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When Chit Ghee Yeoh applied for the role of director of internal audit at Metro Bank it was advertised as a full-time position. She was upfront about her need to work flexibly and has been doing the job on four days a week for the last 18 months.
The flexible culture at Metro Bank has meant that not only has she been able to make the role work on four days a week, but that the bank has got a highly motivated senior manager who is a passionate advocate of flexible working.
Chit Ghee reports directly to the CEO and the executive team and board and manages a team of six. She previously worked for Deloitte for 15 years, where she reduced to four days after her second daughter started school.
When she applied for the job at Metro Bank, who are one of Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employers, she says the ability to do it in four days was crucial. “If they had not been able to offer me four days I would not have been interested,” she says. “Having worked elsewhere, I was very conscious of how important flexibility and the way it was supported was.”
She did the job as an interim first which gave both her and Metro Bank the opportunity to test each other. “It gave me the opportunity to prove I could do it,” says Chit Ghee. She adds that she believes it is vital to bring flexible working up at interview if it is important. “Otherwise you could end up not being happy and will eventually leave,” she says.
Flexibility is at the centre of how she and her team – and Metro Bank – work. The team is evenly split between the genders and all three women work flexibly. Two work four days each, one from 8am-4pm and the other from 9.30am-4pm. One of the men is a dad and leaves slightly earlier one day a week. Chit Ghee says if anything comes up such as a child’s sickness, there are open conversations about how to manage that. In any event, mobile working is fully enabled as everyone at Metro Bank has a laptop and can access the bank’s systems quite easily. If there is a crisis and someone can’t get in their laptop can be biked to their house. The team is outcomes-driven, with everyone focused on the tasks they have to deliver, but as long as they meet their deadlines there is flexibility around how they do that, says Chit Ghee.
She has open discussions about flexible working requests with the team to make sure everyone is on board. “I wouldn’t tolerate comments on why someone who is working 8am-4pm is leaving at 4. I lay down what is expected of the team so it is very clear. We are a small, tightly knit team and everyone is very empathetic. If they don’t have children there may be other reasons they need flexibility. For instance, during Ramadan people can work from home, come in after lunch and work late. If we can adapt to an individual’s needs without the business being affected we get more out of them. The challenge is making it work,” she says. “But if you are open and fair about it you can do that. I like to think my team members can talk to me.”
There is a team meeting every month team members talk about what they are doing and any challenges they are facing.
Chit Ghee, whose daughters are aged 10 and seven, has Wednesdays off and says she feels that is vital so that she feels connected to her children’s school, has some time with the girls after school and has one morning to devote to herself. “I think it is very important for your well being to have some time to yourself, even if it’s just a few hours, and with the right employer you can make it work,” she says. She has come in on Wednesdays if there are special meetings to attend, but she has been told not to make a habit of it. “For me it is about give and take,” she says.
She gives an example to illustrate the flexible culture at Metro Bank. There are bi-monthly board meetings which are set up a year in advance. The third one she attended was in half term and she had booked the week off. One of the directors who attended the meeting had to travel from overseas so it was not easy to shift. “The response was amazing. They said my deputy could come instead and that next year they would make sure the meeting did not fall during half term,” she says.
A flexible culture
She compares the culture at Metro Bank with that of other firms in the financial services sector. Many have had flexible policies, but she says that does not always ensure that those who work flexibly feel supported. If, for instance, the vast majority of your colleagues are graduates who are willing to work all hours, it creates a long hours culture, whether this is intentional or not, she says.
She has been proactive in the past about supporting working parents. After returning to Deloitte from her first maternity leave around 10 years ago, she formed the company’s Working Mothers Group, later renamed Parents Group, which provided a network for working parents to share their experiences or voice concerns in a confidential forum. “I was a senior manager when I came back and none of the senior mums had returned from maternity leave before me,” she says. “They were losing a lot of women and after trying to do five days a week and having to leave at 5pm to get to the nursery, I soon realised why. They were very supportive, but it was hard. That’s why I set up the network, initially to see how Deloitte UK compared to other Deloitte offices and then to find out what we could offer to help working mums. Like many businesses, there was a good gender mix at entrant level which fell off sharply at management level. I realised one of the areas we could help with was providing a forum for parents to talk about the pressures and get some support.”
The group met every two months for a working lunch and this gradually evolved into a parenting club because dads also wanted to talk about balancing work and family life.
Chit Ghee thinks dads have a harder time negotiating flexible working and says positive role models at senior management level help. “At Metro Bank there is no overt promotion of flexible working, but senior executives do provide good role models. One said she was going to be working from home for two afternoons a week while her child was doing GCSEs. That’s great. It normalises it. The culture of the bank is all-encompassing. For customers, for instance, our branches have nappy changing facilities and we are involved in school and community projects,” she says.
“A flexible culture is vital for parents. I have done a lot of recruitment for accounting and law firms and if they don’t change their culture those professions are going to become less attractive,” she says. “Flexible working is the key to making it work for parents. But it’s not just for parents. The younger generation want a life outside work. We have to change how we work.”