As I reported a fortnight ago, our member questionnaire was intended to help us get ahead of the game in the event that we are required to represent a very large number of grievances and, potentially, Employment Tribunal or County Court claims.
The large response has allowed us to form a clear view of what is going to be needed if Lloyds tries to drive through unjustified and in some cases unlawful changes and although employment law cases are always fact specific, I can give members a fairly definitive update.
In the more recent compressed hours (and home working) concessions Lloyds has been careful to preserve its right to review arrangements and make changes in the light of business need. In that way, in a purely employment law sense, Lloyds can do what it has now announced, which is to begin a review of earlier concessions. The fact that it has made a total pig’s ear of the issue should not obscure that fact.
But whether it makes sense to impose changes on an unwilling workforce is quite another matter and in the cases we’ve seen there seems to be hardly any pressing business reason for change. The current arrangements agreed by the people who know best, line managers, seem to work well and one has to ask the question: will decompressing someone’s working week reduce costs, increase output or improve business effectiveness? And the answer we’ve got from all the cases we’ve reviewed, in depth, so far is that no it wouldn’t. If we can see that, most line managers will too so I repeat the question I asked three weeks ago; what is the motive behind all of this?
The fact is that for many people compressed hours were agreed not so they could improve their golf handicaps but to allow them to meet challenging personal and family circumstances, including significant disabilities. In those cases Lloyds knows it has to make workplace adjustments to meet its legal obligations and that if it doesn’t we will pursue Employment Tribunal claims for disability discrimination.
Generally, Lloyds has had a good track record when it has come to making adjustments for care responsibilities and disabilities but we don’t know whether the current executive propose to change that approach. If they do the legal challenges will come thick and fast.
There’s no doubt that for many staff, working in an office would be their chosen option particularly if they can work some of the week at home. We understand that as a legitimate lifestyle choice.
But for a large number, home working’s an absolute necessity because of their location or their personal or family circumstances. Indeed some staff have an absolute contractual right to work from home. For these groups Lloyds would find it hard to remove home working and indeed may not try to.
But even where there is no disability, care obligation or contractual right it may still make sense to allow home working, particularly where there is an obvious benefit to the Bank in people being prepared to work flexibly and probably over a longer working day.
If you wanted to maintain a well-motivated workforce, unpopular change wouldn’t obviously be sensible unless you wanted to capture a substantial improvement in efficiency or effectiveness that could be achieved only through a change in working hours or location. We don’t see the scope for that unless the aim is to drive people to leave voluntarily.
One member drew our attention to the coincidence (which he didn’t believe) in Lloyds pushing office working at more or less the same time the government was urging companies to get people back to offices to stimulate creativity and energy. Does anyone really believe that most people getting up at 5:30 a.m. to commute to work for 2 hours, in say the South East, will be at their creative best or full of energy when they get there! From the government’s perspective it makes sense to try to stimulate economic activity in town centres but the creativity argument looks entirely bogus. Chief Executives of large banks no doubt have perk London flats or can certainly afford their own but the ordinary member of staff has a rather different day-to-day experience.
The Implicit Contract
Very sensibly, UK business schools teach their students that written employment contracts are only part of the story. There is almost always an implicit set of understandings, trade-offs and accommodations that all businesses rely on to work efficiently. Lloyds is no different and employers disturb those implicit contracts at their peril.
Universities also teach the fallibility of senior executives’ strategies and the danger of short-term self-interest in the pursuit of higher profits. Now, Lloyds has ambitious targets for profit growth and of course in most cases senior executives are remunerated by their achievement of short-term financial objectives not the achievement of ‘soft’ objectives like improving staff satisfaction. This is quite reasonable because businesses exist to make profits for their shareholders, not act as charities, but hacking off core staff is not usually seen as a good move!
And if people react as hacked-off people usually do, Lloyds will be the loser.
Line Managers – In The Dark
Spare a thought for line managers, many of whom are our members. They are trying to hold together teams, concerned with what will happen, with limited guidance. As one member said:
“There is no guidance for Line Managers, everyone is being told to ask their Line Manager, but we don’t know”
“I’m asking questions, but I’m getting no answers”
Another member pointed out that her team is widely dispersed and work with customers on a one-on-one basis, not face-to-face. No work is completed as part of a team and her group is spread across the country so even if they were forced to work from an office, team meetings would still have to take place via videoconferencing. She could see no possible business benefit from office working.
This picture is being repeated across the business.
In the no doubt charged environment of the executive floor in Gresham Street a few, to most of us obvious, practicalities have either not been recognised or have been discounted.
The most obvious is how the reduced office estate is going to accommodate much increased office working on any given day? The so-called director for People and Places, Sharon Doherty, may know but it isn’t obvious to many people on the ground and their line managers.
Currently staff are required to book desks when coming into offices but members are telling us that main desks which have computers are oversubscribed and the only available desks for people are ‘hot desks’, which would mean that many would need to use laptops that are not suitable for some types of work.
There is a further issue around workplace adjustments. Almost invariably staff would not have the agreed adjustments they need because they could not be guaranteed the same adapted desks, ergonomic chairs or other adjustments on a regular basis. That would be a serious legal impediment to office working.
Are these just points of detail? We don’t think so.
No Proper Scrutiny
When I came to work for the Union, BTU was still recognised, at least for a short while until the Bank ran off with its ball. The problem Lloyds had with BTU then was rigorous scrutiny of everything it did and heretical beliefs, supported by the audacity to say things the Bank didn’t want to hear.
Now, there is no scrutiny in meetings with the Bank and Lloyds management are doing what top managers often do, dreaming up strategies to occupy themselves, with no one on the inside able or prepared to tell the Emperor that his trousers are detached! Meanwhile the share price is stuck firmly in the doldrums. Lloyds has higher priorities than irritating its workforce with this gratuitous disruption!
We can help members most if they contact us before their compressed hours or home working is reviewed.
If you are concerned by attempts to change your working hours or force you to return to office working and haven’t completed our online survey please do.
Email is not a foolproof communications medium and providers often block emails for no obvious reason. If you don’t recall getting the survey please contact the Advice Team (firstname.lastname@example.org) or 01234 262868 and we’ll resend it.