woensdag 27 februari 2013

Flexibility at work: trust your employee to reach the goal

"But how do we know they're not slacking?" employers always end up asking whenever flexible hours and working from home are discussed. "How do we know they're putting in the hours they're paid for and that it's not burdening the fulltimers with an extra work load?"

This question actually really annoys me, as it shows a severe distrust between employers and employees. 

Because the answer, unfortunately, is: "You have to trust your employees to do their job." 

An employer does this by focusing on result and end goals and by letting go of the process.

You have to trust your employees to feel enough pride in themselves and their work to want to make sure that deadlines are met, products and reports are delivered and customers served in the best way possible. You have to trust your employees to not see you as simply a source of easy money, but as a source of job satisfaction and meaning of life. 

The employer who's afraid his employees will take advantage of him, does not trust his employees. So this employer needs to take a good look at herself and ask: do I inspire my employees to do the best they can? Do I make them want to work for and with me? Because if the answer is yes, she does not need to fear to be taken advantage of.

In the end, what matters is that the job gets done, that customers are satisfied, that deadlines are met. How and when an employee does this, is immaterial. So the employer who focuses on result instead of on hours and work sheets is focusing on the goal - the other employer is focusing on the process. Focusing on the process instead of the goal, policing your employees to make sure they stick to the letter of the contract instead of to the spirit of the company, does not guarantuee reaching the goal. 

I used to work at an office where I'd be kicked out at 5pm and we weren't allowed to take work home. I know, this sounds like everybody's dream, but it was my nightmare. I never managed to finish my work at 5pm, so each morning I would start with a back log. 

A lot of my work involved very concentrated, nitpickingly checking of big stacks of paper (I was working in publishing and somebody has to make sure there are no typos in those books and that all pages are numbered correctly and several hundred other little things like that). I would have much rather done that in the quiet of my home instead of in an open plan office with ten colleagues. I would have probably been much faster (and better!) at it in that scenario. But I wasn't allowed, so every day I fell further and further behind. 

My boss's reasoning? If I didn't manage to finish my work load within the eight hours he gave me, I wasn't doing a good enough job. I wasn't allowed any other time frame than the one he gave me.

Time frames for tasks were a whole other story, though. He wasn't very clear on those at all. For my first big task, I asked what the deadline was. "As soon as possible", he said. But when exactly, I insisted. "Yesterday", he answered. It took me two weeks. Afterwards he told me I was supposed to have done it in a day or four. 

My boss focused on the process, not on the goal. He told me in great detail what had to be done and how, and would check my work continuously and comment on it. He told me to get to 95 percent perfect and leave off the last 5 percent. He never gave deadlines, but told me to "take my time" and "figure it out". I never quite understood what he meant by 95 percent, so I erred on the safe side, took my time and diligently worked towards perfection taking far too long on even the most mundane of tasks. 

In the end I was fired. 

Focusing on the process give the employer a feeling of empowerment, a feeling of being in control, a feeling of doing all they can to make sure goals are met. When in fact the employer might actually be working against that very goal as my former boss did.

Since then I've worked at several other places and I have learned that I work best if given a task and then left alone. Some days go easy and I slack (a little), some days are more difficult and I need to really pull myself together, skip lunch and other breaks and stay late in order to get things done. Usually, the tally ends up to the employers' advantage. 

Because I took pride in my work, because I liked my employer and because we could trust each other. If I needed to leave for an emergency, I could, no questions asked. If I needed to work from home, I could (I preferred not to however). If a seminar I was attending ended at 4pm, I wouldn't have to come into the office to fill in the last couple of hours of my contract but could simply go home early. If I needed to stay for dinner or drinks to network however, I would.* If I needed to come in early to take a call, I would. If I needed to stay late to cover for a colleague, I would. If I needed to catch up on my reading on the weekend, I spent the weekend reading.

They always did right by me. So I did right by them. There was trust.

The work got done. And then some.

*I never was paid over time. Technically, I was allowed to compensate late hours by leaving early on some other day, but unless I really put in several extra hours, I generally wouldn't ask to compensate. It seemed a bit petty to keep track of every minute in that way, especially since they never seemed to either and always took my word for it.

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