The absurdity that is “flexitime”


A missive regarding the unhappy commencement of my employment

Dear Mother,

I am writing to you after experiencing my first day at my new office. The sights I have seen, the horror, the chaos; I scarcely understand the system before me and how any success is achieved here in local government. It may be of a shocking nature, but I feel I must share all I have seen to warn you, lest my younger siblings ever harbour secret desires of joining me in public service.  I shall take you through my initial lessons in turn; be warned however, that you may wish to sit before reading further, lest your weak constitution get the better of you.

To begin with, when I arrived I was greeted and informed that a bowler hat and monacle was not “required attire”. I struggled with this concept for a period of time, but eventually agreed to acceed to their request and dress “smart casual” (note to self: discover what this actually entails and whether or not coat tails are truly “casual”).

After this came the biggest shock of all: I was introduced to the concept of “flexitime”. I do hope I do not cause you distress by using quotation marks so freely, but I feel this issue requires such flagrant overuse of these grammatical devices.

Apparently, through “flexitime” staff work the hours to which they have been contracted: can you imagine such a thing? If they have agreed and signed up to deliver 36 hours of work each and every week, this “flexitime” arrangement allows them to do just this. But that’s not all.

“Flexitime” is apparantly a shortened form of the words “flexible” and “time”, and mixes these two issues somewhat strangely. It allows staff to take a flexible approach to their work, resulting in them potentially not sitting at their desks at every moment of the day (statuory recommended meal and relief breaks notwithstanding of course).

Can you comprehend such a situation? If staff have arrangements in their lives which would benefit from a more flexible approach to organising their hours, then they are encouraged to do so. Madness! This sees some staff arriving at eight in the morning and leaving at four o’clock without a by-your-leave or query from the security staff, whilst others arrive at the ungodly hour of ten in the morning. Ten o’clock! By such a time Mr Godfrey would have been at his desk for some time in the office back in the village.

They justify this by claiming that it is of benefit to their staff and allows them to focus on the “outcomes” of their work than the “outputs”. My new manager appears to believe that work is about achieving things rather than completing a set number of hours sitting at your desk.  These strange concepts may be the latest fad abroad, but to see them in operation in a British workplace is bordering on the sacrilegious.

It goes on.

Reading through our “staff handbook” I find that should it be appropriate and with authorisation I am allowed to “work from home”. That’s correct Mother, “work from home”. They expect me to produce quality work without having had the benefit of fighting through the morning commute and incurring the financial and time costs attached therein.

When all of this is combined, this “flexitime” even allows me to plan for over-work or underwork. If I find I am required to work for longer than my pre-agreed and signed up contracted hours then I am able to claim back this additional time by leaving early or even accruing additional days when I do not have to work. Why I am not simply encouraged to rise from my desk each day at 5.00pm and walk out, regardless of the nature of my work, heaven only knows.  Why they do not simply authorise multiple overtime claims and compensate me financially I am yet to discover; surely any arm of government has access to vast financial rewards with which to recompense it’s officers?

Now Mother, I understand that by now you are probably in something of a state of shock, but I have to unfortunately say that it goes further. I expected, once I had absorbed this veritible mountain of confusion, to be informed of the appropriate process of supervision and clocking in and out of my workplace. After all, how on earth will they know how many hours one has accrued over any set period of time?

Do you know what Mother? They informed me that “flexitime” is recorded by none other than myself – myself, mark you! – and that they “trust” me to abide by the rules of “flexitime”. I fail to understand how they can run a workplace in such a manner. Surely the entire workforce simply takes advantage of this system and does little to no work whatsoever?!

I have been told that this is managed through regular “supervision” meetings where they focus on those “outcomes” I mentioned earlier. If a member of staff is not achieving then they are supported to do so, regardles of how many hours they are investing.

I have to say I am finding this all a little confusing and distressing, and am not quite certain what to make of it all. This constant “trust” and expectation that I will act like a mature member of staff interested in improving the lives of local people is not something I am comfortable with; surely work is all about being treated like a school child, ordered to do as instructed and being treated with a fine balance of suspicion and contempt?

I believe I may have to take an afternoon of “flexitime” to consider the implications and see if I am cut out for this role at all: perhaps I would do better joining the Telegraph as a “reporter” or “investigator” after all.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com 

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