The perils of flexible working

Most agree that flexible working is A Good Thing - but as one charity says, it's also open to abuse...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The British Polio Fellowship says it has sacked one of its fundraisers who had asked to work from home – but turned out to be doing the same job for two other charities too. It claims Andrew Coutts was working full-time for Autism Speaks and part-time for the Dyspraxia Foundation, at a time when he was supposed to be at home working full-time for the BPF. He’s now not only been fired, but also reported to the police (which doesn’t sound terribly charitable to us, although we can see why they’re so upset).

The story (which first appeared in our sister title Third Sector), highlights the big problem with flexible working – it only works if your employees are trustworthy. In fact, the charity says it only realised what was going on when they became suspicious about Coutts’ output (apparently he didn’t raise a penny in 10 months, so it’s not even as though he was any good) and Googled his name – to discover he was doing a similar job for the other two charities. We’re all for labour efficiencies, but that’s probably taking it a bit far.

Now we should stress that Coutts is denying the fraud charges, telling Third Sector: ‘It's an employment issue between myself and the British Polio Fellowship, and I refute the allegation of fraud’. However he did also go on to admit: ‘For a short time I was employed full-time by another organisation, but I did all the work that was expected of me.’ Given that the Autism Speaks charity said he worked there from May to August (is that really a short time?) and he didn’t manage to raise any money in ten months (which we imagine was kind of the expectation), this doesn’t exactly sound like a cast-iron defence.

But it does highlight a big issue for any modern, progressive employer: the amount of trust involved when you allow people to work from home. Although there are all sorts of good reasons to let your people do it (not least legal), the fact remains that you need to be careful: there must be clear deliverables and metrics, and you need to have confidence that the employee can deliver. The best staff may be propelled to new heights if you let them work from home – but there may also be unscrupulous types who try to take advantage.

So make sure that both sides are fully apprised of what’s expected – because if it gets to the stage when you’re Googling your own staff, chances are you’ve probably left it too late...


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