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My company has a gym, a nice swimming pool, squash court, badminton court et al but the employees are not allowed to use during working hours. The employees can only use from 6 am - 8 am and from 5 pm - 8 pm.

The reason behind this policy is based on the below story. One of our clients during their visit to our company, questioned our senior management like this: "How do you guarantee that we get a full day's work from your employees when we see your employees working out in the gym during lunch hour and other times of the day?" To which our management response was the above policy.

The problem I have with this policy is I have never been able to use these facilities because of various reasons (like 6 am is too early for me to be in office, 5 pm also does not work out as some meetings go beyond 5pm etc.). I would have preferred the facilities to be available throughout the day so that I can choose to work out if I had an hour or so free time available. Also because of the above policy, gym is almost always full with long wait lines at the treadmill etc.

My question is how differently our senior management should have responded to the client's question (which in my opinion is a fair question, since they are paying) instead of coming up with this policy (which also in my opinion is a very honest approach by my employer, but does not really help employees in using the facilities).

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Sounds like a knee jerk reaction from senior management that indicates the client is more important than the employees and productivity. –  Stephen Dec 6 '12 at 14:34
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What business are you in that you even have to answer this question? If your billing is time based and you have not overbilled, is it any of their business. If you are selling a product or service, even less so. –  cdkMoose Dec 6 '12 at 17:28
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Building this stuff indicates that ensuring employees' wellness is a core value of the company. You don't move on your core values just because a client asks about it. Perhaps they acquired this facility with the stuff already there? –  JohnMcG Dec 6 '12 at 18:11
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Overall I think the answers are correct, the company should value and trust their employees more than that. However, let's think about how you've framed this problem. 1) clients are paying for your workday (I don't know how, but that's what it sounds like). 2) You haven't had time to go to the gym in the hours given (outside of 8-5). Conclusion if you did go to the gym, it would in fact cut into your workday, reducing it from 8 hours, since if you don't have time to go to the gym outside those hours, you wouldn't be able to make up work time either (which is paid by client). –  NickC Dec 6 '12 at 21:21
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That seems like a knee-jerk reaction and poorly ruled on the part of management, in response to a rude question from the client. What if the question had been phrased, "How do you guarantee that we get a full day's work from your employees when we see your employees eating lunch during their lunch hour?" Heaven forbid that employees get to use their break however they choose, especially in a productive manner! The question was probably posed by one of those "ask questions first, think later" kind of executives, and your management didn't stick up for the rights of their staff. –  Derek Dec 6 '12 at 21:47
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8 Answers 8

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I think I would have simply responded that:

By allowing them the freedom to use the exercise facilities when they need to, we encourage staff to find positive outlets for their stress – if they have had a tough morning or a long meeting, a workout before they go back to other duties helps them to mentally reset. There’s a good article in Forbes on this.

Reducing workplace stress through exercise has a huge impact on productivity, as many communication problems arise when one or both parties are stressed. Giving employees the choice about managing their stress when they need to has huge benefits.

It can also be a good space to puzzle out a difficult problem; we find that when some of our senior staff are mentally roadblocked, a thirty minute gym session and time to think can solve the issue. Better they are working out and thinking than spinning their wheels at their desk.

And, to be honest, the employees do see it as a perk, which helps to increase employee retention and team stability at a very small overhead cost.

So, basically highlighting how allowing the employees to access to the gym when they need to helps to ensure the success of their project with clearer communications, less wasted time and better staff retention.

While we don’t have an onsite gym, a bunch of people (including myself and my former manager) walk, run, swim or gym at irregular times of the working day for all of the above reasons.

