Many companies offer flexible working in the UK, but it can be a different matter in countries where the work culture is still fairly traditional.
One multinational company which has ambitions to change work culture globally is Standard Chartered. It has recently extended its flexible working policies across the globe. These include sabbaticals which are offered in nine markets. “It's part of a lifetime career strategy,” says Jacqueline Rolf, Head of Diversity and Inclusion. “We are looking at developing sustainable long-term careers for our employees.”
Staff in countries including the UK and China can apply online for sabbaticals for a wide range of reasons and it is more likely to be granted if they give a specific reason. The most popular option for individuals and for the business is a sabbatical of one year, although in countries like Australia it can be easier to take up to two years. The application is subject to the approval of an employee's line manager.
The policy of extending flexible working across a raft of different markets is, says Rolf, “fairly unusual”. “We are looking to lead the way,” she says. “It's part of how we want to differentiate ourselves. A large proportion of our staff are Generation Y and for them the line between work and life is increasingly blurred. We are looking to the future.”
Standard Chartered operates in 71 countries and it has 87,000 employees from 130 nationalities.
Rolf says they are trying to bring as much consistency to the business as possible, but admits it is not possible to implement all its HR policies in all markets due to specific local regulations. “But we see real merit in trying to offer the core things consistently,” she adds.
“One of the reasons we are keen to make sure that the full range of flexible working is offered across the globe is that women around the world are facing the same conflict between work and family life. Flexible work options will help women feel they don't have to choose between the two,” she says.
Flexible working is offered to all employees, where possible, to provide an inclusive environment. “We want to get the best people for the job and that is often people who don't want to work the standard 9 to 5 in the office,” says Rolf. “It allows us to attract a more diverse talent pool who are more loyal and engaged.”
Standard Chartered offers three main buckets of flexible working: working remotely, flexi time and part time working. Rolf says remote working is one which people feel makes a real impact on their lives and is the most popular form of flexible working in the UK. Rolf feels that many mums have to go part time to get flexibility, but having other options like the ability to work from home regularly can enable them to work full time. However, remote working is less popular in other countries like South Korea, she says.
She adds that in markets where flexible working is not the norm the company has worked with key stakeholders to make sure its policies are aligned with local culture. It has also made a point of engaging senior managers' support and encouraging strong, positive support for flexible working. Leadership is important and creating a mindset which is based on trust, she says, as is training, elearning, intranet support, case studies and employee networks on diversity and inclusion.
In the UK Standard Chartered's parents and careers network helps parents prepare the business case for their flexible working applications. It also gives them a chance to exchange practical experiences. “That can be one of the most powerful things,” says Rolf. “It allows people to be open about the challenges they face.”
Rolf adds that, in addition to flexible working, Standard Chartered offers a range of opportunities for female career progression, such as a women in leadership programme and a mentoring programme among other initiatives. She says the seniority of part time workers has increased. “There's been a realisation that being part time does not mean part-time commitment,” she says.
Although women are still much more likely to apply for part time roles, she says the company is also trying to encourage more dads to apply for flexible working by emphasising that it is alright to work flexibly and will not affect their career progress. “It's about a mindset change,” she says.