Carrots and sticks : how we can all win the game

Warning - Angry Pc User clip artMy theme for this year has become “what happened to the carrots?”  To some extent it is a problem with my context, that of being secretary and steward.  So, take this with a pinch of salt.  I see a lot of broken work relationships that involve too much stick and I see a lot of initiatives (but not all of the detail) that we label as being too much stick.  By and large, we in Professional Services do a really good job.  We work our socks off, and sometimes make ourselves ill, playing our part in making our university a success.  Nearly everyone I speak to: senior managers; cleaners; software developers; electricians, we own our function.  We know our jobs better than our manager and our team mates.  We work hard on our parts of the machine that make the whole a whole lot better than many other universities.  We do as we are told, do as we are asked and do a lot from our own initiative but we are starting to miss the carrots.  There are initiatives that focus on reward but they are not well understood to be equal or available across the board.  Recently we have seen a handful of initiatives that eclipse any reward.  One simple example would be that we don’t get a cost of living pay rise any more.  While pay is separate to job satisfaction, falling behind on paying our way starts to eat into how we feel about work.  Another example which should be trivial is the loss of car parking.  People are a huge part of what DMU is and it doesn’t do any good for DMU if colleagues are frazzled by the effort of getting a parking space or if colleagues start to resent working for free when they come in early for a space.  There isn’t  a simple fix for the parking situation.  Although it is particularly difficult for parents, colleagues will adapt and get used to it or move on.

For the sin of volunteering to be secretary I follow a lot of human resources journalism on Twitter and through mailing lists.  In the last few months my network has been reporting that it has become important to retain staff.  Good staff are leaving businesses to go to another where the grass looks greener, where Austerity is no longer the excuse.  It is time for the carrots to come out again.

But the big ask continues.  This year we have seen a new contract at DMU.  UNISON were consulted on a new contract that focuses on annualised hours.   If you work an annualised hours contract then you work a fixed number of hours at year.  If you happen to use up those hours before, say, March then you get the rest of the year off but still get paid every month.  When I say we consulted I mean that we were not in a position where we could negotiate.  We need more members in order to stop things like this from happening.  What happened?  High up it was recognised that we need to have, and this a management term, more flexibility in the workforce.  More and more, at DMU, is happening in the mornings, evenings, weekends and over Summer.  The standard contract for Professional Services does not include working at weekends, early mornings or evenings.  That is why DMU asks staff to volunteer.  Volunteering to work outside of the contract is overtime.  You might get paid for it or you might get time off in lieu but it is still voluntary.  With an annualised hours contract, given the right amount of notice a line manager can change the work pattern of member of staff so that the team can cover events.  Most events are known well in advance and it should be possible to give enough notice so that the member of staff can plan their life outside of work.  There are very few staff who live to work rather than work to live and the amount of freedom we have to drop life to do work is minimal in most cases.  And this was the sticking point.  In the usual run of events there should be plenty of notice to a change.  However, management insisted that more flexibility was needed.  A contract that started off as something like two sides of A4 became something like nine.  One of the clauses in the contract which we could not get them to remove was the opportunity for a manager to ask a member of staff to work with no notice.  An example would be, someone is due to work tonight but they become ill.  With the annualised hours contract another member, in the terms of the contract, would not be able to say no to the work.  Regardless of whether the member of staff is a carer or has tickets to a disco that night the manager can use the contract to insist that they work.  It is likely that this point in the contract would not hold up in an employment tribunal.  It sails close to the wind with regards to the right to a family life.  These days though, very few people are going to court to fix these problems.  With the introduction of court fees the number of cases tested in court have dropped by eighty percent.  While UNISON would support a member as best we can, the member of staff would have to say no or work under protest.  That would be a brave thing to do.  Most of us are in a precarious position in terms of our finances.  Carers would have to say no which could lead to a disciplinary.  Management heard what we said and understood it, which is a good thing, but still insisted on the point.

