Comments are closed. Employers are beginning to realise the benefits of ensuring their staff donot work excessive hours, and are taking action with the help of new technologyIt’s a sign of the times that we spend too much time on the job rather than toolittle. That creates a new use for time and attendance systems, which, besidestheir traditional function, are now starting to be used to ensure that staffdon’t overdo it. One in 10 of those in employment worked 61 hours or more every week lastyear, according to Umist’s Quality of Work-Life survey, while a further 30 percent spent clocked up more than 51 hours. That’s a slight improvement over 1999but Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health atManchester School of Management, still finds the result “appalling”.”Companies are employing fewer people to keep the cost base down, so theyare overloading their existing staff,” he says. Pressure of work is compounded by the problem of “presenteeism”,where individuals hang around at the office either because they feel they haveto in order to show commitment, or because they want to boost earnings throughovertime. The problem is particularly acute for middle managers, also foroccupations such as teaching, law and IT, where being seen to leave at 5.30pmcan count as a black mark. This was one of the issues that the incoming Labour Government promised totackle four years ago. The Working Time regulations introduced in 1998stipulate a maximum of 48 hours a week for each employee. However, the originalrequirement for hours to be recorded was later rescinded, following pressurefrom employers. Meanwhile, the Health and Safety Executive, which is responsible forenforcing the regulations, has not been the dragon some employers feared.That’s a pity, say work-life experts, who think a wake-up call is needed for UKbusinesses to tackle the culture of overtime. “It might have been a useful way of making people realise what theywere doing,” comments Nick Burkitt, research fellow at the Institute forPublic Policy Research and author of a new study on work-life balance.”You can reduce overworking substantially just by making people aware ofthe hours they are working and questioning whether they need to do somany.” Many people who work long hours are well paid and do so by choice, butothers lower down the scale have to strive to reach an acceptable weekly wage,Burkitt points out. That can result in harming their health and familyrelationships, creating social costs that are not reflected in market prices. However, he acknowledges the challenge, saying, “The difficult questionis how to find a mechanism for changing companies’ and individuals’ behaviour,given the minimal impact of the existing Working Time regulations.” So what can enlightened businesses do to keep their staff workload tosensible limits? One San Francisco company solved the problem by simplyshutting off the electricity at 5pm, making it pointless to stay. A lessdrastic approach is being adopted by Microsoft, which is offering to make adonation to the NSPCC for every employee that leaves by 5.30pm. Yet perhaps the most obvious solution is to take advantage of time andattendance systems, which have matured to provide a level of functionalityhardly envisaged 20 years ago. According to Graham Reinelt, managing directorof HFX, they can now easily be configured to monitor staff working hours. “It is simply a matter of writing in the appropriate rule,” heexplains. “Each employee’s record includes the hours they are contractedto work. By monitoring the times they have been coming in and leaving, managersand supervisors can spot when they go into unauthorised overtime.” The latest version of HFX’s Windows-based system can have the Working Timeregulations added as a separate module, although Reinelt says employers haveyet to show any real interest in this feature. There is more to the automated approach, however, than just knowing whetheran individual is in or out, argues David Hughes, UK marketing manager for Kronos.In the US the complexity of the process is implied in the term “front-linelabour management”, he points out. That contrasts with the UK’s “Timeand attendance” which tends to perpetuate the simple notion of clocking onand off. The real issue is activity management, Hughes asserts – monitoring what aperson is doing throughout the day. The ability to measure that activityprovides managers with all the information they need for decision-making. Thatis understood at some of the more forward thinking organisations, he says,particularly call centres, where time efficiency is paramount. Hughes too finds that most employers have yet to embrace time and attendancesystems for combating overwork or complying with Working Time regulations.However, a few have been making moves in this direction. Sectors where the technology is likely to have major uses are those wherestaff work irregular shifts and tend not to be anchored to a single location,conditions in which overtime can easily get out of control. That appliesparticularly to catering and leisure. Kronos has two hotel clients that usespecial modules integrated into their time and attendance systems to helpensure this does not happen. One is Millennium Hotels and Resorts, which tracks each employee’s hoursover a 17-week period. These are checked on a weekly basis by personnel andpayroll managers, who will respond at once if the statutory 48 hours areexceeded. Over the full period the managers will also ensure that the employeehas had adequate breaks. “The hotel’s raison d’àtre is to provide topquality customer service, and bearing in mind that it operates in a 24-hourenvironment, anything it can do to avoid presenteeism has to be a goodthing,” explains Hughes. “Having access to all the data enablesfront-line managers and supervisors at any level to know what is goingon.” The system spots when an “exception” has occurred, that is when anemployee has clocked out late or is about to exceed the 48-hour weekly limit.It will then fire off an e-mail to a senior member of staff. However, since managers will not necessarily be working at a screen it canalso be configured to send messages to their PDAs or, better yet, to mobilephones, which ring to let them know the instant a problem occurs. This