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fantastic answer. What I especially like about it is how it elegantly turns what could potentially be a three-way conflict into a reasonable balance of the interests of client, management and employees –  gnat Dec 7 '12 at 8:49
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@GuyM The client's concern is a full day's work. Where did you address that in your less than 5 minute typed answer? The points should have been honest time charging, evidence of productivity increase, etc. so that the client would know they get what they pay for! –  scaaahu Dec 8 '12 at 13:05
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@Scaaahu - Another fair point, although its hard to shorten the answer and give more (operational) details. My approach with a pushy client is usually to focus on the reason why we have adopted that particular business process - ideally backed by references - rather than get drawn into a discussion about operational details. From my perspective, your approach could give an opening to start them challenging the financial terms of the contract and/or impose an improved auditing system, which is possibly why it was asked in the first place. –  GuyM Dec 8 '12 at 21:29
    
@Scaaahu - I'm happy to try and come up with a better answer based on your feedback, or would you rather have a go? –  GuyM Dec 8 '12 at 21:30
    
@GuyM I am an observer. It's up to you to edit your answer. I won't answer this question. I had my comments because many readers of this Q&A ignored the clients. If no client, then no money, then no employer, then no job, then no workplace, then no gym. This question would be void. –  scaaahu Dec 9 '12 at 1:41
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I am willing to bet this is not the first time management has had such a reaction to a client request, and that this has been a pattern.

Their response should have been:

Just like we trust you that you will pay us for our work, we can only work together if you trust us to follow through with our responsibilities.

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+1 for a very tactful answer. –  Blrfl Dec 6 '12 at 21:32
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"How do you guarantee that we get a full day's work from your employees when we see your employees working out in the gym during lunch hour and other times of the day?"

"We hire people we think will behave like grown-ups and treat them that way."

Although given your management's reaction, I suspect that may not be the case at your company.

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While the client has asked a confrontational question, which essentially challenges "your" management culture and work ethic, it is likely to be drawn from their own views on management. If "you" did respond this way (even if you are thinking it inside, as I would be!) and the client doesn't agree, you are escalating the confrontation, rather than reassuring the client. While some clients would respect the head-on confrontation as a sign of strength, in my experience these same clients are likely to see "your" trust in "your" staff as a sign of weakness. –  GuyM Dec 6 '12 at 18:28
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@GuyM: I'm fortunate that the people who hire my company don't have the misguided belief that the ability to find and hire people who behave themselves without having to constantly ride herd over them is some kind of weakness. My company is run by its management, not the clients. That the OP's management let one customer cow it into undoing something that's clearly good for the staff (and therefore business) is itself telling. –  Blrfl Dec 6 '12 at 20:45
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Agreed, and as the OP noted he didn't agree with his management's response either. I was interested as to whether when faced with a confrontation client, you (or your current management) would actually escalate things in this way, or look for a win-win outcome. –  GuyM Dec 7 '12 at 0:08
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Reflected on this a little. I think its the use of "grown-ups" I struggle with - its hard to use this in a conversation (except to young children) without sounding patronising. It also doesn't really set any expectation of behaviour or attitude - to set a hyperbolic example, everyone involved in a prison riot is (legally) a "grown-up." In a workplace context, its generally a professional attitude that we value, so your answer would become: "We hire people that we think will behave like professionals, and treat them that way." Which I really like. –  GuyM Dec 8 '12 at 2:53
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Agreed, and I have used that internaly on occasion when managing horizontally or upwards. I would never use that when managing staff or with a client that I didn't have a very close relationship with. –  GuyM Dec 8 '12 at 21:33
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I might answer something like...

We guarantee the quality of work through our rigorous hiring process, holding employees accountable for results, and providing benefits like this gym that increase their loyalty and dedication to the company. In addition, we model good financial stewardship my maximizing our return on investments like this gym by making them available to our employees throughout the day and trusting them to use it appropirately.

How does your company guarantee it gets a full day's work out of its employees?

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Touche. But Kinda confrontational, don't you think? –  kolossus Dec 8 '12 at 19:57
    
Maybe. But I guess I'd prefer that to getting a scared face and thinking, "Crap, how do we guarantee our employees work a full day?" The honest answer is you can't, or at least you can't without measures that would drive most people crazy. –  JohnMcG Dec 10 '12 at 20:18
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Management should have replied with all sort of data showing that the number of hours one works has little bearing on the quality of the work produced, along with studies that show a healthier worker is a more productive worker. Granted, they'd have to do that in a tactful way.

