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Working Forward: examples of good practice

Upskilling line managers to prepare for flexible working

By Julie McCarthy, Nationwide Building Society 

Nationwide Building Society is a modern mutual and our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) Strategy is a fundamental part of our wider HR strategy. We want to build an agile talented and diverse workforce that will enable our organisation, our people and our customers to thrive now and in the future.  A core part of our ED&I Strategy is Workplace Flexibility.

Like many organisations we have recognised that despite a clear and supportive policy on flexible working, our working culture has struggled to fully embrace a modern and output-focussed approach that facilitates a variety of working patterns and locations. This has been exacerbated by an apparent lack of senior leaders who role modelled flexible working, plus a focus on face to face meetings.

Research amongst groups of Nationwide women carried out by our employee network GEM (gender equality matters) had also shown us that barriers to working more flexibly (actual or perceived), were seen as key factors to inhibiting career progression.  In addition, those at middle and senior management levels typically score lower for work-life balance on employee engagement questionnaires.

So, despite our comprehensive flexible working policy, it was clear to us that we needed to change our overall approach to flexible working, so that our policy could be used to its full advantage to benefit our employees and the business.

Our approach was threefold:

  • Increase awareness of our policy, share success stories and increase the visibility of role models across the business, including in the branch network.
  • Develop line manager resources, training and advice.
  • Increase the number of job roles at middle management and above that were suitable for part–time or job sharing.

In relation to raising awareness and providing resources for line managers, we recently introduced an ED&I Managers’ toolkit, which was informed by our own people managers and designed to help integrate ED&I into all aspects of our work and help create an even more diverse and inclusive organisation. This provided a perfect opportunity to help change attitudes. 

On the Nationwide intranet, line managers are given information, tips, guidance and case studies on:
1. What flexible working means
2. Different working patterns they support
3. The benefits of flexible working
4. Best practice approaches to managing a flexible team
5. Tips for managing a flexible team
6. Tips for successfully working flexibly yourself
7. Common challenges and how to overcome them
8. Promoting flexible working within your team

We developed a specific section on workplace flexibility, which includes lots of tips for simple actions that managers can take to manage flexible working, both for themselves and across teams. It doesn’t just regurgitate existing policies, but rather, provides context around the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ of successful flexible working.  For example, advice on how to respond to a flexible working request (which includes being open minded and trusting and making sure proposals are discussed across the team). Case studies were also included, to demonstrate how flexible working has been implemented successfully within different departments and it contains links to further guidance and support.

The toolkit is simple to navigate with easily digestible information. Other sections support flexible working by, for example, advising a more pragmatic approach to recruitment. This has resulted in more vacancies being advertised as suitable for flexible or part time working and hiring managers being challenged when initially requesting a single role or full time vacancy advert.  We are yet to see the impact this may have on our current maternity return rate of 86%.

We have definitely made progress in helping to change traditional attitudes towards working patterns and approaches. Our managers are empowered to make decisions that help to deliver the outcomes the business requires and support their employees’ work-life balance wherever possible. In our branches where, for example, home working is clearly not an option, some flexibility does work. Most of our Branch staff are contracted to work 35 hours per week. With Saturday opening and some Branches opening later on week days, a flexible approach is required to ensure that we have cover at all times. This can benefit both the business and employee. For example some staff may choose to work every Saturday, taking time off in the week which could cut child care costs.

Meanwhile, in our head office and admin sites a recent initiative to promote flexible or ‘Dynamic’ working has reduced the number of desks and freed up space for video conferencing and collaboration areas. Use of technology has reduced the number of face to face meetings, resulting in cost avoidance at the very highest level and increased flexibility for our employees.

Our flexible working approach is certainly moving at a pace, but we still have more work to do. Job sharing, which can be a great solution to part time working in senior roles, is part of our policy but is not widely taken up.  This is our next key priority, so watch this space…. 

