Letting employees manage when, how and where they work may spook some employers. However, freedom to plan can mean freedom to excel. DIANA SER pays a visit to professional services firm Ernst & Young (EY), who is an early adopter of the Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs), and discovers how EY managed to successfully roll out FWAs.
LIKE other millennials, Sarah Lim is a digital native, having been born into an era of technology that has defined her generation.
Sarah, an Assurance Assistant Manager at professional services firm EY, is also a “flexi work native”.
Since she started work with EY in 2013, the 27-year-old has been part of the firm’s flexi work program called FlexPro.
While studying for her Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) qualification, she could start work any time between 7.30am and 9.30am, depending on her study and work commitments.
“We will discuss with our managers to start our work earlier, so that we can end earlier and prepare ourselves for our lessons,” she said.
That included the flexibility to take extra leave before exams.
In two and a half years, Sarah completed her studies and earned her ACCA certification.
Her employer, meanwhile, has earned a happy employee who awards the company full marks for supportiveness.
“Flexibility helps our people meet their personal and professional goals and allows all of us to maximize our contributions to our teams and deliver exceptional client service.” said Max Loh, EY Asean and Singapore Managing Partner, Ernst & Young LLP.
Not from zero to hero: FWA takes time to implement
Since 2011, EY had a FWA policy applicable to its employees on a discretionary basis and they formalized it in 2013.
Then in October 2017, EY signed up as an early adopter of the Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs), demonstrating their commitment to defining and implementing verifiable and actionable FWA practices at the workplace.
In a tight labor market, FWAs can become a critical factor in talent attraction and retention, a point that EY knows too well.
For the second consecutive year, EY was named the world’s most attractive professional services employer – and the fourth most attractive employer overall – in Universum’s annual “World’s Most Attractive Employers” ranking.
Universum’s 2017 ranking is based on a survey of more than 290,000 business and engineering/IT students from the top academic institutions across 12 of the world’s largest economies.
What were the key factors for EY’s successfully rolling out FWA?
Here are some tips Max shared:
Commitment from the top to try it out
Buy in from managers and supervisors
Nurture an environment that fosters open communication so on-going dialogue between staff and their managers or counsellors may be maintained.
Invest in robust technology for working remotely
Recognize that the system may need adjustment, and will continue to evolve as needs progress
Max also let on that he “volunteered” for the role of EY’s FWA champion – one of the several commitments companies adopting the Tripartite Standard on FWAs must make.
“All my partners are advocates. Some of them who were not originally, are now converted advocates. The tone has to be right from the very top,” he said.
Elaborating on the counseling system, he shared that all 3,000 employees are encouraged to proactively speak to their counselors every 90 days. These counselors are not immediate supervisors, so employees will have fewer qualms about sharing honest feedback.
This system allows EY to react promptly with solutions to address the challenges its employees face in juggling their work and personal demands.
“I will have what she is having” – The importance of role models
FWA Role models and FWA champions are key to making FWA work.
Teresa Mok, Director of People Advisory Services, did not set out to be a FWA role model.
But her career path and development in EY might well be inspiration to younger employees like Sarah.
Six years ago, after her second child was born, Teresa decided to take on a reduced workweek to spend more time with her family. She currently works two full days and three half days so that she can spend more time with her kids aged 9, 6 and 4.
In some ways, it was not a difficult decision because she too had role models within EY.
“Initially I was doubtful about FWAs. Then I heard from my seniors and peers that as long as you communicate with the person-in-charge, the company tends to be very supportive of staff on FWAs.”
There will always be skeptics and naysayers, so role models are staff who, through their actions, prove that FWAs can be implemented in a manner that is beneficial both to the staff and the company.
It Takes Two to Tango
For Teresa, initial fears that her career progression might slow, or that she might miss out on opportunities for signature projects, turned out to be largely unfounded.
In fact, she was promoted to her current position while on a reduced workweek.
If you are considering getting on a FWA though, Teresa has this piece of advice for you: Even if your company is supportive, do not be calculative.
“Don’t fully expect your hours to be strictly 70% or 50% or whatever,” she said with a laugh. “Be flexible on both ends, but just be very clear on the outcomes you want to achieve through that arrangement.”
In other words, it takes two to make FWA work.
Teresa (second from right) with her husband and three children
While employers offer solutions to help balance work and personal goals, employees should also understand that the occasional overtime or unforeseen circumstance may thwart personal plans.
Open communication and a willingness to negotiate and collaborate on both employer and employee fronts, are essential in making sure that FWAs contiunue to work well when circumstances change.
In EY’s 2017 biennial Global People Survey, 70 percent of employees said that they have greater flexibility to achieve their personal and professional goals (up 5 percent from 2015). 82 percent said their manager(s) has also enabled flexibility in when and where people work (up 5 percent from 2015).
“The results are showing us that this makes sense, so let’s put our foot to the pedal and get it going even better,” said Managing Partner, Max.
And this, surely, is one way of future proofing the business.
If you are an employer looking to follow in the footsteps of EY and implement FWAs at your workplace, head to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices’ (TAFEP) website for more details on the Tripartite Standard for FWA!
Diana Ser is a former broadcast journalist and the mother of three children aged 11, 9 and 6. She is the also the founder of www.dianaser.com, a website dedicated to helping parents nurture bilingual children.