Family Friendly Working
Growing numbers of companies are introducing policies to help employees balance their family life with their work, but Deloitte is doing more than most. Kate Hilpern reports.
Imagine if you could work the hours to suit your family life and still have a fulfilling, high-flying career. Imagine if that involved genuinely working part-time (which, as we all know, often means full-time work crammed into shorter hours) and the ability to take chunks of time off in the school holidays, as well as coming in late or leaving early when you need to. Imagine if you could work from home pretty much when it suited you and, for parents returning to work after a baby or a career break, there was a whole range of programmes and company targets to ensure more women reach the top.
For a growing number of employers, this is what they’re working towards and a few – including Deloitte – are already well ahead of the game. ‘Since 2014, we’ve had a major focus on agile working – a way of working that empowers people to work where, when and how they choose, with maximum flexibility and minimal constraints,’ says Clare Rowe, Culture & Inclusion Lead at Deloitte, which is named by Personnel Today, Working Families and Made for Mums (among others) as one of the most family friendly workplaces. ‘It’s about providing value not through presenteeism but focusing on output. Ultimately, it’s about making sure we have an inclusive culture.’
Instead of, ‘No, of course you can’t work from home in this job’ or ‘I’m sorry, but if little Johnny is sick again, we’re going to need to have a talk,’ you’ll hear phrases like ‘trust and respect,’ ‘open and honest communication’ and ‘flexibility and support.’ ‘Although we do have a number of formal and informal agile working policies, it’s bigger than that and more of an approach,’ says Rowe.
Since 2014, formal flexible working at Deloitte has risen by over a third and a recent survey found 70 per cent of people are taking advantage of informal flexible working options. That might mean coming in early, leaving early, taking a couple of hours in the middle of the day or working longer days to create a shorter one, explains Rowe. ‘Obviously it has to work in terms of the job that has to be done, but we try to make it workable and it means everyone – not just working mums – can fit their jobs around their lifestyle.’
A number of people at Deloitte have an annualised days contract, whereby an employee’s hours are expressed as a total number of days to be worked during the course of the year. It means they can work when the firm’s busy, then take more time off during quieter periods or when they have commitments at home, such as the summer holidays.
As required by law, even the parental leave policies have moved away from a traditional model, with maternity, paternity and shared parental leave available for foster parents, adopters, same sex couples and parents who have children by surrogacy. And Deloitte was one of the earliest instigators (many others have caught up now) of a return to work programme, in which people come into client-facing roles on a 25-week paid internship working a four-day week. Towards the end of that period, they discuss whether there’s a role for them. ‘More than 80 per cent have converted into permanent roles, so it’s very successful,’ says Rowe, who adds that it’s not just returning mums with small children that take advantage of it. ‘We’ve seen a diverse mix. One woman had children at university and felt ready to restart her career. Others have had a career break for health reasons or caring responsibilities other than children. And we had our first man on the scheme this year.’;
There’s also coaching available pre, during and post parental leave for parents and their line managers. ‘Beyond the obvious benefits of coaching around the transition back to work, we’ve found it helps parents connect with each other, giving a wider support network – and it’s also on offer for dads,’ says Rowe.
Emergency back-up care for child and elder care means that when an employee’s standard care arrangements fall through at short notice – for example, if the nanny is sick – there are five sessions of care (e.g. one nursery day) a year funded by Deloitte. There’s a Christmas party for employees’ children every year, run by the firm’s Working Families network, as well as parenting related seminars.
There’s still some way to go. ‘If a job is advertised as five-days, we’ll always be happy to explore a part-time version, but that’s not enquired about at interviews often as we’d expect. I think it’s about people feeling uncomfortable about asking too early on; they’re much more likely to ask to switch later on,’ says Rowe.
And, as with most companies, there’s still a gender pay gap. ‘We have a target of 25 per cent female partners by 2020 and we’ve moved from 14 per cent in 2014 to 19 per cent so far. There’ll be more ambitious targets after that of 30 per cent by 2025 and 40 per cent by 2030. We’re going in the right direction, but it’s not a quick fix.’
The bottom line, says Rowe, is that while Deloitte stands out as a family friendly employer, it’s important not to become complacent. ‘We participate in a number of external benchmarks to track our own progress and we’re always keeping an ear to the ground in terms of what we could do next.’
Nina Ledlie, a manager in Deloitte’s Financial Advisory Learning Team, re-joined Deloitte in September 2017, following an eight year career break where she travelled the world and raised her young family
‘After eight years away from work, I felt ready to return but I needed to find a way to balance my work and my family life. I knew I still had a lot to offer, but it’s fairly daunting when you’ve been away from work that long and I did lack confidence.
I spotted the Return to Work programme advertised in a magazine and thought I’d apply. The HR department was brilliant, marrying me up with a department they thought would be a good fit and everyone was so encouraging. “Of course you can do this – you’ve done it before,” the partner of the department told me. The IT bit really worried me, though – as you can feel like a real dinosaur. But we had coaching on that, as well as things like how to manage work life balance.
I did the programme on a four-day week and could work one of those from home, so it was really flexible. And I was offered a permenant role straight afterwards, in the client facing part of the business. The partner in my department asked if I’d considered working annualised days and because my work goes in peaks and troughs it works well. I now do 170 working days a year and can generally work it around school holidays, which has worked hugely in terms of childcare issues. I’m also able to do things like start early and finish early on some days – great for picking up my sons from rugby practice.
I love being back in the workplace – I really haven’t looked back.’
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