This Talent Conversations article is with an expert in the flexible working and recruitment space. Gill Stewart leads the team at Capability Jane Recruitment and took time out to share with me the what, why and how of an alternative working talent strategy.
Where It All Began
When Sara Hill, our founder, returned to work after maternity, she at first received very positive feedback from recruiters. Prior to the birth of her children, she had been a successful and in-demand management consultant. However, she found that doors were closed to her as soon as she mentioned parenting or alternative working.
Her natural entrepreneurial radar was triggered. She could not be alone in wanting interesting, senior-level work that she could flex around her family.
So she set off to find a solution to the problem, having not found a service on the market that could help. And thus Capability Jane Recruitment was born.
Gill, Managing Director came from a traditional recruitment background. There the format of available roles was driven by client perspective and wants.
”So, if the employer doesn’t talk about the possibility of flexible working, then the candidates feel they don’t have permission to do so either,” she says.
“The conversation never happens.”
Gill joined Capability in 2013 because she was inspired by their vision. In a recruiting landscape in which a diverse approach to candidate recruitment was an untapped opportunity, she saw that their perspective was filling a real need.
“The flexible approach to working is no longer just seen as a ‘women’s thing’.”
Much has changed in the decade since Capability began.
34% of senior women want to work part-time – yet only 6% of senior roles offer this flexibility. The appeal of flexibility reaches across the generations and the genders.
The Business Case for alternative working
There has been a massive increase in the numbers of women in the workplace. These talented women want the opportunity to do challenging and interesting work, without burning out from the pressure of full-time work and full time parenting squeezed into the hours available in a day. In addition, more fathers are taking a pro-active role in parenting, meaning that they too are interested in finding good quality work that they can juggle with their childcare commitments.
The demographics of the workforce have also changed. No longer are workers following the traditional route of working 9-5, ‘5 days a week for 40 years and then retire’ model. In fact, as many as 30% of retired men and women want access to part-time working opportunities. This pool of talent provides an untapped resource stream for recruiters and companies seeking experienced professional hires.
There has also been a change at the other end of the age demographic. Gill observes that young people have changed in their attitude to work. There is now a greater emphasis on work/life balance and quality of life over job security, seniority and salary.
Finally, technology has allowed more and more people to work remotely. It has also reframed the working world, with a globalised economy meaning deliverables are expected 24/7. This means that opportunities to work around the clock, beyond 9-5 GMT, are opening up.
“Workers are wanting more flexibility in their work life and many are finding ways to get it,” says Gill.
Her own daughter is currently on an internship where she is working from home. Though Gill would like her to benefit from the social interaction of the workplace, she observes that even at more junior levels, remote working is becoming the norm.
What’s In It For Employers?
The UK is currently experiencing the lowest levels of unemployment for 40 years. This means there is in high demand and stiff competition for good candidates. Gill shares that the employers who are willing to think differently and offer genuine flexibility have an edge in attracting and retraining the broadest range of staff.
“The media just discusses the ‘gig-economy’ and zero-contract hours but there is so much more to the picture than this,” states Gill.“35% of working people are now working part-time and 70% of these work this way because they want to.“
Many employers do embrace flexibility and employees are exercising their right to request flexible working. Yet it seems that these flexible opportunities seem to extend more to existing employees, rather than being offered as a flexible role from the outset. This is understandable – as trust has been built on both sides and an experienced, existing employee, is not an unknown quantity. In addition, the cost of losing this experienced hire means many managers are afraid to refuse. However, if employers want to be able to appeal to the broadest audience, they might do well to consider how roles might be structured and redesigned to work successfully in more flexible formats.
It seems for too long that ‘full time and permanent’ has been our go-to advertising line, yet with a little thought, employers could harness some significant benefits from rethinking the format and frame of senior roles.
