Herts top for flexible working

Hertfordshire County Coucil was recently named one of the top 20 employers by Working Families. Mandy Garner finds out why.

Vicky Alvedro is an HR manager at Hertfordshire County Council. She works what she calls “half time”. This involves working two full days one week and three full days on alternate weeks. Her husband has a similar arrangement with the local authority he works for and the arrangement means that they do not have to use formal childcare for their two children aged two and four.
“It’s brilliant,” says Vicky. “We have not had to send our children to nursery from an early age. We can look after them between us.” She says the arrangement is flexible enough that if either of them need to be in work on days they do not normally work they can swap their days around.
Vicky was working full time before the birth of her first child and has been working her current arrangement ever since. She came up with the idea for the arrangement when she was working in the Council’s library service and worked with two librarians who did a job share. “We job share looking after the children,” says Vicky.
She is fortunate to work for one of the organisations recently named one of the top 20 to work for by the charity Working Families.
Hertfordshire County Council was recognised for its innovative approach to flexible working.

Flexible work policy

The Council offers the ability to work flexibly to all its employees and has granted 100% of flexible work requests made as a result of being on maternity leave. In fact, 97.4% of all applications to work flexibly are accepted.

The Council estimates that 75% of its 33,800 employees work flexibly and that 31.3% have caring responsibilities, whether that is for a child, a disabled person or an elderly relative. In addition to this, employees can take five days paid emergency leave and childcare vouchers are available through salary sacrifice.
The Council, 82% of whose staff are female, has operated a flexible work policy for four years, but in 2008 this was updated and the Council launched a new Flexible Working Policy which clarified how different ways of working can be used to suit the needs of employees and the Council.
A Council spokeswoman said: “Nothing was added. It was just made clearer. Flexible working is part of our culture.”

In fact, the Council has granted many different forms of flexible working, from term-time only hours and reduced hours to job shares, career breaks [from three months up to one year], compressed hours, flexi-time, flexible retirement and flexible location work.

The Council says what it gets out of its Flexible Working Policy, aside from recruitment and retention issues, more motivated staff and fewer absences, is that it can tailor its services better to the hours customers want them and can do so efficiently. In addition, its policy emphasises that “work is an activity, not a place”. With better technology, it is more able to let staff work from home and can even organise telephone meetings rather than face to face ones if this is in everyone’s interests. Managers of people who work regularly from home are encouraged to have regular contact via email and phone and regular one to one sessions.

Local hubs

It has also organised its services so that if people cannot get to their central work location they can work from hubs located around the county. One example of this was during the winter when many people found it difficult to drive long distances through the snow.

“All our main sites, including some of our libraries, have touchdown areas where people who live locally can come to if they cannot get into work and get access to shared drives,” said the spokeswoman. “When the snow came, many people couldn’t get into work so their managers contacted them about working at a nearer base.”
Staff members who request flexible working are sometimes offered a trial period. This allows managers who are not convinced of the business case for flexible working to try it out and see how it works, as well as for employees to find out if it suits them.
The Council emphasises that it is about encouraging employees to “work smarter, not longer” and this includes cutting out unnecessary meetings or travel. To reinforce its policy documents, the Council organises regular management training events which include a session on explaining the benefits of flexible working. It is also looking into advertising that it is open to flexible working in its job advertisements.

Its flexible work policy is subject to annual review with staff and managers contributing their thoughts.

Alvedro says that in her role she has noticed that more and more people are looking to work flexibly and says increasingly people are choosing to do nine-day fortnights. “More and more people are looking at the way they do work,” she says. “The good thing at Hertfordshire County Council is that all of our flexible working benefits apply to everyone.”

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