Carol Breckenridge says her main motivation at work is to make a difference. “It’s not just about the financial reward, but about the difference I can make,” she says. She has certainly been able to do that in her role at Lloyds Banking Group where she is a passionate advocate for agile working.
It was Carol who sought out Workingmums.co.uk in 2011 because she wanted to explore what more could be done to attract more female talent to the business. Workingmums.co.uk has always emphasised the importance of advertising new flexible jobs, including senior flexible jobs. Carol has championed that approach and has been promoting and supporting Lloyds’ new agile hiring initiative in her role as a recruitment manager as well as acting as liaison for Workingmums.co.uk’s employer roundtables, held at Lloyds London office. The roundtables are an opportunity for top employers to discuss best practice and drive change more broadly across all sectors. In addition Carol has helped to get the voices of colleagues for whom an agile approach has made all the difference heard, including those with mental health challenges and dads with children with special needs. And it was Carol who wrote Lloyds’ submission for the Workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Awards, which led to it winning the overall Top Employer Award and top employer Talent Attraction.
“I truly believe in agile working and hiring,” she says. “The biggest barrier we have is that organisations do not really understand it and the business benefits it brings. Sharing people’s stories shows that impact. Sometimes the biggest impact comes from the smallest changes.”
Carol has very personal reasons for supporting agile working. She started her career as an agency recruiter. It was a role she loved as it was very varied. After a few years, she took up a job in Edinburgh as a recruitment consultant. The commute to her home in Fife was long – she had to leave at five on the dot and would not be home until 7pm. She knew she wanted to start a family and would not have a good work life balance if she continued along the career path she was on.
She also knew that it would be difficult to climb the career ladder while working part time. “There was a lack of understanding about what agility is,” she says. “I really feel that just because I am working in an agile way now does not mean that I am not giving as much as someone who is present in the office from 9-5. Progressing your career if your employer does not understand these issues is difficult.”
Carol was working in a general HR role when she had her son in 2006. She decided she wanted to reduce her hours to 24 a week when she returned from maternity leave. Soon after, though, she took another role and started working a four-day week, taking Wednesday off so she could break up the week and so that she was only ever away from her son for two days at a time. She has kept that working pattern through her second maternity leave with her daughter in 2009 and ever since. She admits that it has been a struggle, until recently, to retain that pattern and keep moving up the career ladder and that she has had to pass up opportunities to progress as a result.
When she came back from her second maternity leave Carol – who faced a three-hour commute to work – returned to a new role. Her hours were agreed to enable the flexibility she needed to pick up her children and she was told she could do some homeworking. However, Carol found that she was in the office on occasions that it was agreed she was due to work from home. That created childcare difficulties for Carol who had to ask her mother to help out, even though she worked full time and was caring for her aunt. “There was no business rationale for me to be there,” says Carol. It created many difficulties and affected not only the work relationship, but my mental health and my relationship with my children.”
Nowadays Carol works part-time hours in a fully agile way, so she can do the school run for her son, now aged 11 and her daughter now aged eight. She travels regularly to the office for meetings and to other events. Lloyds has adopted a truly agile model of working and it forms a core part of their culture.
Carol has not only helped to promote Lloyds’ agile working model externally, but she has also helped shape it in her role as a recruitment manager.
Since the roll-out of the agile hiring initiative, she has had to challenge managers who have contacted HR with a vacancy which has no mention of agility. “It’s about having a candid dialogue with managers and challenging their thinking about agility,” she says, adding that the need to make such challenges is fast reducing as the policy becomes embedded. “Candidates want to know the degree of agility available. We want to make that clear. It is good for managers too. It makes them think about roles differently before the interview. Everyone’s needs are different and it means managers have taken that into account before it is brought up at interview. It is then about the conversation. Every time you ask why something has to be done in a certain way it forces people to think of the business reason. That is good for business.”
Carol is currently on secondment and working as a business support consultant. Her responsibilities cover recruitment governance within People Service Delivery and Chief Operating Office as well as divisional head count and budget controls.
She took the secondment as she wanted to take a step back, broaden her transferable skills and obtain valuable experience in business management . “It has been a refreshing change, having breadth and depth is so important,” she says.
She was selected for Lloyds’ Women in Leadership programme in 2016. “You don’t get that opportunity if you are not delivering,” she says. “Working from home means I can give a bit extra because I don’t have to rush for the train and feel exhausted from the commute. It’s all about trust and treating people like grown-ups. It’s all about the person not their circumstances. It’s about getting the best talent and keeping ahead of the curve.”
Carol met with MSPs in September along with colleagues across the business to discuss Lloyds’ agile hiring initiative and agile culture as they were keen to hear what works and what doesn’t in moving towards more agile ways of working across the country. They were also keen to share best practice with other organisations large and small across Scotland. Carol says it is all about sharing stories and speaking openly about the challenges as well as the huge benefits that agile working brings.
She adds: “Having experienced the benefits, we have a responsibility to educate others about them and to help enable the free movement of talent. Lloyds Banking Group have truly embraced agility in every sense and for this, my family and I are truly grateful.”