Supporting employees through maternity workshops

By Lara Nicoll, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Ford 

Understanding and supporting our employees through life changing experiences is a crucial part of Ford’s engagement and retention strategy. When an employee goes through significant change in their personal circumstances, it’s important for us to recognise that they may also require additional practical and emotional support from the Company so that they can continue to contribute to their full potential.
So what do we do? Ford’s in-house Maternity Workshop is one of the ways in which we offer support to expectant mothers. Facilitated jointly by the Diversity and Inclusion Manager and Lead Maternity Advisor, the workshop is open to all employees during their pregnancy and offers a neutral and confidential space to discuss all matters related to maternity.
On a practical level, the workshop takes employees through Health and Safety, their legal rights and Company policy to ensure attendees have a detailed understanding of what they are entitled to during pregnancy and maternity leave. The workshop also covers returning to work and the types of flexible working arrangements available at Ford. We have found that discussing return to work strategies during the workshop encourages employees to consider, and discuss with their line manager, the type of return they might want sooner rather than later, so that appropriate plans can be put into place. This can really help facilitate a smoother transition back to the workplace.
In addition to the practical course content, the workshop aims to support employees’ emotional needs. We have found that the women attending the workshop very much appreciate the networking opportunity it presents to meet other expectant mothers.  As many of the workshop attendees are often first time parents, the workshop includes a peer-to-peer exercise, which provides those attending with the opportunity to discuss any concerns they may have that extend beyond work.  Feedback suggests that such dialogue often leads to a sense of shared experience, which in turn can help to reduce anxiety and create a more positive experience for all involved.
The workshop closes with a presentation from the Ford Parents Network – the Company’s internal resource group for employees with parenting responsibility - and the gift of a children’s book.
Here at Ford we often ask ourselves ‘what could make our programmes more successful?’. Although all of the practical elements covered on the course are readily available on the Company’s internal website, by bringing employees together and talking about both the excitement and sometimes the anxiety of pregnancy, we create a more personalised environment where women can talk about any concerns they may have more openly. This also increases organic learning, as attendees often bounce questions and ideas off one another, which means that they learn from and through each other.
In summary, Ford believes that the Maternity Workshop is a key part of our overall maternity policy, bringing a unique and different dimension to the support we are able to offer to our employees. To ensure the workshop meets its objectives, we continually look at opportunities to evolve the materials and most recently we have added the EHRC’s Power to the Bump video. In addition, feedback has suggested that expectant fathers could also benefit from a similar workshop. So, we plan to roll out a pilot for a new and expectant Father’s Workshop in 2017. 

How we make flexible working work for us

By Robyn Fisher, HR and Reward Business Partner at Mitie

At Mitie, we believe that our success is all down to our people: they are our biggest asset.

That means, when it comes to being flexible, we must do our utmost to keep the best people so that we can continue to provide world-class service to our clients. Our values are to excel, challenge and inspire and we need to bring these to life in everything that we do.

Flexible working at Mitie isn’t just for parents, it’s open to everyone, and we make sure we communicate that. The business world is changing around us and, with pressure for office space, increased commuting times and better communication, we need to think differently about how we work in order to keep up. Gone are the days when everyone had to sit in an office with their team at all times. Our business is mobile: we have numerous client sites, lots of offices and a huge geographic area to cover. 

So, what do we do? Well, we encourage anyone to request flexible working if they wish to. We are open about the fact that we consider each request carefully and challenge our perceptions of what’s possible. We find a solution that works for the individual and for the business. We are not afraid to trial a flexible working arrangement. Instead we think, “what’s the worst that can happen?” Then we can demonstrate to the individual that we have tried and, if it doesn’t work, then the reasons for that should be transparent to all parties. Both parties need to be realistic about what’s possible, but if flexible working isn’t an option in one role, there are plenty of other opportunities in our internal vacancies where it may be, which enables us to retain good people across the business.

What can help to make it more successful? Flexible working doesn’t mean less productivity and line managers and colleagues need to understand that. In most cases, it can actually mean increased productivity and increased engagement. We want to give managers the confidence and training to be open with their teams about the benefits and challenges of flexible working, to embrace modern communication channels in order to manage different working arrangements, and to value diversity within their team. We don’t want clones to come to work - we want people who are committed and engaged with the business to come and do a great job. 

Our top tips for employees and line managers include setting up regular Skype calls if team members spend some time at home, and scheduling meetings appropriately if team members work reduced hours.  We know from experience that the little things can make a big difference to people! It is also important to set clear objectives for team members who are working flexibly so that they always know what is expected from them. From a policy and process point of view, make sure you have clear, easily accessible documents and guidance for managers and employees, so they know what to do when it comes to putting forward or handling flexible working requests.

At Mitie, we will continue to look at new and different ways of adapting roles to flexible working requests. All we know for certain is that some of the best people want to work flexibly, so we need to adjust our perceptions and our ways of working to ensure that we retain them.

Our four steps to leading on inclusion

By Nicola Paul, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at the John Lewis Partnership

It takes a combination of activities to make a workplace more inclusive, not just one. In the Partnership we have created a framework for driving a more inclusive workplace, which highlights the type of activities that make the biggest difference.

In the Partnership, our framework is in four stages.

