Why Flexible Hours Inspire Performance
"What time do you want me to start work?" That's the question a new hire recently asked me. She looked a little startled by my reply.
"I don't care."
But it was the truth. I didn't care—and I never have—what hours are kept by the people who work for me. You could say I'm the opposite of a control freak, in the sense that I have always resisted rules, for myself and for others. Why? Because once you have rules, you have to enforce them—and there's no more tedious task in life.
I'm relaxed about timekeeping in part because I had great bosses early in my broadcasting career. They didn't care about hours either. They trusted that, with a broadcast date in the schedule, any producer would work their socks off to make the best program on time—because that's how you advanced your career. Nobody ever said, "Wonderful timekeeping, shame about the show!"
And so that's how I've always managed people who worked for me. I've trusted them to get the work done on time and on budget—and they have. Treating employees like grown-ups made it more likely that they would behave the same way. Of course, this also implies that no one person's schedule should mess up anyone else's: we all work collaboratively and to do that, it's helpful to be in the same place at the same time occasionally. But I've rarely had to spell this out.
I have also always taken the same approach to maternity leave. No woman knows exactly what she will want once her baby has arrived: some mothers can't wait to get back to work while others decide that they want to stop for awhile. Their partners' attitudes are unpredictable too. So I've always taken the line: figure out what works for you and let me know. I have never yet had anyone come to me with an unreasonable proposal. Nor have I ever seen two proposals alike. People are different and so are families and I've always assumed that I was the last person to dictate how anyone should feel or behave.
I cannot remember a single instance of being disappointed by this approach. Of course I've had poor or under-performing employees and not a few staffers who were simply in the wrong job. But in none of those cases were hours the problem. Instead, I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of dedicated, committed, energetic individuals whose stamina was hugely enhanced by the freedom to work as they saw fit. They more often exceeded expectations than under-delivered.
'But weren't you afraid of being ripped off?' I'm often asked. Strangely enough, no. I wasn't ripped off, I wasn't disappointed and, perhaps best of all, I didn't have to walk around ostentatiously staring at my watch. There are much better ways to spend precious time.
Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur and author. She has been chief executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation. In 2014, she published her fourth book, A Bigger Prize: How We Can Do Better Than the Competition.