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Published: 2 month

One slow forward, two quick backwards: a peacock dance for employment

Shorter working hours and home office should not just be a grateful conference theme or a powerful branding message, but a real people management response. Am I really the only one in the profession who is so disturbed - and I am taking to the keyboard to make my voice heard - that we are so stunned to hear the employer and employee sides dance so spectacularly side by side - at least in the trade (and to some extent the business tabloid) press? Asks HR expert Tamás István Papp Tamás.

rövidített munkaidő, home office, atipikus-

Of course, I know, I know that the mistrust, misunderstanding and misunderstanding between employers and employees, from the militant workers' movements to the more "peaceful" strikes of today, has always been present in employment and its internal and external communication. I am also aware that the perceptions of managers and managers of a given situation can differ up to threefold, and that the fashionable employee engagement and satisfaction surveys (which are often, unfortunately, also 'cheap' labour market competitiveness-enhancing, employer brand-building marketing campaigns rather than real employer(!) and employee engagement programmes) are backed up by concrete, factual and even quantifiable data. Yet, what is nowadays, during and after the covid crisis, the atypical employment (gig-economy, ex-contractors, contractors, free-lancers, temporary workers, cooperatives, public sector workers, digital nomads, etc.) and atypical employment (flexible working hours, reduced working hours, core hours, home office, teleworking, work-life balance, subbatical, work-study, etc.) is like two pipers in the same tavern, ignoring each other, insultingly playing their own tune - it's a bit upsetting.

The bagpipes of the homophis

No long-term predictions or surveys that

- within ten years, one in three white-collar workers will be working away from their jobs, due in part to the unstoppable rise of algorithmisation and artificial intelligence;

- 10 to 15 percent of workers would not give up the home office for anything, but 20 to 29 percent would only give it up in exchange for a pay rise, and another 50 to 55 percent would return to the office if the normal 9 to 5 working day were made more flexible;

Heads of the world's largest companies (64%!) want to bring back traditional office working completely within the next three years, and 87% will encourage (but perhaps it is more accurate to use the word "nudge") this:

- Google and JPMorgan have already told their employees that they will take office presence into account in performance reviews;

- Meta (the operator of Facebook) has let its employees know that they will be watching for badge swipes and that employees who do not comply with attendance rules will face retaliation and could even lose their jobs;

- ultimatums have also been given at IBM: citing the fact that their home office managers live far away, they have been told to move closer and to either come in to work at least three times a week or look for another job (location);

- Amazon's CEO announced as early as February 2023 (even though the pandemic hadn't officially hit the fan yet) that their employees would have to work in their offices at least three days a week - instead of the home office. In response, the tech company's employees launched an internal petition, accompanied by numerous data, studies and studies highlighting the benefits of teleworking, rejecting the measure (the petition was signed by 5,000 people on the first day - allegedly...).

But the a fifth of Hungarian companies, mainly because of management concerns about the loss of synergy of teamwork, as the aforementioned multinationals explained, have tightened up their home office practices, which were becoming more common during the covid and subsequent period, despite the fact that studies show that in half of the cases, teleworking did not have a significant impact on work efficiency, but rather increased it in 40 per cent of cases, and only 10 per cent of employees experienced a decline in performance or other deterioration.

The benefits of reduced working hours

There's also another hit song in the employment atypicality hubbub: reduced working hours. It is only just professionally bearable that the online press, including social media influencers, report sporadically and only very quietly (almost inaudible in the noise of the news media) that many countries - Australia, Belgium, Finland, Iceland, Japan, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Slovakia, New Zealand, etc,

And the professional sore point here is not that there was no news outlet that did not report - drowning out all other voices - on 'T's' spectacular backflip in the first industrial revolution, the mass production of the factory(!), which has since become completely stuck (sorry "traditional"), but their justification is what hurts: "the 4-day model cannot be applied uniformly to all employees", i.e. "after a year and a half of testing, it has become clear that it is not possible to introduce a solution that all employees can use uniformly because of individual or workflow constraints, and that the parallel operation of a 4-day and 5-day working system would pose business risks in the long term".

Why does all this make your backside hurt? Because the initial assumption (the null hypothesis) is wrong:

- first, because before the covid - as the crises that preceded it pointed out - all was not smooth sailing: the teamwork of colleagues slaving away together in offices was, in most cases, far from synergistic, and to return to or emulate it is simply foolhardy: even by conservative estimates, the time spent working is only half the time spent at work; not to mention the stress, burnout and disease risks guaranteed by the open office;

- on the other hand, to assume that in today's rapidly changing world it is possible to develop a single system that covers all employees working for the same company (new entrants, regulars, those with children, those without children, married, single, physical, mental, TOP managers, operational managers, metropolitan, rural, multi-degree, trainee, expat, Generation X/Y/Z, waterhead, or even the slepp) is good for the number of good is naive.

- Thirdly, these multinationals, much seen and experienced in space and time - but also domestic SMEs and public institutions, of course - are completely oblivious to Parkinson's Law, 'that in a global hours-based employment system, "all work is completed in the time it takes to complete it"... In other words, it is not the time spent at work that should be vainly revolved around, but the goals, achievements and successes that are achieved or attainable through work.

As we know, the vast majority of our companies, institutions and work communities have statically and uniformly built their structures and incentive systems on the dictates of a given situation, employing within it, also within a very bound (Fordist-uniformist based) framework, and with traditional means of compensation, practically excluding from employment - flexibility, adaptability, innovation, risk-taking, in fact - change, and personalised and diversified management. Then, in a crisis situation, when the perceived static environment changes with unpredictable speed for a static organisation, dysfunction sets in. This was the case during the economic crisis of 2007-2010, and this is what happened when the coronavirus took hold worldwide, which led to the atypical voices, like a redemptive melody, and the first slow, unevolved, uncertain but forward (dance) steps in both employment and work. However, the actors and stakeholders in the economy and the labour market are not even learning from their own crises. When the trouble is over, they only congratulate each other on successfully overcoming the crisis and, patting each other on the back, calmly, contentedly and with lightning speed, dance two steps back into the familiar framework of what they thought was profitably safe.

The problem, however, is that neither the orchestra, nor the tune (to which they should be dancing), nor the dance floor (on which they should be dancing), is anything like what it was. It has changed, and is changing! And this is where I feel, for us, the "guilty" silent complicity of the seven - as I hear and read the loud communication messages of Magyar Telekom and the multinationals, for example - that we cannot and/or will not and/or dare not draw the attention of our clients, employees, employers, whether they are small (SMEs), large, public or multinationals to this.

Because 'homo office' and 'shortened hours' are more than a fashionable recipe for success, a grateful conference theme, or an effective branding message, sir, than an effective crisis management tool: it is a 'people management' response (one of many responses), forced by technological progress, which, by moving beyond the false sense of security provided by the 'business-as-usual' (ultra-conservatism) and by its own diverse (able to operate several HR systems simultaneously and in parallel) and personalised (taking into account individual employee needs) way, can ensure long-term security for employees and employers (!), (work) community well-being, a sense of existential security and long-term employment cooperation.

But Magyar Telekom and other multinationals are right that yes, diversified human systems and personalised HR requires a different kind of knowledge and attitude from both employees and managers, and it is probably more expensive and risky indeed! But in the long run, it is still better to take it on, to be prepared for it (to learn and develop competences) than to dance back and forth like the dancers in the marathon dance competition "Horses get shot, don't they?" who eventually end up completely exhausted.

Credit: Pexels

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