  1. We've started by creating the drive amongst our Partners for creating a more inclusive workplace
  2. We then provide the business with the knowledge about the practices that will make us more inclusive and insight into what our data suggests
  3. We then formulate a strategy, setting effective objectives throughout the organisation
  4. Finally, we have to take action that will make the required difference and stick to our intentions

When it comes to creating the drive there are three key activities to undertake. First, communicate the business case for diversity and continually talk about it. Secondly, to identify diverse role models from around our business. But thirdly, and probably most importantly, our leaders to make a personal commitment towards diversity and inclusion.

Many organisations will say that having their CEO or Chairman advocating diversity and inclusion has been pivotal for driving change in the business and I agree. Leaders at every level should take time to explore the commercial opportunities that a diverse workforce and customer base presents. Leaders should be aware of the positives and challenges facing different groups of employees. If possible, leaders should make themselves available for sponsoring  aspiring employees from underrepresented demographics. Leaders need to build their ability to talk about inclusive workplaces confidently, knowledgeably and passionately. If possible, they should speak about inclusivity outside of their business as this undoubtedly has an impact on attracting people to an organisation. How they do all of this is down to the leader and their individual creativity.

When it comes to our working mothers this visible, proactive leadership is incredibly important. There is a multitude of arrangements and emotions to handle when finding out you're going to be a mother and then returning to work. Having the knowledge that the leadership in your business will support and reinforce the importance of you being supported through this time is vital. It requires more than just endorsement - we need leaders to speak up in support of and on the behalf of people from all backgrounds.

Spotlight on leadership

As one of the four Working Forward pledge areas, leadership is critical to leading the culture change needed to retain new and expectant mothers.     

Strong leadership from the top down is key to building the right foundation. It ensures that everyone in the company is aware of your policies and commitments and on board with your aims so that supporting pregnant women and new mothers becomes part of the culture.

By developing their talent pipeline and recruiting, supporting and retaining the best candidates whatever their background or family situation, our Founding Members can ensure they benefit fully from the investment they make in staff and lead their respective industries.

Mitie Chief Executive Ruby McGregor-Smith explains what leadership means to her:

“We want to recruit, retain and develop the very best, and that means getting the right mix of people,” says Mitie CEO Ruby McGregor-Smith who is the company’s first female board member and has a personal commitment to supporting women within the organisation.

“As a working mother with two children, I know the challenges faced in balancing a career with family. Mitie takes a more progressive approach to flexible working, and offers additional support such as childcare vouchers and a maternity coaching programme. I have also set five-year internal targets to make sure all areas of diversity are met across the business.”

Read about our tips to establishing high-level corporate leadership for working mothers.

  • Nominate a representative at board level to focus on improving practice in relation to pregnancy, maternity and return to work. Make sure everyone else knows about them.
  • Communicate your commitment to supporting pregnant women and new mothers to your employees, customers and suppliers.
  • Set targets for retention of women returning from from maternity leave, and be accountable for these.
  • Monitor changes and use the data to identify and address barriers to women progressing or being retained in the workplace.


Royal Mail Group: flexible working helps to accelerate careers

Emma Wickham and Toni Jeffryes talk to Delivery Sector manager Marie Forrester about how job sharing has enabled them to fast-track their career at Royal Mail Group whilst managing their childcare commitments.

The job share was first conceived when Toni met Marie whilst she was speaking at one of Royal Mail’s Springboard events. These events aim to inspire women and help them reach their full potential.

Job sharing allows Toni and Emma the flexibility to cover their childcare needs whilst still delivering great service for Royal Mail customers. It also allows Royal Mail Group to make full use of their talent pipeline by developing more of the women already working for the organisation.

BT Group: supporting line managers by developing a maternity handbook

Equality Specialist Sally Ward and Openreach General Manager Jo Koroma discuss a new handbook that BT has created to support line managers when managing employees who are pregnant or returning from maternity leave.

The handbook was developed in collaboration with BT’s Women’s Network, using the experiences of women who have undergone pregnancy and maternity at BT to help identify practical advice and top tips for line managers.

Written in an informal style, the handbook is intended to complement BT’s policies and support line managers in improving the lived experience of the women they are managing. It is complemented by an employee handbook.

Barclays: ensuring confident employees through a one-to-one coaching programme

Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion Mark McLane and Deputy Head of EMEA Power, Utilities and Infrastructure, Sally Rushton discuss a one-to-one coaching programme which Sally set up to ensure Barclays employees are confident throughout pregnancy, maternity and their return to work.

Through the coaching programme Sally also helps to ensure that employees are confident in Barclays’ commitment to ensuring that women feel well supported and can continue to develop their careers at Barclays after becoming a mother.