There are plenty of ways for employers to nurture staff loyalty: an air hockey table, beanbags and a healthy supply of Haribo would make certain employees extremely happy.
In the absence of those wonderful things, some companies are embracing flexible working arrangements to make workers’ lives easier – but is the transition to laissez-faire employment inevitable?
‘Gone are the days of “presenteeism”,’ according to Sarah Lord, a partner at Mazars.
Lord, who joined Mazars 18 months ago because ‘she wanted to be in an environment that was modern for a working mum’, said: ‘Firms need to embrace flexible working if they want to attract and retain talent.
‘It used to be about pay and pensions, but employees now place a lot of value on a flexible working environment. I think it builds loyalty if done well.
‘One of the attractions when I joined was agile working, which has exceeded expectations. I’ve got two children – if a business is very open, people aren’t thinking “where’s Sarah?” when something’s popped up with the kids.’
Tom Emery, HR director at Brooks Macdonald, agrees that in most organisation flexible working will be inevitable ‘in an age of increased connectivity’.
‘It’s motivating, builds loyalty and people value it. It’s helpful if you’re at home if your boiler breaks, for example. It’s something my team and I value,’ he explained.
‘We need to give people equal opportunities to excel, which will give us a commercial advantage. Ending flexi-work could lose us talent. It’s becoming a differentiator – people will be attracted to more flexible companies.’
He added: ‘As part of our diversity drive and to remain competitive, we’ve launched an informal flexible working policy.
‘People can work from home, remotely and different hours with earlier or later start and finish times. We’re managing people around what they’re achieving rather than hours spent at their desks.
‘We recently started welcoming applications from people wanting to work flexibly. We put that on job adverts so applicants know.’
Coutts’ market leader Rebecca Hughes believes that allowing employees to be more flexible with their working patterns helps generate goodwill which is ‘important for the City post-2008 and Brexit’.
‘Ask anyone who’s been here for a long time they will say it builds loyalty. We don’t have a negative culture but there’s more we can do at the top to hold on to people.’
Making it work in practice
Lord said that at Mazars everyone has a laptop and a locker. ‘We have hot desking and breakout areas where people collaborate, high desks and ones with one or two screens.
‘The London office has embraced agile office design since the refit last April, but Mazars had flexible working before then. We’ve made offices agile as they’ve changed locations or been refitted.’
Hughes said: ‘People in a fast-paced industry want a better work-life balance. One employee helps in his family’s restaurant and we accommodate later start and leave times. It’s important the organisation supports family values.
‘Lots of people who aren’t in frontline roles work from home, they have that comfort and get their kids to school. There is an acceptability of the culture of flexi-work.’
Agile working is not an exclusive practice reserved for the few, the trio said. Regardless of gender, mental well-being or age, staff at Mazars and Coutts can agree alternative arrangements with their managers – underpinned, of course, by trust.
Lord said: ‘We take pride in our inclusivity and put equal focus on men’s and women’s needs. It’s embedded within the culture. In London we have a big graphic saying agile, which shows how we work.
‘A lot of it does come down to trust and people recognising that if they’re not working they will get found out.’
Emery added: ‘It’s open to everybody with the caveat that it needs to work for the person’s position. All my team can work flexibly because their role allows it.
‘There’s no formal policing as such. My personal approach is to ask my team to put a note in my diary just so I know where they are. If people aren’t working then flexi-work might be withdrawn but I haven’t heard of any occasions like that since we launched it earlier this year.’
Hughes, who looks after a 150-strong team and has witnessed over 15 years of agile working, said: ‘Numerous people have taken advantage of flexi-working. There’s part-time work and job shares, which we’d love to do more of at a senior level. More job shares mean we can retain senior female talent returning from maternity leave.
‘Whoever’s working from home knows there’s a responsibility to give clients the same experience as they would in the office. If we get adverse feedback then that’s a big flag. It’s rare, but easy to identify. If someone’s struggling at home they may need to be coached, trained or come to work more.’