There’s a debate going on at the moment about whether we should have far fewer work ‘rules’. For example, no set holiday entitlement, no dress code, no or more flexible working hours etc. Should this concept be limited to the hipster start-up or is there something in it for organisations which are more circumspect? Does it lead to a dedicated and enthusiastic workforce or is it a recipe for widespread abuse? This week, Andrew Haywood advocates a no-rules workplace and Mike Cole emphatically does not. Their head-to-head on the subject can be found below.

For last month’s results on the need for checks on a union’s ability to call strike action, see here. It’s fair to say that the responses we received were predominantly, although by no means unanimously, supportive of limiting strike activity. But I do wonder whether the massive disruption caused by recent tube and rail strikes contributed to that result.

Paul Mander, Head of Employment

Andrew Haywood

YES

Employee empowerment, now there’s a thought. Surely it will only lead to anarchy? Leaving employees to be judge and jury of their own working culture can only lead to abuse. However, a company that strives for an equilibrium of control verses freedom could reap the rewards of a happier and more motivated work force.

We are living in a competitive world where talent is hard to find and even harder to keep. In many cases, money alone is not the sole motivating factor for employees and neither, I’m afraid, is the smell of freshly baked pain au chocolat in the morning, yoga at lunchtime and an afternoon caramel frappuccino. Companies will need to approach employee recruitment and retention from a different angle and perhaps good old fashioned self-motivation is the key differential.

Our friends across the pond introduced duvet days (or ‘mental health days’ as they prefer to call it) some time ago. An employee could, on any given day (but limited to say two days per annum), decide to stay at home instead of attending work. With annual holiday limited to between two and three weeks in the US, their motivation for doing so may have been somewhat different given the generous holiday allowances across most of Europe.

But how many employees do you fear have made that predictable Monday morning call from their sick bed or experienced the infamous 24 hour bug? Enriching employees through faith and trust in them as individuals and allowing concepts such as duvet days may even reduce the number of sick days. Employees may feel morally obliged to reciprocate their company’s trust in them.

And why stop there? We are all adults and the removal of micro-managing, form filling and red tape (just think, no time wasted dealing with Fit for Work forms) would release more management time. It would lead to greater productivity and encourage more junior employees to take responsibility for themselves and their actions.

Do we even need contractual working hours? Provided core business hours are covered where required and the work is properly undertaken, is the utilisation of business resources in dealing with repeated misdemeanours like lateness really the best use of management time? The reduction of this self-diagnosed red tape will certainly release more time for bigger picture thinking and the delivery of longer term visions. Empowerment in this sense can only be a positive, not just for the employees but also for the business and its performance.

One of the maxims of managing employees is that employees are more likely to behave in accordance with the expectations placed on them. Of course, there need to be boundaries. I am not advocating anything to the contrary but do those boundaries have to be so rigid? Through a more fluid and open approach, companies can mould and influence their cultures enabling them to genuinely reflect the business’ personality and working environment. It will be this type of USP that will distinguish a business from its competitors and help win the war of retention.

I was told when I was growing up that honesty is the best policy. I was sceptical at the time but I have come to realise that you cannot have trust without honesty. Perhaps, in this case, my grandparents were right.

Michael Cole

NO

Leisure is defined as “time when one is not working or occupied; free time”. Work is “activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result”.

Work and leisure are two opposite concepts. Traditionally, this has been reinforced by the employment contract and legislation. Work is for a set number of days per week, during set hours of the day and with at least 28 statutory days of holiday per year.

And yet, despite this regulation, the way we now work and have “free time” or take holiday is becoming very blurred. The advent of home working, laptops, smart phones and tablets makes many employees always “available”. Some employers appear to want to blur the lines between leisure and work even more by allowing employees unlimited holiday, to take whatever time they like and to decide when and where they work.

The justification for these new ways of working centres on the individual employee’s ability to take responsibility for achieving the results set by their employer. Once the desired results are set, they say, it is up to the employee to decide how and when he or she works in order to achieve those results.

From an employer’s perspective, there are many operational pitfalls. Policy like this relies on a huge amount of trust. Will the work get completed? Will the results be achieved? How will teams of employees work together if they are rarely at work at the same time? The promoters of such policies say that results are achieved because employees who do not achieve results do not remain employed.

However, in a highly competitive, results-focused world, can we take this risk? Isn’t it simply human nature to take as much of a good thing as possible? If employees are told they can work when they want and have as much holiday as they want, many of them will do just that!

Those employees who are keenly focused on the results of their work are LESS likely to take time off without set times for work and leisure. These periods provide a psychological demarcation between time which is considered work and time set for leisure. They assist in promoting a healthy work/life balance. Removing them is likely to lead to less time off and more stress and illness. It is no surprise that the legislation which provides for holidays and time off – the Working Time Regulations – was enacted by the EU to promote the health and safety of workers.

Finally, as mentioned above, even with the traditional contractual and regulatory means of separating work from leisure, we are all finding ourselves doing work during time traditionally reserved for leisure or holiday. We check our smartphones for work emails just before we go to bed and we take work calls on holiday. Before the advent of these devices we were less stressed. Research as far back as 2011 revealed significant disturbances in sleep patterns, increased stress and an increased incidence of clinical depression in young adults who used their cell phones frequently.

With employees free to spend time working or at leisure when they want, the boundaries are further blurred and the quality of their leisure or holiday is reduced. The health benefits of time off are lost. Such policies are not good for business and not good for the health of workers.