Following the trend?
What is HMRC’s approach to flexibility? Inflexible, says Eugene Mitchell.
There was a very interesting report published recently by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation. According to this report the UK is on the verge of a flexible working ‘tipping point’ – when working away from the office becomes more common than working solely from a desk.
Interviews with academics, business leaders and the public sector revealed 2017 as the time when over half of organisations in the UK are likely to have adopted flexible working. The report also predicts that over 70% of organisations will have followed suit by 2020.
The report – ‘Working anywhere: A winning formula for good work?’ – acknowledges that there are issues to be resolved if employees and businesses are to benefit fully from working away from the office.
The report noted four key reasons for implementing a flexible working policy: increased productivity, improved employee well-being, talent attraction and retention and reduction in accommodation costs.It’s a terrible irony that we are providing the wherewithal to facilitate flexible working at the same time as adopting a seemingly inflexible approach to where people must work.
This report was published just at the time that the first phase of tablets were being issued as part of HMRC’s device strategy. I’m lucky to have been issued with a Surface Pro and while I know I’m not using it to its full capability I could see immediately that it should be hugely beneficial to me personally and to the Department. I’m not sure that it will have much of an impact in respect of talent attraction but that one tool should result in increased productivity and could produce significant gains in terms of improved employee well-being, talent retention and reduction in accommodation costs.
It’s a terrible irony that we are providing the wherewithal to facilitate flexible working at the same time as adopting a seemingly inflexible approach to where people must work. (Although business expansion plans in Enforcement and Compliance and in Personal Tax mean that we are looking for additional premises in some locations!)
Voluntary exits have been offered in Norwich and, if accepted, will result in people being lost to the Department. Our investment in these people’s training and development will be worthless and their experience will be lost for ever. And this will be replicated throughout the UK as offices close if the Department maintains its inflexible approach. I’ve even heard suggestions that some folk, about to come off the department’s key training scheme as grade 7s, have been told they are likely to be placed straight into the redeployment pool. We can’t stop the private sector poaching our trainees – after all we recruit great people, we provide great training and then we pay well below the market rate – but it does seem quite a perverse approach to put someone through this expensive training process only to say, in effect, “we don’t want you”.
The public sector always follows new trends and initiatives from the private sector. Unfortunately, by the time the public sector has decided to adapt, these things are no longer new. For example, in the 1990s when I worked in the private sector, the introduction of effective knowledge management practices was a key issue. In HMRC we’re still trying to get to grips with it although there’s general acknowledgment of its importance.
So I’m sure that in due course we will adopt flexible working. Even Cabinet Office advocates it through The Way We Work (TW3). Unfortunately, based on the current mood music and our institutionalised inability to implement change at any sort of pace, I suspect that by the time we do this the expertise and experience of an awful lot of people will have been irretrievably lost to HMRC and UK plc – and everyone will be poorer as a consequence