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Are men in UK leading the way back to Work-Life balance?

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figure_juggling_balls_500_wht_4301Men have traditionally been seen as the main wage-earners, even as workaholics. The best they could look forward to was a bit of spare time in their (usually short) retirement.

Then in the 1980s came the idea of work-life balance, when people were demanding more flexibility than the standard working hours (which had steadily reduced over the previous century). But with the banking crisis the term suddenly dropped out of fashion.

We were told it was now work-life merge! And who was promoting this idea? Well women were doing their bit to discourage us from thinking that you could have a healthy balance between work and home allowing you to have quality time with your family.

Women like Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook who encouraged women to “lean in” to have the best of both worlds. Or Marissa Mayer who was appointed to the top job at Yahoo when she was pregnant, built herself a crèche next to her office and banned staff from working from home.

Mayer is currently under pressure having lost about a dozen C-level executives this year and has been accused of having a controlling management style. She’s currently pregnant with  twins and plans to take two weeks maternity leave (her entitlement is 16 weeks). Mark Zuckerberg (head of Facebook) on the other hand is planning to take two months off work when his child is born.

But enough of theses highly paid female CEOs. The good news is that over a million men in the UK are now making an effort to get more out of life than just work by reducing their hours or working more flexibly. They are keen to stay fit, follow a hobby, see more of their kids, and contribute more to their communities.

NB This year there were 14.3 million men employed full-time and 2.1 million working part-time in the UK.

FYI Britain doesn’t come out too well in the OECD list of top countries for work-life balance. Denmark is No. 1 followed by Spain, The Netherlands, Belgium and Norway. We come in at No.23! Sweden is 6th and currently experiencing an upsurge of interest in work-life balance

So a long way to go by comparison but don’t let these highly paid American female CEOs put you off!

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Working from home becoming more popular

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puzzle_piece_house_outline_1600_wht_4232Fed up of that stressful commute to work or having a bad day at the office?

Avoid all that by working from home. It’s the new status symbol – according to the Office of National Statistics.

1 in 7 of us now work from home ie 4.2 million people of which 1.5 million actually work there with the others using home as a base while working in different places.

Three-quarters of home-based workers are classed as higher skilled compared to one half of office-based workers.

So working from one seems to be restricted to high-flyers; 1/7 are managers or senior officials, 1/3 are professionals, and 1/4 are from high-skilled trades.

Median earnings for home-workers are £13.23 an hour compared to £10.50 for other workers. A third work for other people or companies with two-thirds are self-employed and the older the worker the more likely are they to work from home.

The age difference might be due to seniority or the fact that older workers made redundant find it more difficult to get jobs and often end up working for themselves.

There are regional differences with home-based working more popular in the south-west and far less common in the north.

Better technology has made working from home more cost-effective although many bosses still don’t trust staff who work from home even though there is evidence that they put in more hours and can be more productive.

Deloitte has introduced an “agile working programme” and is inviting its 12,000 UK employees to apply to work from home or in other flexible ways. They think it will attract and retain female staff but also improve working lives generally.

Not everyone agrees. Marissa Mayer banned Yahoo! staff from working from home when she became Chief Executive.

She said “some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussion, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo! and that starts with being physically together“.

Easy for her to say and not doing women any favours when she built a crèche for her baby next to her office.

Is working from home more productive?

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carrying_house_pc_1600_wht_4461Marissa Mayer made the news when she banned employees at Yahoo from working from home.

Was she right to do that? Recent call-centre research by Nicholas Bloom at Stanford University found that allowing staff to work from home over a 9-month period led to happier, more productive staff, with fewer leavers.

The company originally thought that productivity would drop but that would be offset by saving money on office space and furniture. In the event the home-based staff completed 13.5% more calls than the office-based staff.

The researchers thought that 1/3 of the productivity increase was due to a quieter environment with the remainder du to the home-workers working longer hours.

The home workers started earlier and had shorter breaks and because they weren’t commuting worked until the end of the day.

Sick days also plummeted (so more like self-employed workers in that respect).

It may be that because call-centre work is more robotic and easily measured that such big benefits were found. It might be different for creative or knowledge workers. And if there is low morale people might start slacking.

So was Mayer right to ban home-working? We don’t really know what the situation was at Yahoo but it generated negative publicity when she had a nursery built next to her office with an element of the Queen Bee syndrome.

Not everyone wants to work from home. It seems that younger people, whose social life often revolves around work, are less likely to want to work from home compared with older workers who are married with established families.

In the call-centre example the home-workers self-selected so might have been more motivated to start with. Some opted to go back into the office at the end of the 9 months and these turned out to be the poorer performers.

The biggest resistance appears to come from middle management who worry about losing control of people working remotely.

Perhaps the best solution is to let people work a couple of days a week from home, especially in bad weather or as in London when they held the Olympic Games. These could be mandatory days or on a rotation.

Main source: HBR January-February 2014