Two landlords have been named top employers for working families. Lydia Stockdale talks to one about how flexible time-keeping benefits managers and employees alike
‘I have a six-year-old daughter I wouldn’t see if I didn’t work at home on Fridays’, says Shayne Hembrow, operations director at Wales & West Housing Association, who like all of the other employees at the organisation, is allowed to work flexible hours.
Speaking from home at 9.15 on a Friday morning, Mr Hembrow, who says he ‘tends to work long hours’ throughout the rest of the week, has just returned from dropping his daughter Kate off at school.
If he wasn’t able to work at home on Fridays, he would miss out on this part of his daughter’s life. But thanks to his employer’s flexible working practices, in a few hours’ time he’ll be back at the school gates again and ready to start the weekend.
This year, for the first time, 9,500-home Wales & West, based in Cardiff and Flint, entered the Top Employers for Working Families Benchmark and Awards. Then last month it was announced that, thanks to allowing working parents like Mr Hembrow the chance to balance their jobs with their family life, the organisation had gained a much coveted spot in the top 30.
Run by charity Working Families in partnership with not-for-profit organisation the Institute for Employment Studies, the Top Employers for Working Families list recognises organisations across the UK that do the most to support their employees’ need for work-life balance.
Wales & West wasn’t the only housing association to be named one of the top family-friendly employers in the UK. Southdown Housing Association also completed a survey examining its work-life balance policies and practices, and made it into the top 10. The social landlord, which operates across west and east Sussex, was listed alongside organisations including management consultancy Accenture, American Express Services Europe, BT, and accountants KPMG.
Meanwhile joining Wales & West in the top 30 were Dell Corporation, Deloitte, Deutsche Bank, Ernst & Young, and Sainsbury’s Supermarkets. So what does being ‘family friendly’ really mean for Wales & West’s staff?
For Anne Hinchey, chief executive of Wales & West, it isn’t just about having ‘a good maternity pay package or written policies’. ‘It’s about our core approach to working flexibility for all staff, whether they have children, elder care responsibilities or other demands on their personal lives,’ she says.
The changes to housing association’s working arrangements have been gradual, but it has been nearly two years since it introduced flexible core hours for all employees. Now nearly 400 staff members must work core hours between 10am and 12noon and between 2pm and 3pm, but they can work flexibly the rest of the time.
‘You’ve got to do these hours - if you don’t do them it is classed as time off. But people can also build up time and take it off in lumps,’ explains
Mr Hembrow. ‘We have found that a flexi-time system along with mutual trust and respect gives people freedom to live their lives while fulfilling their role with us,’ adds Ms Hinchey.
All staff can benefit
The housing association offers a range of other working patterns designed to help staff balance their working and home lives. For example, its employees can work compressed hours, so they can work all of their contracted hours over a certain number of days. The housing association also enables its employees to take career breaks. ‘We really challenge perceptions about working patterns for any member of staff wishing to work in a different way,’ says Ms Hinchey. ‘And we keep it fair by adopting an all-encompassing approach to flexibility. It is not just staff with children who can benefit, but all staff.’ If such policies are well-managed, employers benefit from advantages in ‘recruitment, engagement, motivation and performance,’ says Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families.
At Wales & West the focus is on outcomes. ‘I don’t know how many people are in the office, but I do know how we are performing in terms of customer satisfaction. It’s going up every year, and now stands at 86 per cent of residents [who are satisfied with their landlord,’ says Mr Hembrow.
All employees are given external access to the its IT network, so they can work from anywhere, and everyone is required to fill in electronic time sheets so their hours are recorded.
But ultimately the flexible working policies function on trust. And if it means being able to spend time with your child, when you otherwise wouldn’t be able to, Mr Hembrow, for one, believes that trust will be rewarded.
Andrea Woodhall, who works 28 hours per week as a human resources assistant for Wales & West, works on a changing shift pattern in order to fit in with her husband’s working hours.
‘My husband Steve is a fireman and works two days and two nights a week and has four days off. However, this shift pattern moves every week, so there are no set days. Our children are aged eight and 10.
‘When I first started working for Wales & West nearly six years ago, it was important to me to work flexibly. I generally work from 9.30am to 3pm on one of the days my husband is working, and take the other as my day off.
‘If you’re organised you can work [different days every week]. I mark my hours in my Outlook calendar, so my colleagues are able fix appointments [with me].
‘The organisation is flexible with me, so I’m flexible with it. If I need to change my day off, I do, and if Steve is working, I get my mother-in-law to help out.
‘I’m lucky that Wales & West allows me to work in this way. Without being able to it would be more difficult for me to work. When you use childcare, you have to be able to set days. Because Steve’s days move, I would have had to pay for days I didn’t need.
‘I work so hard because I’m able to be there when the kids need me. I don’t have to stress about home because that’s all organised.’