benefits of home working as one example.

But despite the improvements in work-life balance schemes, there is still a long way to go. After all, 27% of people working flexibly leaves 73% of people who don’t, and 1 in 6 people working over 60 hours a week is 16%!

For any significant breakthrough or step forward there needs to be a mindset change, where employers challenge commonly held assumptions including:
  • Part-time workers are less committed that full-time employee
  • Job-sharing is impossible for important jobs
  • Homeworking or teleworking makes it hard to monitor what people are doing
  • It’s impossible to accommodate all these flexible working schemes if you’re a small  business
If these assumptions can be challenged and new models found, working life could be very different in 30 years time -  and if not we may well struggle to build an economy with more flexibility, less carbon emissions, greater employment and more social responsibility.   

The Ultimate Question

I’ve spent all of my career in marketing and one of the most interesting customer feedback mechanisms I’ve come across has been the Net Promoter Score.

Net Promoter is a customer loyalty metric developed by (and a registered trademark of) Fred Reichheld, Bain & Company, and Satmetrix.

It was introduced by Reichheld in his 2003 Harvard Business Review article "The One Number You Need to Grow” (which he later expanded into a book “The Ultimate Question”, 2006 HBS Press)

Companies obtain their Net Promoter Score by asking customers a single question - The Ultimate Question -  on a 0 to 10 rating scale: "How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?"

Based on their responses, customers can be categorized into one of three groups:
  • Promoters (9-10 rating), 
  • Passives (7-8 rating), and 
  • Detractors (0-6 rating). 
The percentage of Detractors is then subtracted from the percentage of Promoters to obtain a Net Promoter score. A score of 75% or above is considered quite high. Companies are encouraged to follow this question with an open-ended request for elaboration.

Proponents of the Net Promoter approach claim the score can be used to motivate an organisation to become more focused on improving products and services for customers and to build ‘good profit’.

The potential downside of NPS, or any survey or feedback programme, is that if handled badly it can have a negative impact on customer loyalty. We’ve all had experience of being interrupted during a family meal or our favourite TV programme by a phone call from someone soliciting our feedback.

But there are ways in which surveying can enhance customer loyalty and Reichheld gives some examples:  
  • At Harley-Davidson, for example, customers are treated like family members – they get phone calls only from recent Harley retirees (hired back part-time) who know the company and its products well and who are charged with listening closely to customers. Not coincidentally, these retirees generate deeper customer insights while also reinforcing the Harley culture and brand.

  • At Southwest Airlines, president Colleen Barrett insisted that any employees who wanted feedback from a customer write a personal letter requesting that information and explaining what they intend to do with it. They must also write a thank-you to customers who respond, describing the actions that will be taken as a result of their feedback.
How many of you have examples along the lines of Harley-Davidson or Southwest? What about the other side of the coin? As always it is interesting to share and learn from others.  

Sense of Belonging

A couple of weeks ago I was the headline act at Wembley Stadium. Before you think “never heard of you”, I was part of a 1000 strong Choir at the Saracens Leicester rugby game. It was a wonderful, proud experience, singing alongside like-minded people who love to sing and it got me thinking about a sense of belonging and community.

In his 1943 paper, "A Theory of Human Motivation" American psychologist Abraham Maslow cited belonging as the third most important human need on his hierarchy of needs, after only physiological and safety needs. In a culture that values independence, we sometimes forget that our survival and ability to thrive depend on interrelationships.

It is a reality that we define ourselves by gender, race, creed, nationality, occupation, religion, abilities, hobbies, skills, etc. There are many ways to define ourselves and if you think about it, it mostly has to do with grouping. As much as some of us hate being categorised or stereotyped we do it all the time!  When asked what we do we answer our occupation. In that instance we are defining ourselves by our job.

Even if you see yourself as ‘a loner’, you are still a member of one group or another – family, friends, social media, organizational departments, the gym, your football club, your children’s class at school, etc. Some we enjoy and others less so, some we feel included in and welcomed into and others excluded from – which, as most of us know, is not a good feeling.

Community can help bring meaning and support into our lives but it can be a double edged sword. In some cases, the things that create the sense of belonging are negative aspects of being human; such as drug addictions, alcoholism and racism. Indeed, you can argue that much of what is wrong with this world revolves around either lack of belonging or the reverse - toxic groups and communities.

What is interesting and provides food for thought for all of us is scientific evidence that people with more social support and a sense of belonging in their support networks are less likely to experience depression (University of Michigan).

So spend a few minutes thinking about the groups you belong to. What do they give you? What do you get out of the group? And of course, what do you give to the group? Remember relationships are all about give and take.

I feel genuinely connected to my choir, not just because I enjoy singing or go with good friends, but also because we share a sense of pride and belonging. For me, community is important because a community supports the people in it. And to read in the sports pages of the Sunday Times the day after our Wembley Stadium appearance that “the choir looked great and sounded great” was just magic.