The risks of flexibility in the workplace
published on 17.10.17
Interview about labour flexibility to Finn Janning, PhD, associate lecturer at the Bachelor in Business Administration of TBS Barcelona business school, for the journal Expansión:
Why flexibility and the so-called ‘emotional salary’ are a rising trend in companies?
Firstly, today for many positions there is no distinction between private and professional life. Work has become our identity, our lifestyle. Work is no longer something we have from 9-18, but something we do –all the time.
Secondly, everything has become more individualized; therefore, the organizations try to accommodate both the professional and personal needs of their workforce.
Could you provide any example?
The list is long and growing from company gyms, film clubs, dogs to take for a walk, cleaning, food, meditation, etc. basically the organization organizes ‘your’ life so that ‘you’ can’t afford to leave it. Quite similar to how Henry Ford raised the salary of his workforce to create loyalty but also control them –they couldn’t afford to leave.
Which kind of flexibility are companies applying?
Flexibility is always double. It works for both the employees and the organizations. Time and place are two areas where flexibility is present, but also in bonuses, salary, contracts, etc. However, offering too much flexibility is also a sign of insecurity. If you have a really interesting job to offer, then it speaks for itself.
Teleworking boomed a while ago, but afterwards many companies as Yahoo! or IBM ‘forced’ the employees to come back to the office. In which state are we right now?
We are in a more mature phase where there is nothing extraordinary in ‘remote’ working, now it is used and practiced where it makes sense.
Is it true that you actually work more when teleworking?
In the beginning, yes. Many employees were afraid that their colleagues thought that working from home was like a day off, therefore they worked extra hard. For this reason, many suffered from stress.
Now, as mentioned, it has reached a more mature level. It can make sense to work from home to get away from the constant flow of information, which is required for thinking. At the same time, most people like the social element of work as well, therefore, there is limit to how attractive it is to work from home.
What is your opinion about digital disconnection?
I think it is a good idea; it’s needed. Information is not knowledge since knowledge as well as creativity and innovation requires a void where you can pay attention, reflect, analyse. Being connected doesn’t make us smarter, just like electricity didn’t. They are tools that should be used wisely.
In some companies, we find a new position named ‘Happiness Director’. Are business leaders aware of the need of a good working atmosphere?
With the growing influence of positive psychology and mindfulness in the business world, most organizations are aware about how the culture affects its workforce. The risk is of course that everything becomes too shallow as when all problems are reduced to challenges and learning points, because sometimes taking a decision is not a win-win situation. Too much positivity makes the organization too blank to produce any new ideas or thoughts.
Do leaders apply these measures (more days on vacations, remote working…)? Why?
A lot of the flexibility goods are just ornament. They use these packages strategic, because it sounds positive, and today we live in a positive society. Yet, the problem is that this positivity makes us blind for what life and work is really all about.
For example, if you don’t like your work or your colleagues, then it doesn’t matter whether you get one week more or less of vacation. And on the other hand, if you like to identify yourself with what you’re doing, then you do it no matter where you are or what time it is. Most people who like and know what they do also know how to organize their resources.
Should CEOs apply to themselves the same flexibility measures or a CEO has a distinctive role and so he should not?
For many employees, it is actually more liberating not to have all this flexibility, because the flexibility that we have actually make most people less free. Again, we live in a world where we constantly have to perform or achieve something –often in a smiley and positive way– and still we presume ourselves to be free, although in reality we voluntarily exploit ourselves until we collapse.
Any advice for future professionals?
I think the future of business leaders should care more about whether their workers are doing what they really believe is important, rather than just following the norms of society. Flexibility sounds very positive, but it is controlling unless you reflect, e.g., what you are flexible towards, how flexible you are?
Sometimes it can be good to recall Melville’s story about Bartleby who said “I prefer not to”. As in I prefer not to be flexible when it comes to the quality of my work, or the amount of time I will spend with my patients, or with how I will interact with my colleagues, or with what and how I will do my work.
Tags: Finn Janning|HHRR|labour flexibility|leadership