Richard Branson has declared unlimited holiday allowance for private staff, is it also time to shake up your working culture?
When it comes to bold benefits for employees, Branson is not the first. From Netflix’s unlimited holiday policy to Google’s 20% time for employees to work ‘off project’, many companies are turning conventional working culture on its head to boost employee motivation, performance and innovation.
Whether it’s global brands or creative microbusinesses, organisations are finding that if they loosen the reins and remove restrictions around ideas, hours, working practices, side projects and budget, they can get a whole lot more back.
Technology companies were early adopters of the sorts of working practices that allow employees time to tinker on their own projects. Google’s famous 20% allowed engineers a day a week to work on side projects, which gave birth to innovative products like Gmail, Google News and AdSense.
And Google isn’t alone. Microsoft created The Garage, a space where employees can roam free and build their own products using Microsoft resources. LinkedIn has Incubator, a programme that gives engineers time away from their regular work to develop their own product ideas while Apple’s Blue Sky also allows workers time to spend on side projects.
And way before any of them, 3M gave its employees 15% of the working week to work on projects inherently interesting to them – that’s where the Post-It Note came from.
But in today’s socially responsible landscape, some businesses – from investment banks to ad agencies – are realising that giving employees more control of their time, and allowing bright sparks the chance to work on new ideas, can drive more than just commitment and performance. It can change the world.
Make work feels good
By giving employees the freedom to pursue their own feel-good factor projects during work hours, organisations can forge a more positive and productive working culture, leading to valuable social impact.
Not only does research show that volunteer programmes can help develop staff leadership, boost decision-making skills and improve staff retention, but a recent American survey found 35% of employees would take a pay cut to work for a company with good CSR.
Engaging, meaningful programmes that individuals can opt into, and do in working hours, can have a hugely positive impact on both an individual and business level. For example, Investors in People accredited Allstate NI (Allstate Northern Ireland) have a dedicated CSR system that offers employees the opportunity to work with a number of charitable partnerships and projects; from the Silver Surfers IT support service to the self-initiated safe driving campaign ‘XtheTXT’ for schools.
Now in his tenth year of employment with Allstate NI, Training Admin Manager, Dwyer Gorman, still finds the scheme motivating on many levels. “Besides the money raised for a good cause it also helps develop my own business skills,” he says. The experience gained through charitable work is also a valuable asset to feed back into the company, as Managing Director, Bro McFerran, explains.
“Employees are more engaged, loyal and happy in their work. This leads to reduced absenteeism and higher employee retention, allowing us to keep the knowledge capital we’ve built over the years.”
But you don't have to rely on the creative drive and thinking of a handful of individuals to make sure your employees, your workplace and your business benefit from increased employee freedom to spend time working on a good cause.
National charities like Timebank offer businesses the opportunity to get volunteers involved in feel-good projects, which they get something out of too. Building on the fact that people naturally want to make a difference, through Timebank you earn time credits by giving practical help and support to others. One hour of service given is one credit. You can then exchange the credit for an hour of something that you need yourself.
Investors in People accredited organisations from BT to the Cabinet Office have taken advantage of this opportunity to access and exchange resources that are not often fully utilised, providing a more efficient and cost effective way of working. One organisation achieved an annual saving of nearly £2 million and a dramatic staff turnover reduction from 19% to 2.7%.
Freedom to choose
When it comes to letting employees have more control over how they use their working hours, you’ve got to walk the talk and really allow them freedom to choose. Rather than activities and causes being dictated by senior management, giving employees the opportunity to take an active part in determining and shaping the way they volunteer their time encourages engagement.
Microsoft’s Give and Pfizer’s Volunteer Hub blend the most traditional aspects of charitable giving and volunteering with a multichannel conversational approach. For example, on the Volunteer Hub, Pfizer employees and the public can communicate across the web and social media platforms; sharing ideas, asking questions, making suggestions and promoting voluntary activities.
Interested in shaking up your workplace culture and making a difference? Here are three things to think about:
1. Bottom-up approach
Giving employees ownership of how they spend their time and allowing them to become ‘co-creators’ of any charitable activity creates better buy-in. Involve your employees from the outset in the planning, design and implementation of any initiatives. It will transform them into active participants rather than onlookers.
2. Concrete, coherent, consistent communication
Including the rationale behind the changes you are making, the company resources and support allocated, the challenges faced and the successes of the programme will ensure your employees remain motivated and engaged.
3. Targets and feedback
As in other aspects of employees’ jobs, introducing employee freedom around how they spend their time will only work if their role has clearly defined targets that they are involved in setting. This way, everyone is clear on what needs to be achieved and how employees need to manage their time within that. It also gives them a framework within which to decide what they do each day, week and month – to strike the right balance between, work, feel good projects and holidays.
Done properly, it's the sort of freedom that can help you retain your best people. And their ideas.
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