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Diversity & Inclusion: can flexibility boost engagement?

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07/10/2019
work flexibility and engagement

Why should companies work so hard at changing policies that have been in place for years? Bringing in flexibility can be a long and tedious process. However, the simple answer to that is: employee engagement.

At our recent Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) roundtable discussion held at Michael Page Singapore, we spoke with some of the region’s top minds in D&I planning and policy. And one thing that clearly emerged was a link between showing a human approach to work-life issues, and receiving more buy-in at a corporate level.

Bianca Stringuini, Head of Inclusion, Community and Wellbeing, Asia Pacific, Visa, found that flexibility is the key when it comes to engagement. “At Visa, while tracking the link between flexibility and employee engagement, we see that engagement scores are consistently, across-the-board higher [than] those who have the option of flexibility. This makes a big difference in retention.”

Breaking out from burnout

When it comes to stressful work environments and preventing burnout, time off might be the key to managing it. At SAP, Michelle Charles, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at SAP, has seen this first-hand, “Sometimes you just need that time off to refocus and come back to your job. Global policies at SAP that allow for employees to take the time off that they need have been successful in allowing people to take time off, do what they want, and return refreshed and engaged with their work.”

This higher demand for a good work-life balance has led many professionals to think about contracting or freelance work. Kirsty Poltock, Page Personnel Singapore Director, has seen the difference herself. “We have seen an uptake in contracting over the last few years. Not just for mothers returning to work, but in all situations: caring for a sick family member, or going back to university. We’re also seeing an uptake from the client side, as businesses become more open to giving people the flexibility to achieve what they want outside of the workplace, but still achieve business goals.”

From left: Daphne Williams-Tan, Senior People Partner at Rolls-Royce; Michael Christian Vainio, General Manager of Consumer Business at Kimberly-Clarke in Singapore; Bianca Stringuini, Head of Inclusion, Community and Wellbeing, Asia Pacific, Visa.

Personalising flexibility to suit

In some cases, maintaining general guidelines on flexible work arrangements work best, and then implementation comes down to individual team managers. For example, according to Daphne Williams-Tan, Senior People Partner at Rolls-Royce, said, “Instead of hard policy, we put out guidelines on how to manage a flexible team, and then use tools such as an employee engagement survey to track what teams need additional support when it comes to being flexible.

“In many cases, the manager themselves has never worked flexibly, and have concerns about flexibility and team performance. So we provide conversation cards and toolkits for managers to have that conversation with their team.”

The need for HR to evolve

The need for increased work-life balance and flexibility is certainly a challenge for HR teams around the world. As Stringuini said, “The biggest challenge in HR right now is finding a new way of looking at the workforce. We must address, head-on, the idea of flexibility within basic HR processes. They need to be a lot flatter and more flexible. Otherwise, companies will have a hard time attracting talent.”

However big the challenge, it’s one that teams need to conquer, as the future workplace will all but demand it. As Preet Grewal, Inclusion and Diversity Lead at GSK, said, “The future of work is the gig economy. If I have a skillset, I should be able to plug that into any company in the time that works for me. Then this all has to come together with work-life integration.” 

Work-life integration for everyone

It’s a complicated conversation, one that companies are clearly prioritising and focusing on. Work-life integration isn’t necessarily only an issue for a mother returning to work, or for millennials and their work expectations. Rather it’s an issue that all professionals are beginning to seek out and value. Companies must adapt the conversation, policies and culture to new standards to attract top talent – now and in the future.

This is the third and last part of our Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) event coverage. The D&I roundtable discussion was held at the Michael Page Singapore office.