Flexible work policies keep us ahead – City firm

City firm KPMG stays ahead of the game by keeping a lookout for new developments in flexible working. Workingmums talks to the firm’s head of diversity.

More and more employees are asking for flexibility and employers who want to have a cutting edge are making sure that they are on top of the latest in flexible options.

One such employer is international accounting and consulting firm KPMG. Sarah Bond, head of diversity at KPMG, says of those KPMG employees who request flexible working formally, 98% are granted it.

Between a quarter and a third of those requests are from men and she says increasing numbers of men are applying for flexible working.

A recent survey of 900 people on the firm’s advisory team showed that 60% worked flexibly, the vast majority through an informal arrangement with their line manager. The survey also showed that more men were working flexibly – ie working some days from home or working flexi-hours which KPMG calls glide time  – than women. Women were much more likely, however, to work part-time.

No value judgements

KPMG does not ask people who do request flexible working formally the reason why. They just want to know what the business case is for working more flexibly and how the person’s team are going to manage it. ”It takes some of the value judgements away,” says Bond.

She has been in post for around four years. The company was already offering some forms of flexible working when she started, but this has extended in the last few years. For instance, the company has recently introduced annualised days whereby employees can contract to work a certain number of days a year. Bond says they are always looking for new ways of keeping ahead on flexible working. “We want to attract the best people and our recruits are increasingly asking for flexible working,” she says. Flexible working is increasing across the board. New graduates are interested in home working, unpaid leave and career breaks.

She adds that the company is clear that offering a good flexible working package boosts retention of skilled staff. “People who work part-time are less likely to leave KPMG,” she says. “We retain our talent and our employees are more satisfied.”

KPMG does an annual employee survey and it shows that in some areas flexible workers rate the company more positively than others.

Award-winning strategy

The company does not advertise that it promotes flexible working in specific jobs adverts, although it does advertise some part-time opportunities. It prefers to negotiate flexible working as part of the recruitment process, but it hopes that its reputation for encouraging flexible working – it recently won an Opportunity Now award for its flexible working policy – will go before it and encourage applicants.

KPMG is involved in various pieces of research which promote flexible working, including the recent Cranfield School of Management and Working Families report Measuring Up – the Impact of Flexible Working Practices on Performance. One of KPMG’s partners, Neil Sherlock, is chair of the trustees at Working Families.

Another piece of research which has just begun is with the London Business School, looking at the career expections, hopes and aspirations of women from Generation Y [those born between 1978 and 1998].

Bond says she has not noticed any particular effect on flexible working from the economic downturn, but interestingly her reply is more about employee confidence that employer attitudes. She says she does wonder if people will feel less able to apply for flexible working as a result: “If you have been out of the workforce for a period of time, you might feel less confident to negotiate flexible working.”

She adds that KPMG are constantly looking out for new ways of helping people work in the ways they want to. “One of the things we continue to do is to ensure that we are ahead of what is happening in flexible working because this is what makes us competitive and attractive.”

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