A couple of years ago, we suggested to management that volunteering might drop off.  Colleagues have been giving a lot of themselves and they are getting tired.  We have not had a pay rise in something like seven years, we have seen careers/vocations changed and we have seen teams shrink or the workload increase.  We wait for the tide to change and for the Austerity to end.  Eventually, some of us, enough for management to notice, have stopped volunteering.  Also, the number of events outside of standard hours has increased.  Last year, we were asked by management to email members and ask them to volunteer.  We want colleagues to volunteer, we want open days and the like to be successful.  Also, the experience can be rewarding both in the moment and for learning or job opportunities later. “Volunteering”, being “voluntold”, should not be to the detriment to colleagues’ lives outside of work.   A short while ago we were told by management that they would not tell staff to work outside of standard hours.  We are happy about this but we are also aware that management want more staff to be available for open days etc.  We do not know what is coming but we have said that telling staff to volunteer will not bring about the best results.  It goes something like this: happy workers volunteer, unhappy workers don’t and workers told to volunteer are angry when they do.  Some people go to work to earn a crust and their attachment to the business is zero.  Some people enjoy work, and love DMU but, hopefully, they love their family more.  In terms of quid pro quo, I can not see that time off in lieu or being paid at time and a half has the same value of ignoring my family.  Having time off in the week is completely different to time spent with your family.  Time and a half, if you see working overtime as a project helping, for example, with Christmas or towards a deposit for a house, is not going to contribute very much.  I can not guess what management will do.  It could be that the money is found to hire more staff who will work these unsociable hours.  Another idea might be to work with what we have and tailor events to make the most of those volunteers.  A place for children to have fun while parents work could help but not for parents whose children already have commitments.  Or we could concentrate more on the digital side of things.  Before the annualised hours contract if you got a job as events staff you would get the same contract as anyone else but you understand that working unsocial hours is part of the job.  However, colleagues should be aware that the work we do outside of the contract on a regular basis may, after a time, be considered part of our contract.  Maybe management could think about this aspect too.

Have you been trained on the new Attendance policy?  Lots of managers have and they are worried about it.  We are waiting for the policy to come out so that we can explain what we understand of it in more detail.  We are not keen on the new policy.  We believe it will encourage presenteeism.  While we we were consulting on this new policy, reports started to pop up in the press about presenteeism being 1.6 times more expensive than absenteeism.  Simply, it was explained, presenteeism is bad for the welfare of staff and their productivity.  With the core systems modernisation project and the staff changes in POD initiatives are a little sequential at the moment.  We think the policy will made public once the staff survey has been completed.

Essentially, these struggles that management have to manage productivity and recent initiatives they have created, we feel, really bite in to the work life balance of staff.  We would like to see more carrots and we can help  We, many of us, love DMU and the idea of it being the best kind of sausage factory but we don’t have really great ways of raising ideas up through the ranks.  Possibly, we have slipped in to a mode that is too top down we don’t get feed back on ideas that we have.  Expressing half a good idea to someone important can be leaped upon and become a priority project throwing other projects to the side or compromising the quality of them.  This is UNISON’s proposal: “ringi”.  This is from Wikipedia:

The term of “ringi” has two meanings. The first meaning being of “rin,” ‘submitting a proposal to one’s supervisors and receiving their approval,’ and “gi” meaning ‘deliberations and decisions.’ Corporate policy is not clearly defined by the executive leadership of a Japanese company. Rather, the managers at all levels below executives must raise decisions to the next level except for routine decisions. The process of “ringi decision-making” is conducted through a document called a “ringisho.” The “ringisho” is created and circulated by the individual who created the idea. As the “ringisho” reaches a peer for review, the peer places his or her “personal seal (hanko) right side up” to agree, “upside down” to disagree, and sideways to indicate being undecided. Once all peers have reviewed the “ringisho” the peers’ manager reviews the “ringisho” and places his or her hanko on it. The upper level manager’s decision is final and the “ringisho” is sent back to the originator who either initiates the idea or re-evaluates, based on the “hanko” of the upper level manager.

The idea would be a simple one.  Ideas from the ranks will be deliberated on and formal feedback will be given by managers.  And maybe from this or an idea like it we will start to see more carrots.

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