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Accountancy firm Deloitte has won awards for its flexible working and diversity policies, but it wants to continue to push forward on these fronts. This summer it launched a new agility programme which it says will benefit both the business and its employees.
The programme was launched in June and focuses on informal flexible working as well as offering new options for those needing time out. Emma Codd, Deloitte’s talent partner says agile working was her main priority when she took over talent management last September. Deloitte offered flexible working to parents and carers, but she felt there was room for improvement and innovation. “We wanted to push more informal ways of working flexibly. While some parents want reduced hours, others want to work full time, but with some homeworking or other form of flexibility,” she says.
She spoke to staff, particularly women, and found that the school holidays were a particular pinch point. “Parents felt they were missing out on the school holidays and had to arrange additional childcare,” she says. What Deloitte came up with was an initiative which enables any member of staff to request one month off unpaid at any time in the year. “It’s not just for women or parents. Everyone wants a career life fit,” says Emma.
The month has to be taken in a block. Employees are not asked to put forward a reason for taking the month off, but the majority who have requested it up till now have done so to spend more time with their families, particularly in the summer months which tends to be less busy for business. “We think one month can make a difference for people,” says Emma. The time out must be at a time that fits with business needs, that is, not at a peak periods. The negotiation process for taking time out involves a staff member first speaking to their manager informally and talking through what the best time would be for both.
Managers are encouraged to have a positive mindset towards requests and to find ways that can make them work. So far no request has been turned down, but some have needed renegotiation. “We encourage people to talk with their manager informally in advance of putting in a request. This allows for managers to plan ahead,” says Emma. “We want to encourage an open discussion and to show that such moves are not career limiting in any way.” She adds that Deloitte plans to showcase those who take the leave to highlight that there is no career impact. She says that the senior leadership has been hugely supportive and feedback from staff is very positive.
Deloitte is monitoring take-up of the programme and Emma reports on take-up to the board every month. Interestingly, 50% of requests have come from men. Emma adds that parents are weighing up the cost of unpaid leave versus money saved on, for instance, summer holiday childcare. Some part-time staff are looking to go up to five days a week as a result of the ability to take one month off. Asked how the business would cope with people being off for a month, Emma says it is about managing the business properly, planning ahead and having contingency cover in place.
Deloitte has also been actively encouraging managers to trust staff to work remotely. “We want to stamp out presenteeism,” says Emma, who has twin daughters and works from home around one day a week. “People should be judged on their output and if they can get their work done faster at home where they are not distracted and have more time for family that is fantastic.” She calls this agile working as she feels flexible working tends to be associated with women working part time and needs rebranding so that a wider range of staff can be encouraged to benefit.
The company encourages people to either work from home or from Deloitte offices nearer to them which have hot desk areas. “If it makes life easier for them and helps retention that’s great,” says Emma. Since she has had children, Emma has worked hard to confront the issues facing women who go on maternity leave, such as flexible working. She says: “Women return from maternity leave to a career, not just to work, and we need policies that help them with that. People were leaving because it was too much of a struggle when they came back. Having policies like time out and agile working have been overwhelmingly positive. Why would we not want to have them?”