Sunday, 18 August 2013

Probation – a Feminised Culture?

I have finally caught up with the reading the thought provoking articles on women in leadership in the most recent People Management.

I particularly enjoyed reading the article called Why being more female isn't about hiring more women. I am struck by the concept of feminisation in the work place. I agree with Nadia Younes, Head of Diversity at Mining Company, Rio Tinto, although her industry could probably not be more different to mine.  She talks about it being a shift away from a more masculine culture to one that is more tolerant of style differences and ways of making decisions - and that benefits men as well as women.

The article also quotes a McKinsey survey done in 2009 called Women Matters 3. This looked at leadership styles and behaviours and whether they were perceived as gender neutral or favoured more by one sex compared to the other. There were three top leadership styles that were seen as most important for managing in crisis and in ‘normal’ times (are any times ‘normal’?) Of these, two, using expectations and rewards and offering inspiration were favoured by women. Also, Dinah Wallman, CIPD Divertity Lead quotes research that showed that feminised work places where feminine values were prevalent had a positive impact on innovation and governance.

This article and others have caused me to reflect on my own experiences throughout my career and during my studies and also on where I am now and my current organisation. I could write for a long time… Afterall, who does not like to talk about / muse about their own experiences? However, I think applying these thoughts of a feminised workplace to my present leadership role in a Probation Trust is hopefully more interesting for anyone reading this.

If you look up ‘feminisation’ on any web based dictionaries, the definition is very two dimensional and disappointing as it’s just about developing female characteristics. ‘Feminisation of the workplace’ definitions bring up equality of opportunity, fairness, redistribution or work between the genders and practical issues such as flexible working and shared childcare. I don’t think any of this is what Younes was talking about, if I understood her observations correctly, and it’s not what I think either. She acknowledges that the language is problematic, and I agree, so I have been racking my brains for alternatives. The obvious contender is the increased use of the term ‘soft skills.’ This is not great either because despite all the research now showing a clear link between the use of soft skills (meaning for example communication, empathy, emotional intelligence) and the bottom line, there is an obvious problem with the word ‘soft’ as it sounds, well…soft.

So, maybe the approach is to look at the behaviours most favoured by female leaders, using the two noted earlier and to look at the impact, as noted earlier.

I am currently the HR Director in a probation trust. About three quarters of our work force is female and this is reflected in our Trust Leadership team, where 6 out of 8 of us are women. Our Board is 50/50. So, on a basic level, equality of representation has been achieved. But what about our qualities and behaviours, that in turn drive our successes? I contend that our overall culture does have this hard to define and somewhat intangible ‘feminine’ culture, but it is by no means soft, and the behaviors that influence it are not more prevalent in my female colleagues compared to my male colleagues.

Expectations and rewards:
·      One of the first things our Chair and Chief Executive did was to make sure our business and management information reporting was top notch. Team leaders receive useful and timely information and in return they drive their team’s delivery of a quality service, data quality and performance. There is no naming and shaming, and no blaming, but there is plenty of friendly rivalry. Team of the Year is always our most hotly contended staff excellence award category and it’s a pleasure to judge internally. Even better is the fact that for the 2nd time in 4 years, one of our teams won this award nationally (against 34 other Trusts.)

·      We go for awards and nationally or internationally recognised accreditations, and when we gain them we showcase them appropriately. We have worked hard to achieve European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) Recognised for Excellence and gained 4 stars on our first attempt. We also have the Matrix standard for our Education, Training and Employment Team recognising the quality of their service. To this list, we can add ISO level accreditation for the Environment and for Occupational Health and Safety. Did we set out expecting to achieve these? Yes. Did teams work hard and collaboratively to achieve these? Yes. What are the rewards? Well, we are part of the public sector, so no financial rewards, but plenty of recognition and thanks.

Offering Inspiration:
·      Our Chief Executive is highly visible and most of our staff have been able to speak with her personally as she has visited our geographically disperse offices regularly. She also writes an internal blog and has championed the use of Twitter, so she communicates in a diversity of ways to inspire more staff and stakeholders.
·      We hold an annual staff conference every year, held twice so all staff can attend. This year, we used two well known academics in the field of Desistance as keynote speakers and provided workshops run by experts in Restorative Justice, through their own personal experiences. I found attending these to be a privilege personally, and from the feedback received, many of our professional staff were highly inspired to apply their insights to their practice.

