When you think of work schedules think patterns not words.

I have been saying for some time that it not the hours you put-in and more about when and what you put into those hours that makes the difference. Industry commentators, media and politicians have exhorted flexible working and how beneficial it is to health, life and pursuit of happiness. Certainly the past 10 years has seen an overwhelming tide of comment about work life balance, flexible working and “retention of talent” (to clinch the argument if there is one), as employees seek liberation to do “better things with their life”.

It seems the economic downturn continues to redefine flexible working into something quite different – and I suspect reflects more accurately the realities of staff supply and demand. Just like the eternal nature-nurture debate in the domains of biology and sociology (or any other …ology for that matter), economics has its own business-job debate. Is a business there to create jobs? or do jobs create the business?

Having just completed a recent workshop involving both employers and employees I was impressed by the united consensus of both to have choices and the freedom to decide those choices themselves. Whatever the business-job debate once people know the choices and the means to decide they always sort it themselves.

To my mind it is not a question of one or the other – both are evident. Moving too much one way, as in any discipline, creates problems. Perhaps current thinking about flexible working is now moving back toward the business interest, after finding itself too far over to the multiple and independent interests of the job holder.

The Copenhagen Post commenting on the sweeping changes for extending shopping hours highlighted the different views about pay that always arise when working extended or unsocial hours (another convenient albeit meaningless term I confess to use myself). And this in turn is always followed by flexible working issues, as sure as night follows day – or is it day follows night.

The Danish Chamber of Commerce on the one hand ’…wish for the agreement includes increased flexibility in work scheduling – especially in the retail area, where there is a real need for better access to weekend employment’.  And on the other, HK Privat, which represents about 35,000 office and warehouse workers believes flexibility in work scheduling is a crucial right employers will have to have when considering the difficult times for business as a result of the financial crisis.

Just about everybody agrees flexibility in work scheduling is crucial to business and important to staff. Around 80% of disputes are about flexibility in work scheduling. And they drag on for a long time. The reason? In almost every instance I have been called there has not been a tangible work schedule capable of being operationally assessed by employer and employee alike to be seen (spreadsheets! – don’t make me laugh). When it comes living our lives are made up of patterns, and work is no different.

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