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At the 2022 Top Employer Awards, sponsored by NHS Professionals, our judges discussed what are the best practice trends to watch for are, and what challenges employers need overcome for the future of work.
Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership at Bright Horizons Work + Family Solutions, praised the innovation of employers during Covid and singled out increasing personalisation of support and recognition of different people’s different needs as something that had come out of the pandemic. “Things have become even more personal,” she said.
She thought that employers were becoming better at understanding the needs and issues facing their workers, singling out Aggregate Industries’ efforts in tackling male suicide in the construction industry. She also spoke about Capco’s psychotherapist who provides a very personal, specific service to employees; about Bromley Healthcare’s Schwartz rounds and leadership circles and how they allow staff to review and process the emotional impact of the pandemic; about Roche’s How We Roll programme and its “complete flexibility”; and about one McDonald’s case study which shows how the company adapted the role of a 65 year old to suit his gifts as an entertainer.
She also discussed the way “family” had become very present in employers’ minds during the pandemic – not just in terms of childcare, but also in terms of other caring responsibilities. Family support is becoming more important as a result and she cited as examples of good practice including the Financial Services Compensation Scheme’s decision to extend its extra 15 days a year paid leave for dependents during Covid, John Lewis’ equal parental leave, and how senior leaders at Sunbelt Rentals had role modelled talking about family issues.
Andy Lake, editor of Flexibility.co.uk and founder of the Smart Work Network, said he would like to see employers continuing to think innovatively as many had done during the pandemic. He was depressed by how hybrid working has become very binary – about working from home or the office. He would like to see a more integrative approach which brings together issues of real estate, technology and how we work rather than a premises-based way of working.
Lake is also concerned that a wider range of flexible working is falling by the wayside due to the binary approach to working. He has been collaborating with engineering and defence firms which are traditionally site-based about how they can become more agile and how agile working can be more equitable. This includes considering time-based flexibility such as self-rostering and looking at how automation changes the nature of the tasks people do, who does those tasks and where. As with hybrid working, he is worried that the current interest in four-day weeks will end up being about the old-fashioned compressed week rather than something more transformational. He would like to see people using the events of the pandemic to rethink work more comprehensively.
He singled out work on mental health, line manager training, network groups which provide support and a sense of identity and adaptability to remote working as important Covid trends when it comes to rethinking work as well as the spread of initiatives to harder to reach sectors in more traditional industries.
Fellow judge Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work and Organisation at Cranfield School of Management, said she hoped to see how employers had learned, from the experience of Covid, about the importance of family support and wellbeing issues. She said these lessons need to feed into their existing policies. She added that women’s careers had clearly suffered due to their greater caring load, that they had become less visible.
McDonald’s showed that getting to a zero gender pay gap is possible. Professor Kelliher hopes that employers will also take a more coordinated approach to how they support individuals. “Individual initiative can help, but in the longer term it is about how these are pulled together and send the same message,” she said. “That is how real change will come.”
New judge Patrick Thomson, Policy Institute Director at the Shaw Trust, was interested in how organisations of different types had faced similar challenges, but had responded in different ways, often with creativity and thoughtfulness. He singled out QA’s work on upskilling across the working life course, the inclusion of age and life course in McDonald’s Diversity & Inclusion charter, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme’s focus on carers and John Lewis’ equal parental leave and pregnancy loss initiatives. These all showed how employers are looking to support people throughout their working lives, he stated.
Thomson said the last decade had seen a big growth in the number of older workers in the workforce, especially older women, but since Covid older workers have been the most likely to leave work and the least likely to come back. That is a big loss to employers, society and the economy, he said. Data can help to show what are the pinch points for different age groups and where action needs to be taken. There has been positive progress on the menopause and carer support. The Shaw Trust is focused on long term health and disability issues. It is calling for employers to report on their disability pay gap. This can interact with other protected characteristics such as age, said Thomson. Better flexible working options can make it easier for people with health issues to access the labour market, he added.