Clocking off from clocking in
I had a chat with my boss the other day. It revolved around the amount of time I was working and my penchant for keeping a track of this by completing a timesheet every day. This timesheet was a simple excel spreadsheet which tracked the numbers of hours I’d worked each month as I filled out my starting, finishing and lunch times. Being a responsible sort I’ve got these dating back to my first week at the Council, and can pick out everything from long lunches to 72 hour weeks (rare but draining).
The chat with my boss wasn’t about seeing mine however; she told me to stop completing them. Apparently I’ve now reached a level where the exact number of hours I work is far less relevant than the actual work I complete; effectively, I’m judged on outcomes not hours.
Since this chat I’ve stopped filling in those little boxes and noticed something: I’ve been doing slightly longer hours and feeling better about doing so. Whereas before I would try my damnedest to stick to my 37.5 hour working week, maybe adjusting my start or leaving time by 15 minutes or so and clock watching as either rolled around, now I find myself arriving at and leaving the office when I’m happy with my days work. And I feel better for this.
I get the distinct impression that I’m not alone here. I have in all but writing been running my own team like this for some time, asking them to do their weeks work whether it takes them 30 hours or 45. The relaxing of monitoring them and having them stick to strict times for starting and finishing has made them a more flexible and responsive team, happy to work longer when needed safe in the knowledge that this will come round to reward them when times aren’t quite so busy, or when they have personal appointments to be kept.
To put it simply, I trusted my staff. I trusted them to understand the work they were being asked to do and to get it done, and I trusted them to be responsible about their working hours.
Now, I understand the need for tracking working hours to be done, especially by those who in fact get paid by the hour. It’s also useful if you are consistently working long, long weeks in order to build a case for easing your workload or bringing in extra support. But for those of us on a salary, the freedom from as much petty tracking and monitoring as possible builds a sense of responsibility and ownership of workloads that is otherwise impossible to engender. By simply knowing that it’s results that count, staff are encouraged to strive for these and to focus on fulfilling their tasks, rather than working out how many extra hours they can take off at the end of the month, or what time they can leave if they shave five minutes off their lunch time.
A mentor of mine once told me that at a junior level you are paid to do a job whilst at a senior level you are paid to get the job done. I believe this is sage advice, and thoroughly approve of a freer approach to timesheets with a stronger approach to performance management. I don’t care so much if a member of my team can get a whole weeks worth of work done in ten hours – as long as it is done to the required standards and is complete, fair play to them – what this allows me to do is to see if there are other things they can do to challenge them further. If however I were to keep a dogmatic approach to timesheets the axiom of work expanding to fill the time available would apply.
To cite an example, I’ve read how on the continent road works are rarely seen. It’s not that the roads don’t need repairing, just that the company is paid to get the job done quickly rather than being told they have three months to complete it in. This avoids the job taking every second of that three months and more, and incurring overtime costs on top of the original expenditure.
I guess my point is that we need to place more trust in our staff that they are not going to take the proverbial urine and turn up for a couple of hours every day if they aren’t tracked and chased for their timesheets. Let’s move on to looking at the tasks they have been assigned and the work produced, outcomes rather than hours, and get rid of those few members of staff (we all know them) who do very little but take a long time to do it.
I’d rather have 37.5 hours of quality work in the bag than 50 hours clocked in the office.