Not slacking but frowningMaybe it’s a national tradition of a long hours culture, maybe it’s our seemingly ingrained dislike of ‘shirkers’, but ‘part-timers’ is one of the more damning verdicts I’ve heard casually passed in many of the organisations I’ve worked in. But will changes in our working culture make that far less of a put-down and much more a case of ‘Just saying …’? The Daily Telegraph, reporting on the latest ONS figures last week, revealed that the total number of us in part-time work increased by 26,000 to reach 7.96m – more than a quarter of the working population. And it is estimated that 1.16m of those are people actively seeking full-time work but ‘settling’ for something less (the highest figure for people in this category since records started in 1992). As Ian Brinley of The Work Foundation commented at the start of 2010:

The overall stability is deceptive in terms of the hours of work on offer. The number of people in full-time work is still going down, offset by more part-time jobs. The competition for such jobs is intense. There are now one million people working part-time who really want full-time work – up nearly 40 per cent compared with the same three months a year ago.”

These are striking figures that have been subjected to much commentary in terms of the economy and our national prospects. But apart from the financial impact – part-time workers naturally earn less, and are statistically also twice as likely to receive less than the minimum wage – there has been little commentary on other. more subtle impacts.

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Unless you’re reading from outside the UK, chances are it’s either snowing, has snowed or will snow soon. Provided you can cope with the temperatures (and didn’t have to sleep on your commuter train last night), it’s actually looking … well, seasonal and festive out there. The Secret Santa plans are forming, the office Christmas do’s are looming, and there’s definitely a sense of ‘It’s coming! It’s coming!’ in the air. And no, I don’t mean more snow. So how’s the goodwill coming along?

Living in hope of finding a world where the importance of recognising contributions, celebrating together, building and cementing relationships was recognised as a key part of working life, I went for a quick trawl through the HR segment of the blogosphere. And I have to say, I wound up feeling like an optimistic kid who rummaged in their stocking on Christmas morning to find a) a note on the use of nails and thumbtacks so as to avoid damaging fire surrounds, b) a leaflet on the potential dangers of open fires, c) the washing-up rota for Boxing Day, and d) the stocking’s washing instructions. Plenty of humbug, a bit of a turkey, but a bit short on spirit.

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On the eve of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, one industry at least is running at maximum capacity: the rumour mills are turning feverishly. Whether the world’s Cassandras see the future as driven by ideology or mathematics, the axe is coming and the crystal ball clearly predicts amputations. As with any amputation, however, the point should be to save the patient from worse, rather than disable them.

One of the rumours strongly indicates a major change to learning and development across Government departments, suggesting that an overwhelming majority of this will in future be delivered through e-learning. We’re not Luddites: we were delivering major programmes of web-based learning in 1998 (and took the trouble to include features such as hurdled assessments and online views of individual and cohort progress and analysis for tutors), and we make extensive use of webinars, multimedia and many other offspring from the ‘new media’ family in our current blended learning programmes.

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Dave Ulrich is, without question, an HR guru: as with any guru, it’s difficult to know whether to approach them on bended knee or with a degree of trepidation. Having read “The Why of Work”, the best approach is with an open mind, a small pinch of salt – and with sufficient time to take on board what Ulrich (writing with his wife, Wendy, a psychologist) has to say. There is much of immense value here, and much that has the potential to enable leaders and organisations to generate immense value in more than one sense for themselves (and, importantly, both their customers and their shareholders). Like many of the best books in the ‘how to manage business better’ arena, my biggest qualm is that those who stand to gain most from reading it are those least likely to read it.

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One of the obsessions of modern life is speed – everything must be faster than before, and everything is always urgent. Browsing the web – and mindful of some of the pearls of wisdom in Michael Foley’s The Age of Absurdity (reviewed here recently) – we thought we’d take a moment to point you to two posts that highlight different aspects of timescale and pace. (To see a complete list of all our signposts to some of the Web’s finer moments, see our Crackers page).

  • Patience.. Virtue And Discipline: Gwen Teatro’s You’re Not the Boss of Me is usually a thoughtful read. This post reminds us that patience has its benefits – supporting the development of late bloomers, encouraging us to reflect, probe and explore, and helping us make better decisions. Curiosity might be said to kill the cat, but surely impatience would do the same – only quicker?
  • Once Upon a Time: Wally Bock’s Three-Star Leadership blog is another great resource. Here, Wally benefits from the joint wisdoms of age and hindsight to remind us that, underneath the technology and the initiatives and the imperatives, there are human beings – and their habits and behaviours change slowly. Having the patience to distinguish between ‘change’ and ‘progress’ is definitely a virtue.

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Before we depart to another long weekend of celebration and over-indulgence, a couple of crackers to lighten your diet of rabbit-shaped chocolate novelties and provide a mixture of entertainment and food for thought. Relationships really do matter – not just to our workplace performance, our organisations talent retention strategies, and our likelihood of emotional well-being, but to our cardio-vascular health to. Go easy on the easter eggs, and share a happy Easter with those around you. 

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We figured the Christmas Crackers are probably past their best now, so it was time for the next in our regular series of pointers to thought-provoking posts elsewhere in the blogosphere. A terrific post on a concept for challenging traditional or reductive thinking, and a thought-provoking post on employee engagement and just what it means.

For more useful, provocative or just plain life-enhancing snippets from around the web, see our full Crackers list.

Thinking Both/And: we’ve highlighted her contributions in ‘Crackers’ before, but Sharlyn Lauby’s recent post at The Hr Bartender is truly a cracker. Constructive, positive and challenging – and the concept of ‘Both/And’ is one that deserves greater consideration in many, many aspects of working life. Sharlyn, we will putting pen to paper shortly, and thank you for the inspiration.

What is Engagement, and is it really just about employees?:  as contribution Mike Klein points out, ‘engagement’ may be a hot topic, but discussion suffers from a lack of agreed definition. His post – which has attracted much comment already – particularly struck my attention after reading Richard Donkin’s “The Future of Work” – review to follow – and Donkin’s concern that it is becoming “the one trick pony of modern management”.

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