Beyond Zero Hours To Right Hours

Beyond Zero Hours to Right Hours

Today, we see a crisis in talent acquisition, motivation and retention in many industries: such as nurses and teachers in the UK public sector.  Millennials want a different work-life mix to their parents. Enterprises and government agencies are often constrained in offering flexible hours, due to clunky HR and payroll systems. We now have the Zero Hours contract for workers at all levels – and this label is rarely given anything other than a bad name – often a code for ‘worker exploitation by ruthless bosses’.

Flexible, Yet Predictable Hours

Whilst many people working under Zero Hours contracts are denied rights and live with high levels of insecurity and uncertainty of pay, for many knowledge workers, such as ‘bank’ nurses or ‘supply’ teachers, flexible working is a plus. For many millennial professionals, raising a family, looking after elderly parents and other commitments lead to at least one partner in a family unit wanting to work part-time and are OK with being paid for actual hours worked.
However, not having some level of predictability or not being able to state preferences in availability is a significant problem, made worse in areas such as nursing or teaching, where this lack of flexibility combined with predictability is not there. What’s needed in curbing the exodus from professions such as nursing or teaching is not Zero Hours but Right Hours. This can only be accomplished if enterprises, NHS Trusts, schools and other organisations invest in IT systems that facilitate Right Hours for people, such as millennial parents, who choose to work part-time and need the right balance of flexibility and predictability in their work rosters.

Next Generation IT Systems

The right IT systems for Right Hours are Workforce Management systems: applications that enable managers and staff to collaborate around a ‘Quality of Life’ roster that promotes social collaborations between peers too. In nursing, in teaching – and more broadly, in retail and hospitality sectors, the ability to engage in shift-swapping is a key part of enabling Right Hours.

Right People, Right Hours – Right Time

For well-defined roles and consistent everyday working environments this is relatively simple, in terms of matching supply to demand for a particular shift. But in complex environments, such as a NHS Trust hospital, forecasting and planning Right People, Right Hours – Right Time – requires a much more sophisticated ‘algorithm’ within a Workforce Management system. Right Hours versus Zero Hours also means that, in addition to improving the work-life balance for the employee or contractor, it also leads to a more controversial topic: Right Sizing. For example, if a NHS Trust does not measure the actual Time spent by each nurse completing a particular Task, how can a manager know (or a system calculate) the Right People, Right Hours, Right Time for a team and each individual nurse?

Right-Sizing: Measuring Time for Tasks

With a modern Workforce Management system managers can inject Electronic Patient Record (EPR) data into a Care Plan (subject to citizen permissions, of course!) for each patient on a hospital ward, and in turn, map the Skills and Tasks required from such demand to the supply of nurses that are able to offer the Skills and Time to achieve Right-Sizing. But to truly know what Time each Task should be allocated is only guesswork, unless managers ask nurses to use say, a thumb print on a mobile or fixed biometric reader or smartphone to click the Start Time and Stop Time for each Task.
How granular can we make Time-Task Recording, before people resist and say that this signals a lowering of trust in the person to carryout their work – free from ‘big brother’ checking and analysing their every move? We should apply Time-Task Recording to best understand what makes sense as values used in Workforce Management systems ‘algorithms’ as planning exercices, but it should not be used in a pervasive way to become ‘Workforce Monitoring’.

Towards the Self-Organizing Workforce

How self-organising can Workforce Management become? If staff can use a smartphone devices and access a Workforce Management app to engage in shift-swapping, how many other things could be done in working environments that enable peer-to-peer decision-making versus top-down command- and-control methods that govern Right Hours? Could retailers, who perhaps have the worst reputation for employee relations and Zero Hours, empower full-time, part-time and contract workers to engage in more self-regulated, peer-to-peer scheduling of Right Hours, and only have managers intervene when the system says such a course of action is needed at any given time?

In conclusion

Social networks, and social media, more generally, have democratised much of our lives, as consumers. But as employees, workers or contractors, we still live in a world of command-and-control hierarchies. Today, modern cloud IT architectures and mobile-first apps enable enterprises and government agencies to empower self-regulated, peer-to-peer decisioning. This means that, subject to ‘rules of the game’ being different for different industries or services, a next generation Workforce Management system can shift Zero Hours to Right Hours. This is Right People, Right Hours – Right Time – the Right Sizing of work – and driven bottom-up, through Quality of Life preferences applied to working hours and shifts.
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