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What EY learned from introducing flexible working

Global professional services firm EY has been working with Timewise for a number of years, to champion and showcase the value of flexible working to UK business. We asked them to share their insights into why it’s important and what the impact has been, so that other businesses can benefit.

Man and woman talking

By Cathy Halstead, Editor, Timewise

Here at Timewise, we are keen to share our flexible working expertise as widely as possible. But as we all know, the peer to peer viewpoint is also a highly useful resource. So we asked Justine Campbell, EY’s Managing Partner for Talent, UK and Ireland – responsible for attracting and retaining talent – to share what the firm has learned, and how it has benefitted, from the journey to a fully flexible culture. Here are her insights.

1. The future of work is flexible; adapt or get left behind

As our recent Power 50 awards highlighted, flexible working is no longer about people juggling caring responsibilities. People of all ages, from all sorts of backgrounds, are choosing to work flexibly for a wide range of reasons. The result, Justine believes, is that flexible working is no longer a nice to have; it’s becoming an expectation from prospective employees.

“In a 24/7 global culture, backed up by supportive technology, flexibility is becoming the norm. So any employer that wants to be truly competitive needs to have flexible working as standard. It’s a business imperative.”

2. Flexible hiring is a critical tool in the battle for the best talent

It seems obvious, then, that making flexible working available to potential candidates should be part of a future-focused firm’s recruitment strategy. But being willing isn’t enough, says Justine.

“If you want to attract the best talent, you need to be prepared to shout about your approach to flexible working, not wait to be asked. And given the number of hires we make each year – over 2,000 experienced candidates in 2018 – this is something we take seriously.

“We state clearly that our roles are open to flexibility, and empower and challenge our hiring teams and line managers to deliver on this. For us, the key question is not ‘Can we make it work’ but ‘How can we make it work?’”

3. Offering employees flexible working brings you more than just loyalty

Similarly, flexible working has a big impact on retention; by offering people what they want, you’re more likely to keep hold of them for longer. And it doesn’t end there, according to Justine.

“We often say that you can’t put a price on flexible working. Speaking personally, I wouldn’t trade my flexibility for a salary hike; it’s worth too much to me. But at a firm-wide level, being able to hang on to talented employees is about more than just retention rates.

“For example, Michael Heap, who was a 2019 Timewise Power Climber, now works for us three days a week, to free up time to develop his own tech business (Tmup). This is teaching him new skills and developing his entrepreneurial abilities. EY and our clients will benefit from that as much as we do from his day-to-day experience.

4. Flexible workplaces tend to be more diverse – and that’s good for business

Proactively offering flexible working to potential and current employees is also likely to lead to a more diverse workforce. And that has been shown to have a positive impact on the business as a whole, as Justine notes.

“It’s easy for businesses that don’t have diversity of experience to get stuck in their ways. In our world, we need a degree of professional scepticism, which we wouldn’t get if we only had identikit employees. Successful workplaces reflect the outside world, whether that’s in terms of gender, age or ethnicity, and flexible working has a key role to play in making that happen.

5. Formal flexible contracts are important, but informal flexibility is too

Clearly, formally defined arrangements such as part-time or annualised contracts need formal contracts. But Justine has found that incorporating informal flexibility into EY’s culture is also part of the solution.

“We think of it in terms of outputs – that is, what needs to be delivered by when – rather than focusing on how long people are sitting at their desks. So if one of my team wants to go for a run before starting work, or drive home before making a call to avoid the rush hour, that’s fine by me.

“As long as you trust your employees (and if you don’t, perhaps you should question why you employ them), you should be happy for them to work in the way that suits them best. In my experience, it makes people more productive, as well as having a positive effect on their wellbeing and loyalty.”

6. Supportive leadership is the difference between success and failure

However, to make all these elements work together, there’s one factor that can’t be overlooked: the role played by an organisation’s leadership. As Justine explains:

“There are so many factors involved in making flexible working a success, from investing in technology and job design to championing role models and training line managers. It’s not just an add-on or a written policy; you have to embed flexible working into your company culture. And that’s not going to happen unless it comes from the top.

“We have members of our leadership team working part-time or flexing their hours in a variety of ways, and they’re very open about it. That kind of visibility is worth a huge amount; our leaders are not only setting our flexible strategy, they’re also showing by example that it can be done.”

7. Get some support and make a start

As EY’s experience shows, a lot of work goes into creating a successful flexible working strategy. And, as Justine and the team at EY have found, it’s well worth getting expert support.

“We’ve been collaborating with Timewise on our flexible hiring strategy since we started on this journey and their support has been invaluable. They have set the standard for flexible working and will ensure you make a success of it.

“The fact is, if you want to be competitive in the future, you need to be flexible. The future of work starts now; get some support, make a start and make it happen.”

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