Are compressed hours fair?

By Jessica Chivers, founder of The Talent Keeper Specialists

How to make full time work, work

How to make full time work work is explored in episode 62 of our podcast, COMEBACK COACH. It’s the podcast recommended by HR leaders to employees preparing to return to work after a break. Compressed hours are one of four key factors that seem to be key.

Here’s a snippet from Carina Hoskisson, back from maternity leave to her engineering role at Caterpillar:

Is your organisation uncomfortable about compressed hours?

HR leaders tell me it’s tricky to say yes to requests to compressed hours. The gist of it is:

Everyone here works more than their contracted hours so it wouldn’t be fair if some people continued to get paid full time when they’re getting a day off. The oft’ unsaid bit is: Given everyone works more than their contracted hours, how would the person who’s compressed their hours do their ‘extra’ (to keep things fair).

The psychology of fairness

You’re right to be concerned about fairness. After all, it’s one of five pillars that the neuroscientist Dr David Rock says is vital to us being engaged at work. His SCARF model, which has emerged from the vast and diverse field of social neuroscience, says we need:

  • Status: How you see yourself and how others see you.
  • Certainty: How confident you can be of the future.
  • Autonomy: How much control you have over your life.
  • Relatedness: How connected you feel to others.
  • Fairness: How reasonable you feel decisions involving you have been.

We share the SCARF model with line managers when we’re coaching them to have better conversations and offer more thoughtful support to team members who are returning to work after maternity and other work breaks.

Compressed hours don’t compromise fairness

Here’s the thing though: compressed hours don’t compromise fairness.

A person who works compressed hours is delivering the same outputs as someone who does their work over five days. All that’s different is the employee who is compressing her/his hours is having a day a week that’s ring-fenced not to be on call/have meetings/commute to work/answer their phone. It’s a day that can be directed to whatever they choose (which ironically, may well be work). This ‘clear’ day is enormously helpful for parents to keep the show on the road at home and as Carina says, there’s a win for her employer too:

Free-Wheeling Wednesdays

I’ve been doing what I call Free-Wheeling Wednesdays for the past 5 years. It’s a day when I have:

  • No fixed appointments.
  • No work meetings.
  • Space to do life admin, exercise and be with my children.
  • A long stretch of time to work on something that requires deep focus.
  • Autonomy to jigsaw the piece the day together as takes my fancy.

How would you spend a free-wheeling Wednesday? Who in your team craves more autonomy do you think? And what’s the best that could happen if you gave it?

Autonomy – pillar of success at work

Author of The 10 Pillars of Success, Dr Josephine Perry, says:

“In the workplace, higher levels of autonomy tend to result in increased job satisfaction because we feel more responsible for the quality of our work. And with job satisfaction, we are more likely to be loyal to our employers and less likely to want to move elsewhere. We are more engaged, meaning that we are more productive, and we are also more likely to have a better work–life balance. The authenticity that comes with autonomy has another beneficial side effect: instead of having to deal with the tension between our values and those imposed on us by others, which can be stressful and tiring, we can just get on with doing a great job.”

And onto a different autonomy…

Don’t confuse compressed hours with the 4 day work week

Last year the research company Autonomy worked with research teams at several universities to study the impact of a 4 day work week on productivity, profitability and employee health in 61 companies (around 2900 staff) in the UK. The outcomes were so positive that at the time the report was published 56 of the 61 were continuing with the four-day week (92%), with 18 confirming the policy is a permanent change.

The 4 day work week is different to compressed hours in that it really is about doing less hours and still being paid full time wages.

Getting more women into senior roles

Retaining women in senior, full time roles – once they become mothers – is a significant factor in reducing the gender pay gap your organisation may have.

Four factors we explore in episode 62 are:

  • The importance of an employer’s supportive attitude towards compressed hours.
  • The important of an employer’s supportive attitude towards working from home.
  • Wanting to work full time and enjoying your job.
  • Having a supportive partner who shares the load at home.

HR perspectives on Comeback Coaching to support careers after maternity leave

Watch the 1 minute film about our work with asset management firm, GAM and ITV. We coach colleagues returning from maternity, Shared Parental Leave, sick leave and other work breaks. HRD Debbie Dalzell and Head of Wellbeing & Development at ITV, Kirsty Duncan explain why.

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