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Flexibility a powerful tool in attracting staff

Employers are reaping the benefits of offering flexible working hours, extended leave and job-sharing

Flexibility also extends into such areas as parental leave. Photograph: iStock

Flexibility also extends into such areas as parental leave. Photograph: iStock


With unemployment at 4.8 per cent , employers must work harder to find, recruit and retain good people. Workplace flexibility can be a powerful tool.

“We’re seeing a rise in workplace flexibility across all sectors but particularly in areas such as tech, finance and engineering,” says Andrew Lynch, chief executive of Mason Alexander, a recruitment and talent solutions business.

It includes flexitime working hours, part-time work and a rise in atypical working such as freelancers, consultants and project work, as well as business process outsourcing.

“Outsourcing allows a business to scale up and down,” – another kind of workplace flexibility – says Lynch. “An online retailer may need 50 people in December, but just 10 in January,” he adds.

If an employer is to derive the benefits of today’s increasingly flexible workplace, it must be truly embedded in their culture. This means everything from ensuring contract and atypical workers are fully included and engaged.

It also means ensuring staffers who take flexible workplace options, from extended leave to part-time roles, are not shunted onto what was traditionally known as “the Mummy track”.

It’s why the flexible workplace sits squarely under a company’s diversity and inclusion strategy. “To do it right involves a huge investment in training, learning and development,” says Lynch. “Even just a couple of years ago, companies were paying lip service to diversity. Now companies are really seeing the benefits of it. But to get it right it is essential that it is immersed into the organisation’s culture.”

Diversity and inclusion is something the not-for-profit sector is traditionally good at. As well as having the recruiting advantage of hitting the Gen Z goal of “work with purpose” in spades, organisations within this sector are often very good at providing flexible solutions.

“We are currently recruiting for two senior roles, in finance and in HR, both of which are part-time roles. The organisations offering them are allowing the candidates choose how they configure those days, which increases their access to the talent pool,” says Fergal O’Sullivan head of recruitment at 2into3. It’s a commercial organisation whose customer base is entirely not-for-profit, to which it provides consultancy, research and recruitment services.


Job-sharing is widely available, O’Sullivan says, with particular flexibility given to those who undertake key fundraising roles. As with sales executives in commercial organisations, effective fundraisers in the not-for-profit sector are free to get on with the job any way they like, as long as they get the results.

With much networking and fundraising done at events at evenings and weekends, such workers can expect time off in lieu during the day. “Equally, funding for capital projects is not done at a desk, so people are expected to be out on the road or in meetings. No one minds where they do this work as it’s about raising funds at the end of the day,” he says.

Flexibility also extends into such areas as parental leave. In July, drinks giant Diageo, which employs 200 people in Ireland, introduced 26 weeks fully paid maternity and paternity leave for all its employees, as part of a global family policy initiative. “It applies to all employees, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or how people become parents – via birth, adoption or surrogacy,” says HR director Sandra Caffrey.

We want to shift the conversation from women having babies to people having children

The move has been hugely welcomed by both mums and dads alike. In some cases, dads are choosing to take their six months after their partner has taken their own maternity leave. That gives a couple a year to have their child cared for by a parent.

“We want the policy to support employees to focus on the joy of raising a young family, while continuing to thrive at work, and ensuring women and men are supported to have time with their new baby regardless of where they live and work. We want to shift the conversation from women having babies to people having children,” says Caffrey.

Diageo’s commitment to creating an inclusive and diverse working environment was recognised by the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index 2019. Last year, Diageo was named by Thomson Reuters as the fourth most inclusive and diverse company in the world. Some 40 per cent of Diageo’s executive committee and 44 per cent of its board are women. Diageo’s position as one of the country’s most progressive employers was also recognised when it received the Diversity and Inclusion award at the recent national Bord Bia awards for the food and drink industry.

A really positive response

“We have had a really positive response so far to the introduction to our family leave policy. We are really pleased to have already received applications from a number of our male colleagues seeking to avail of the 26 weeks paid leave this year. We are seeing applications from employees at all levels and from a broad range of business units,” says Caffrey.

“Our mission at Pinterest is to bring everyone the inspiration to create a life they love.”
“Our mission at Pinterest is to bring everyone the inspiration to create a life they love.”

In many ways, the tech multinationals with a presence here have led the way when it comes to diversity, inclusion and flexible working. Pinterest, the popular visual discovery app, has its European HQ in Dublin and has doubled the size of its Dublin office over the past year to more than 100 full-time employees. These work across a range of roles including customer service, finance, sales, workplace operations for EMEA, HR, and data analytics.

Right now, it is hiring for engineering, sales, operations and recruitment personnel. While every job in the company is different, in general Pinterest offers flexible work practices such as office hours and working from home when needed, it says.

“Our mission at Pinterest is to bring everyone the inspiration to create a life they love, and to empower our employees to bring this mission to life – they need to feel fulfilled and have a balance with their personal lives,” explains Jo Dennis, its chief human resources officer.

“We want to provide supportive benefits for our employees so they can come to work happy and be ready to do the best work of their lives. We also recognise that people have different needs from their workplace, so our benefits try to be inclusive and accommodate a variety of employee needs.”