People Management: Coaching session

Q: We're recruiting from the public sector and having arguments over time off in lieu. Should we resist?

Oh dear. Time off in lieu, or Toil in the acronym beloved by public sector bureaucrats, is very problematic. It occurs in its most extreme form where the organisational culture is almost entirely staff-centred and not client-focused.

We can all remember the days of local authorities dominated by staff interests and where, for example, housing centres would close down completely for 'staff training', with the opening hours set for the convenience of staff and not tenants. Not a servicecentred approach!

We cannot afford this culture in the third sector. One of our defining characteristics is commitment and dedication to our users, clients and supporters.

Part of our added value is our flexibility and lack of bureaucracy.

You certainly have to avoid developing an HR system which is based on inflexible rules and bureaucratic procedures. I would be worried that the Toil issue is just symptomatic of a move to an unhealthy organisational culture where clients don't come first.

The last thing you want are lots of arguments about what does and does not count as time off. Next you'll be getting people asking you for time off for travelling to conferences or training!

Of course, there is a question of balance here. Generally, our staff are known for their commitment, and indeed sometimes we have to force them out of the door. I certainly believe that if a member of staff has been putting in very long hours working on a particular project, then it's a good thing to tell them to have a day off. I'm a strong believer in staff being told they must take all of their leave entitlement (it's surprising sometimes how many staff don't do this).

And, of course, as chief executives, we need to keep an eye on the health and welfare of all our staff and make sure that things aren't becoming just too difficult. An informal system for dealing with problems and conflicts, based on flexibility on both sides, is best. But as far as I'm concerned, a clock-watching attitude is something to be discouraged.

- Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send questions to

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