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The OP noted in their comments that their company bills the client at an hourly rate, to a maximum of 8 hours/day. –  GuyM Dec 7 '12 at 6:22
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ROWE would be another strategy that could be used here. The idea being that rather than pay in a straight exchange for time, there is something to be said for effort put into work and thus in paying for a result rather than a time window this may be more economically advantageous at times.


In terms of specifically answering the query from the client, the key is to focus on results rather than minutia of someone working X hours at a task. While this is a paradigm shift, there is something to be said for how much discretionary effort someone put into a task and if the work has creative elements this can make it quite complicated to determine how hard does someone work at a task. In a way this comes back to trust and how much trust does management have in the employees to meet deadlines and manage expectations well.

Office Space had this wonderful line:

That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

Depending on the client, I could imagine they might be rather scared by someone admitting this, intrigued to find a way around it, or shocked that someone would dare say this to another person.

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Since we are looking for answers that do more than just form a list of possibly applicable concepts, this answer is too brief and should be a comment; unless you are planning to expand and explain how this might specifically be applied to this situation in question. –  NickC Dec 7 '12 at 21:35
    
@NickC, I've added more detail to my answer that should make it more applicable to the situation stated. –  JB King Dec 7 '12 at 23:48
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My question is how differently our senior management should have responded to the client's question (which in my opinion is a fair question, since they are paying)

I really don't find this a fair question at all. Wording this diplomatically is the tricky part, but it's really not the client's place to dictate such things. The client is paying for the service of the company as a whole, not the salary expense of its individual employees' time.

If the client pays for a number of hours of the company's time at a given rate, the exchange is ultimately about the value they received for the sum they paid, (within an expected timeline, level of quality, etc.) not how their money was used. What your company pays its employees, how many they assign to a job, how many breaks they take per day and other factors should be the company's own concern.

Taken to an extreme, a client such as this could well decide that the copy paper (or toilet paper) your office uses is too expensive for their taste. Yet you wouldn't switch to the cheaper paper just to please a client: you can reason that it jams the machine and ends up costing more. The cost of a gym facility (both in terms of maintaining it and the cost of employee time spent there) could probably be explained in similar terms: "While this facility does add a cost, we are happy to pay it since we've found it increases our productivity overall."

I think pointing out "our company pays this cost" is important. It should be clear that the client's bill would be the same either way.

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Cost is always an important consideration when choosing a service or product provider, but often the issue of shared values comes into play, and where the marginal difference between provider A and B is miniscule in the grand scope, the shared values will take center stage. Part of the shared values concept encompasses things like operational economizing. That is why the client possibly took issue with the gym use: they weren't aware of or had reached the same conclusion about the value-added benifit of providing it. Manageement should have demonstrated how and why shared values are there. –  JustinC Dec 8 '12 at 16:12
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It's not possible to guarantee that employees are working for 8 hours a day. For example, employees frequently waste time online, bullshitting on the phone or with coworkers, etc. If you give employees outlets involving physical exercise such as the facilities your company has, it will probably increase productivity due to reducing employee stress. Furthermore, who's to say that your employees don't think about work when they're at the gym? I'd say the client's concerns are not well founded and the client should be concerned with whether or not the work is getting done to his/her satisfaction, not a guarantee of hours worked.

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agreed - but how would you have responded to the clients, face to face, if they asked you (as a senior manager) this question? –  GuyM Dec 7 '12 at 18:44
    
@GuyM "I see your concern, but we feel that our employee's productivity has been positively affected by the availability of these facilities. Have you had any problems or dissatisfaction with the work we've been doing or is there anything we can improve on?" At this point the client will either drop the issue altogether or keep complaining. If the client keeps complaining, that is when you can either explain that you have measures in place to monitor employee's work time, or just blow the client off. –  KyleM Dec 7 '12 at 19:57
    
Good response. I'd suggest that you edit your original answer above to include it above as it will make it easier to see. –  GuyM Dec 7 '12 at 20:23
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