Gill feels that offering flexible working options not only massively improves the talent pool applying for roles but also has a positive effect on retention and loyalty. Employees are reluctant to move to another company, and their productivity and engagement within the workplace are much higher. Those who work part-time actually deliver over and above on a regular basis because they are more focused in the hours that they work.
Another potential answer to providing greater flexible working options is to look at job-sharing. Some roles do need someone present full-time and so by splitting hours or responsibilities you increase productivity and retention. Two heads, they say, are better than one.
Many SME’s are often a great source of flexible working opportunities.
They often don’t have the processes and policies that can be barriers. Often, they can’t afford or even have the need for a full-time Finance Director for instance. But they could seek out someone with a wealth of experience who maybe is looking to reduce their hours, work flexibility and so is willing to compromise somewhat on salary to achieve that. SME’s are succeeding in poaching great talent from their larger competitors, by offering this flexibility as standard.
Capability Jane Recruitment client JCRA, a company working in the finance industry, echoes these benefits.
“I personally support the Capability Jane model and ethos – we are a very male-dominated industry and offering flexible and part-time working has been a great way to diversify our employee base and talent pool.“ J.Bowie, CEO, JCRA.
Gill shares a fascinating infographic with me. It shows the expansion of the female talent pool when flexible working is built into every stage of the recruitment process. The results are remarkable, with an increase from 10% to 50% in female hires, when a company consider flexibility at all points on the recruitment journey.
Here it is.
Five Tips for Employers that want to embrace flexible working
1. Consider how the role can be shaped and what can be excluded to genuinely reduce time on the job.
Too many people are getting paid for 4 days work but actually doing 5 days’ worth of work. This is neither fair nor sustainable. The employee’s performance starts to suffer and the relationship between the employer and employee starts to break down, so employers need to look at the job and redesign with flexibility in mind.
2. Write it into the job description.
The go-to default for managers is that working flexibly may be problematic or require changes to the way a team or their work is structured. Employers, therefore, need to consider the flexibility in the role from the outset and embed it into their advertising and recruitment processes.
3. Embrace the opportunity in new roles.
Gill has found that SME’s are often the principle beneficiaries of flexible working talent. This is because they are often creating roles for the first time – giving them the advantage of a blank sheet of paper. Designing a new role creates an opportunity to fit the role around the right person. So when creating a new role, take a fresh look at how to design it in partnership with the right candidate.
4. Highlight and encourage senior role models.
Larger organisations have the advantage of more defined career paths and some exciting opportunities. To keep your edge on the recruitment front, remember to showcase what’s possible – like this video from AXA Investment Managers. Talent needs to see real examples of senior people working in non-traditional ways and getting promoted within the company. Leaders that embrace the opportunity to work from home, job share or work flexibly send a strong message that it is OK to ask to work this way and prove that it won’t harm your career.
“It is no longer the case that within the business that you have to work 60 hours a week to succeed or you aren’t effective or serious about your work,” says Gill.
“Companies need to demonstrate that this new world is a reality, even for Board members and senior leaders.”
5. Think about pay and benefits and demonstrate this thought in your job ads.
Alongside role design, organisations need to think about how pay and benefits get administered flexibly. You won’t be able to offer someone 60% of a car, so what will you do instead? How about the number of Bank Holidays? If I don’t work on Mondays, can I have these as time in lieu? Thinking about these things in advance and articulating them in the advert conveys that you take the flexibility in the role seriously and have given it real thought.
It’s clear from our chat that the appetite for flexibility is there. And that the companies that stand to benefit most are those that build roles and strategies with this flexibility in mind. One of the best ways to test out how flexibility could support your talent and retention strategies is through career conversations. The more we understand the changing aspiration of both your potential candidates and existing employees, the easier it becomes to find the win/wins.
Does your firm offer flexible working and flexibly designed senior roles? How do you make it work?
For more information on how to recruit flexibly in your firm, visit Capability Jane Recruitment.
To discuss how our career consulting can help you benefit from a diverse, inclusive and engaged talent pool, click here.