Companies need to trust their colleagues to work in the way that best suits them, or they risk missing out on talent, says Rachael Gillett
Often characterised as stuffy and behind the times, the insurance industry has, in recent years, been making positive steps towards a more diverse workforce.
The raised profile of the gender pay gap has done much to encourage the industry to take a long hard look at itself, and steady progress is being made – though this is an issue many of us are still grappling with.
But it’s not just about gender. As an industry, we must adapt with the times and make our workplaces attractive to the best talent, no matter what their gender, stage in life or lifestyle choices. One of the key ways to do this is through offering flexible working – and living it, rather than just using it as a buzzword and recruitment tool. It’s not just about allowing colleagues to work a day a week from home – though that is something which many people really value – but making it easy to work effectively wherever you find yourself on any given day. The right tech is crucial, and if companies haven’t already moved with the times and made this available, it’s long overdue. Video conferencing has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, and it’s now straightforward to link up colleagues around the world via smartphone, iPad and in-office technology. Trust is key too. For too many managers, ‘working from home’ is viewed as a synonym for ‘loading the washing machine and drinking coffee’, and there’s therefore a reluctance to allow people to work away from the office - when actually statistics
bear out the view that many people deliver their best work when trusted to work whenever and wherever it suits them best: at home, working away or at a hotdesk in the office.
Flexibility can mean a multitude of things – from putting an end to set working hours so that colleagues can flex around other commitments, to offering sabbaticals so that great talent doesn’t leave the business burnt out, when an overseas adventure might be just the refresher that’s needed. It could mean offering a nine-day fortnight, job shares, variable start and finish times, career breaks or the ability to buy extra days of holiday.
Trust people to do the job their way. Fundamentally, there’s more value for a business in having engaged people who deliver on their objectives than having them present in a static office for eight hours a day, even if that means allowing total flexibility in where and when they do that work.
Dress code too can play a role. An increasing number of companies are finding that encouraging colleagues to ‘dress for their day’ rather than having a set dress code helps to maintain a positive atmosphere. If desk-based colleagues are happier in jeans and a t-shirt, is that really such a problem? Again, it comes back to trust. If a colleague is having a meeting with the CEO or an external partner and needs to make a good impression, in the majority of cases they will choose to put their most polished self forward and leave the jeans at home for the day. Treat people like grown ups and they’ll usually behave like grown ups!
Wellbeing is crucial too. Companies need to allow time for rest and relaxation. Flexibility might mean someone going out for a run or heading to the gym mid-way through the afternoon, because that’s what helps them recharge their batteries.
A further way to support building a flexible culture is to seek colleagues’ views. Ask them regularly – perhaps via an annual survey – what small changes would make a big difference to the working environment, and where possible, accommodate them. The best relationships between colleague and employer are a dialogue.
All these things both help to attract the best talent, and to retain it. The world has moved on, and work is no longer about the deskbound nine to five. People want to be themselves at work, rather than having a professional persona and a home persona, and need to be able to balance personal commitments, lifestyle choices, hobbies and, in some cases, a portfolio of job roles. The best employers will recognise this. It’s about making workplaces appealing to every generation, too – whether that be young people just starting out in their careers, women returning from a career break or older people who may want a change of scene and come from a completely different industry.
The benefits of flexible working are clear. Companies must recognise the huge shift that’s taking place in working culture or risk missing out on the best talent.