Look Ma, No clock
Saumya Bhattacharya February 24, 2011At the recent Nasscom Diversity and Inclusivity Summit 2010 in Bengaluru, a worried audience from the tech and back-office businesses sat with a set of statistics. Women in the industry accounted for more than 30 per cent of the workforce but less than 4 per cent in leadership (CEO and very senior) roles. Where do women disappear along the way? Can flexible working hours help retain women in middle and senior leadership roles, the industry asked. Well, there is some good news and some bad news.
First, the good news. In a survey of 3,300 employees across the globe in October 2010, consultancy firm Bain & Company found that effective implementation of a flexible work model can increase the retention of women by 40 per cent and even of men by 25 per cent. Further, 87 per cent of women and 74 per cent of men surveyed expressed an interest in using flexible job options.
But the bad news is that just 44 per cent of women and 21 per cent of men surveyed actually used such work options. The lesson: Unless implemented effectively, flexi work options do not succeed. Says Bain partner Julie Coffman: "The biggest reason given for not taking advantage of these models is fear of losing the respect of one's supervisor and/or peers."
Jalan chose the half work, half pay arrangement, or part-time work, where employees are expected to work four-and-a-half hours a day and work timings depend on the type of job. The other two options offered by HSBC included staggered hours and telecommuting.
In the staggered work arrangement, an employee has to put in nine hours of work with mandatory presence during core business hours, but has the flexibility to determine the start and end of his workday. In the telecommuting option, an employee is allowed to carry out his or her responsibilities from outside office using electronic access, but is expected to attend all scheduled meetings.
It was a challenge, nonetheless. When the bank unveiled the policy in the summer of 2008, it simultaneously launched workshops for its managers and employees. These were facilitated by consultants from IBM, who had extensive experience in this area and shared it with the HSBC employees.
The workshops were organised in all regions and each event was flagged off by a senior manager, demonstrating commitment from the leadership team.
Later, HSBC launched a success story series, which showcased every month the experiences of staff who had opted for flexi work arrangements. Alongside, the profiles of managers who had been successful in driving flexi work in their teams began to be published. The rationale for this was to highlight the importance of supervisor support in making teams look for creative ways of doing their jobs to enhance productivity levels.
Flexi work is a way of life for the employees at IBM India. When Bengaluru-based Chitra Iyengar, 37, decided to adopt a child in 2006, she first availed of maternity leave, but became serious about flexi work after an encounter with her manager, who said, "I do not care whether you sit in the park or at home. I am concerned with your deliverables." IBM is well known for its work culture, where employees work from remote locations and teams are distributed in different time zones.
For Iyengar, it was liberating to realise that work did not mean a place she went to, but something that she did. She tried different combinations of flexi work: IBM has six 'flavours', including customised timing and telecommuting. Sometimes Iyengar goes to office only in the first half of a week and sometimes she puts in three days a week depending on the work and her personal needs. She often avails of the day-care facilities provided by IBM for her four-year-old son, right across her office.
When Iyengar was grappling with issues thrown up by flexi work, the organisation, too, was dealing with similar concerns. Says Kalpana Veeraraghavan, IBM's India diversity manager: "Flexibility is a double-edged sword. It needs to be managed efficiently." Veeraraghavan should know. Her company has been among the first movers globally to put in place 'work-life integration'. In India, it started in 2000.
THE MINDSET HURDLE
Veeraraghavan's big challenge is overcoming the mindset about flexi work in India as it entails measuring output by deliverables and not by face-time. As a culture, India is not used to it. Managers in companies are taught to handle potential issues such as 'I am concerned that if I cannot see my employees, I will not know whether they are working or not'; 'Shouldn't we approve flexi work arrangements for top performers only?' or 'Will flexible work from home come in the way of teamwork, which our organisation emphasises on....?' And, finally, an issue that finds resonance among employees considering flexible work: will taking advantage of flexi work arrangements make it harder for someone to be promoted?
"Not at all," says Arindam Lahiri, vice-president of training at DLF Pramerica India, an insurance firm. For close to two years, Lahiri has been working flexi hours due to health reasons-he suffers from high blood pressure and once fainted in office. A resident of south Delhi, he hates going to Gurgaon to work during the rush hour. So he reaches office by 8.30 a.m. and leaves by 5.30 p.m. When he opted for flexi work, he did have concerns.
"Employees continue to be a part of important mainstream projects and are able to interact with colleagues on a regular basis," says Mehta. Still, DLF Pramerica and Lahiri may be an exception. Many employees say that the fear of 'out of sight, out of mind' dissuades them from opting for flexi work, even when the option is available.
"You do need to rationalise your expectations from the workplace," says one of them. Srikanth Karra, director of HR at HP India, also cites another challenge. "The need for working with a team is critical in a managerial role. An individual in a managerial or leadership position who opts for flexi work may find this aspect challenging," he says. HP has had flexi work options in place for the past two decades.
Another company that has its talent managers losing sleep over lack of women is Godrej Industries, where men constitute 92 per cent of the white-collar workforce. The company is now actively making its flexi work options a part of its talent acquisition and retention strategy. Godrej offers two options: flexibility in timings for coming to work and leaving as long as one clocks 42.5 hours every week, and part-time work since 2009, in which the salary varies with the hours clocked.
Vineeta Yadav, head of learning and talent management at Godrej Industries, who also avails of the flexi work option, uses it to attract work talent. "When we speak to potential employees, we talk about the option of flexi work all the time." Recently, when Yadav mentioned the concept to a potential woman candidate at a senior level, it pleasantly surprised her and eventually proved to be the clincher in getting her aboard. In fact, the flexi work policy at Godrej was one of the reasons that attracted Yadav to the company two years ago.
Godrej Industries has gone a step ahead and told its recruitment consultants that the group is open to and encourages candidates who have taken a break. "We do not want to lose out on the huge talent pool just because women have taken a break," says Yadav. While Yadav is looking to set right the dismal gender diversity, her company and others like them would do well to pay heed to what Bain's Coffman prescribes. "There are many types of flexible working models… and, no, we absolutely do not believe one size fits all." There are distinct segments of employees who have different needs and priorities and, hence different models will appeal to specific segments. Flexi work champions, take note.
Courtesy: Business Today