A positive impact on innovation and governance.
·      Our Trust was one of the first to run Integrated Offender Management (IOM), which is a partnership with the Police and Local Authorities to support joint teams to reduce reoffending by prolific offenders. It is successful and a classic case where the total is so much greater than the sum of its parts. We also use this approach for high risk of harm offenders in the Bristol area.
·      Our Education, Training and Employment Team, have commercial contracts, and their Director has been commended nationally for her leadership of this innovative team.
·      Onto the more mundane matters of governance:
o   We are always in budget and continue to find further efficiencies
o   We deliver outcomes according to our contracts and more
o   We have turned around the relationship with our Trade Unions locally, and now enjoy a very constructive dialogue
o   We prefer informal HR solutions but do follow up formally when required.

So, by picking out a few key examples, I hope that I have given some substance to my theory (well, musings really) on how ‘female’ qualities can make for a positive and successful culture. I am still struggling to think of better terminology compared to ‘feminisation’ or ‘soft skills’ though. Any ideas?

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Zero Hours Contracts - One Way Streets?

A few days ago, a colleague tweeted that I had 'introduced' zero hours contracts into our organisation. This is not quite the full picture, so I responded rapidly to clarify insofar as 140 characters allows. I have also tweeted that very minimal hours contracts can be even worse as they combine total uncertainty (about the next shift of work) with mutuality of obligation. I suspect that, like zero hours contracts, these are also widely under reported. 

This topic is now receiving lots of press coverage, and comment, so I have decided to throw my two penneth worth into the pot. So, can you have ethical zero hours contracts or does the road only go the way of the employer? 

Having planned your workforce requirements, including need for occasional additional cover or the need for additional capacity at seasonal or busy times etc., I would advise that the bulk of the workforce should be employees on contracts with a set number of hours, whether permanent or for a fixed period. If there is a clear business need for casual or temporary staff,  I think that the best starting point is to establish whether someone should be an employee or a worker. I have had reason during my career to lead a review of the contracts of 'sessional staff' and this was what we did.

ExpertHR explains the difference well:

"An employee is a person employed under a contract of employment. A worker who is not an employee is said to be engaged under a contract sui generis (of its own kind). There are two elements to a contract of employment: mutuality of obligation and control. Mutuality of obligation exists when an employer undertakes to provide a person with work and that person agrees to do that work in return for an agreed salary or wage, and on terms and conditions laid down by the employer. Control exists if the employer determines when, where and how the work is to be done (or the manner in which it is to be done). It follows that temporary workers are not employees if they are free, without penalty, to accept or reject any offer of employment made to them. Although the control element undoubtedly exists when a worker accepts an offer of casual work, the ability to reject such an offer at will, and without penalty, is what distinguishes such a worker from an employee."

Our conclusion was that we had a need for a small number of zero hours contracts in certain parts of the service for genuine sessional workers or relief coverage, but not for routine work or regularly rostered work. These workers might also be known traditionally as sessionals, casual staff, bank staff, or relief workers. In other words, it should be clear to local managers who request their work and to them, that they are truly casual. This also means no mutuality of obligation on either side, so they are free to work elsewhere and to turn down work offered (the road goes both ways). We also pay these workers benefits such as holiday and sickness pay accrued pro rata according to the hours they have worked. This exercise did lead to some contract revisions for staff who were classed as sessional, but had started to be offered routinely the same pattern of work over a period of time. (My advice, if that happens, is to offer the worker involved an employment contract with set hours for the period of time over which that regular work is expected to take place. The contract can always be reviewed regularly and flexed accordingly.)

A practice I alluded to above, (which we don't do) is very minimal hours contracts that require mutuality of obligation, but where this requirement is only advantageous to the employer. In other words, a one way street to total flexibility for employers but total uncertainty for staff. In my view these are legal, but only just. A young person I know has one of these (even my teenage children's friends sometimes ask @familyhrguru for advice or views on employment matters.) He is required to work any 16 hours a month. He has, like dockers in the bad old times, turned up for shifts to be told he is not required. He has ventured to try to turn down shifts well over an hours drive away (he has an old car) and been told he will be disciplined if he does not turn up. He has also had weeks with hardly any work, then others with several 12 hour shifts. A psychological contract and employee wellbeing are just a distant dream in such circumstances... I wonder how many other entry level jobs are similar? I wonder how many other outsourcing companies use such contracts? I don't like what I hear and I worry that it is becoming more prevalent in this economy and hitting young people and those without many academic qualifications the hardest. 

This blog has probably only touched the surface I think, of a topic on which there will be lots of strong views. To conclude, in my view, no employee should be stuck on a one way street on a zero hour or minimum hour contract, contractually unable to turn down shifts, yet able to be turned away from shifts. A small number of zero hours contracts, organised ethically, can be acceptable and useful to the business for a small number of workers who genuinely do casual shifts or occasional work and who can decline work offered.