mobilitymeans that as well as keeping an eye on waiters and room attendants, the systemcan also be used for workers in the field or in other locations. Although Working Time compliance is not a main reason for purchasing timeand attendance technology, suppliers say this is increasingly becoming aselling point. Those who need to upgrade an existing system, or acquire one todeal with ordinary absenteeism, can be shown how to take advantage of it forthis purpose too, says Tristan Spencer, business development director atSmartPeopleTime. Spencer is keen to promote the idea that the systems should be used forplanning rather than monitoring. Knowing that a particular project will involvecertain staff in extra hours, and being able to alter the plan accordingly, ismore useful than simply finding out after the event that the employee has donetoo much work. “If you are not carrying out proper planning you end up doingeverything with hindsight,” he points out. “Most companies have shiftregulations, but don’t always monitor in advance where these patterns change,which increasingly happens as organisations becomes more flexible.” The changing organisational culture means that more pressure is put onindividuals, which in turn raises the chances of the Working Time rules beingflouted, he adds. “Companies used to ensure agreements in advance, whichmeant that regulations were respected. But with flexible working, they are atgreater risk.” SmartPeopleTime has supplied Rhodia, a global chemical firm where WorkingTime regulation compliance has been one of several concerns. Other clients include Cargo Service Centre,an air-cargo handling company based at Heathrow. “The nature of our business prevents us from rostering employees ontoregular shift patterns, so we operate a large variety of working shifts,”says Cargo’s quality manager Steve Ainsley. “This makes staff rosteringand time management a complex and time consuming task. Now we are able tomanage and plan working time easily and effectively.” The system also ensures that everyone covering an absence has the correctskills and will not breach the Working Time regulations or company terms andconditions. “We are able to make the best use of our staff and ensure theyare in the right place at the right time to give our customers the service theydemand,” he says. Because staff wages account for around 70 per cent ofour costs, the company expects a quick return on its investment. However, when it comes to overworking not everyone thinks technology is atotal solution. “From a psychological perspective, automated systems havebeen shown to have a negative effect on morale and retention,” says ColinBarnes, practice director of HR consultancy Sapient Partners. “You need toget behind the reasons for each individual doing too many hours, and this mayrequire a bespoke managerial intervention rather than the organisationalblanket approach.” The easier way to address the issue may be to consider it at the point ofselection through the competency model, he suggests. “In most companies’competency frameworks it already exists as a negative behaviour under headingssuch as ‘motivation’, ‘commitment’ or ‘taking responsibility’, so why not useit?” Similarly, Umist’s Cooper says he would prefer to see managers leading fromthe top by example, or else creating more flexible arrangements, perhapsinvolving working from home. That would not necessarily diminish the workload,but it would mean that individuals would not feel the need to appear to theircolleagues to be working when they would rather be at home. A managerial approach was adopted by Staffline, a recruitment agency thatimplemented a 48-hour week when the Working Time regulations were firstintroduced. “We were being seriously affected by our staff’s excessiveovertime,” explains operations director Andy Coop. “Average workinghours for recruitment specialists were from 7.30am to 6pm and burnout was a bigproblem.” The staff turnover rate of over 30 per cent, while not unusualfor the sector, was clearly unacceptable, especially with leavers citing longworking hours as the reason for their departure. The company has now adopted a system where each branch manager logs hisstaff’s working hours and report instances of overworking to directors at headoffice. Their views will then be fed back to the manager, who will discuss theproblem with the individual and explore means of reducing the workload. Since introducing the system staff turnover has dropped from 30 per cent to21 per cent and continues to fall, while morale has gone up and excessiveworking hours is less frequently given as a reason for people leaving. However, the company acknowledges that technology could help ensure theproblem is brought fully under control. “Although we have made significantprogress, long working hours are still an issue and we are committed to findingways to reduce them,” says Coop. A new £1m IT system to be introducedshortly will provide automation, which Coop says will finally help to resolvethe problem. Ultimately it seems likely that a combination of managerial processes andautomation will emerge as a means of controlling an endemic social evil. Andincreasingly businesses will realise the benefits of technology to achievethis, either by integrating dedicated software modules to existing systems orinvesting in new ones. As the experts insist, this is not solely a technical issue but one ofpeople management. When the problem itself is recognised, the solution will beseen to be close at hand. For contact details of suppliers mentioned in this feature, go to www.personneltoday.com/directoryThe working time regulations– A cap of an average 48 hours a week that employees can normally berequired to work, although they can choose to work more if they want to – A limit of an average eight hours in 24 for night workers – Night workers to receive free health assessments – 11 hours of rest each day – At least one day off each week – An in-work rest break if the working day is longer than six hours – A right to four weeks’ paid leave per year – Enhanced rights for adolescent workers All present and correctOn 10 Jul 2001 in Personnel Today Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos.
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