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April 24, 2014 12:26 am

Insisting staff work longer hours can backfire on bosses

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view of man alone in a conference room checking his smartphone©Dreamstime

From the manager’s chair

I run the division of a company that has been cutting headcount across the board, but not reducing sales expectations. How do I ask my staff to do more without denting morale or causing a revolt?

Ann Parkinson, Henley Business School’s associate professor of leadership, organisations and behaviour, says: I don’t think you can morally – unless you’re going to pay them more. You’re obviously saving money by putting colleagues out of work, so you need to share some of those savings with them. You have a formal contract with them but you also have a psychological contract and you need to honour both.

By cutting headcount you will have already got people thinking “Is it going to be me next?” There’s a lot of research that shows that when people see their friends losing jobs unfairly, they will start disengaging. Morally, the obligation is on you to think about how you can make it better for them.

Much will depend on why you’ve been cutting your headcount. If you are doing it to keep profits high, while shareholders and management are taking the benefits, you have already lost the moral high ground. You may see the effect of this in burnout, stress, long-term illness and people just not turning up to work. Staff will lose morale. It will also affect your reputation and your relationship with customers.

What you really want is for people to feel engaged with the process and to see that you made cuts because they were necessary. Involve them in redesigning their work so it is more manageable or interesting; give them some flexibility. To feel engaged, staff need to believe that what they do is meaningful, that they have some control and are trusted and respected.

First, be honest with them. Treat them like adults. If you can demonstrate – with honesty and integrity – the need for them to raise their sales expectations, they will come up with their own ideas. But they need to feel they have some control. You also need to make it worthwhile for them by presenting a compelling vision of how the future will look once the current problems are over.

I firmly believe that with the economy improving, companies will reap what they have sown. Those employers who have put more pressure on employees, while still taking the profits, will have more problematic and disengaged staff and their best performers will leave.

. . .

From the employee’s chair

I have recently been asked to work overtime and don’t want to because I have small children and I’m constantly tired already. I have told my boss this, but he says it’s essential as we are a small team. What should I do?

Jennifer Smith, associate at JMW solicitors, says: The Working Time Regulations do oblige employers to take all reasonable steps to ensure workers do not work more than an average of 48 hours a week.

You should not be working more than this, unless you have decided officially to opt out. Although you can agree to work more hours, this agreement needs to be in writing. If you have not signed a formal opt-out agreement, you should point this out to your employer.

All employees should check their contracts carefully before accepting a job. Many contracts (particularly for more senior employees) forewarn of the need for you to work more than your contractual hours. To do this, employers typically include a clause stating that employees have to work “such additional hours as are necessary for the proper performance of his/her duties. The employee acknowledges that he shall not receive further remuneration in respect of such additional hours”.

The best option if you have signed a contract like this is to raise the problem with your employer again and come to a compromise. This could involve you working from home or agreeing to longer hours for a set period of time.

If you haven’t signed an agreement like this, imposing a requirement to work overtime would mean your employer is attempting fundamentally to change your contract of employment. For this your boss needs your express consent. Although the law is straightforward on this, in reality, many employers will exert enormous pressure on employees to work overtime.

If this is the case, you should escalate your concerns and raise a formal grievance. This will give you a proper procedure to follow and provide a platform for you to raise concerns. If they continue to insist that you work overtime, you may be entitled to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal and furthermore, indirect sex discrimination.

A person’s sex is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, and you are potentially being indirectly discriminated against on the grounds of your sex. As working overtime would cause particular disadvantage to women (assuming you are a woman!), because of the high proportion of women who have childcare responsibilities, you should consider lodging a claim for indirect sex discrimination.


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