Is it possible to work flexible office hours, and still achieve not only your own career goals but also the productivity outcomes of the company you work for?
This thought-provoking and extremely topical question was one that The Outperformer recently asked Emma Beard. Emma is the Enterprise Services Director for Lion, a $5.6 billion food and beverage company best known for beers brands such as Thooeys, Hahn and James Boags.
Emma’s career with Lion spans 17 years, during which time she’s been Finance Director of Heineken Lion and, later, Fine Wine Partners as well as Risk Assurance Director and Commercial Manager for National Sales. So it might surprise you to learn that for most of her time with the company, she has worked in a part-time, or flexible arrangement.
During her frank and eye-opening interview, Emma told us how she’s been able to build her highly successful career with a leading employer, while still enjoying the flexibility she needed to raise her family. Some of the areas she covered included:
Emma gave us some great advice, and it’s clear that she has made her decision to work on a flexible basis really work for her, ensuring she has the right work-life balance. This ultimately makes her a happier, more engaged and more productive employee.
But can it work for everyone?
Emma believes there are three foundational elements that can be leveraged for a successful career:
Enjoyment translates into results. “If you’re enjoying your job, you’re engaged in your work, and engaged people drive great outcomes,” says Emma. “If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing now, what would it take to reframe it? Can you reshape your goals? Could you flip something around so that you stay in your role, but start enjoying what it is you’re doing?”
Emma acknowledges that change is hard, and making changes to your work environment takes courage, but it may well be what’s necessary to bring enjoyment back.
Emma believes keeping an open mind and taking some risks in your career – especially early on – is very important.
“During my 17 years with Lion, I’ve zigzagged around in a number of different roles - some of which, on paper, looked like I was taking a backward step,” she says. “But I made those moves to gain experience that I was missing. Don’t get too caught up in whom you report to. Gain a breadth of experience, and make sure you’re learning new things that will pay dividends down the track. Try to stay positive and find something to interest you in every position you hold.”
Emma is a firm believer in leveraging the power of the Internet to help you identify your strengths, and advises making use of one of the many free tools available online.
“Your strengths will change over the years, and that’s OK,” she says. “But you’ll have key core strengths that will stay with you. Tap into those, be aware of what’s engaging for you and what do you enjoy doing.”
Once you’ve examined these three key areas, you should have a better idea of what you want and how to achieve it. For many people, introducing flexibility into their work environment is a great way to start.
Emma emphasises the importance of recognising that workplace flexibility is a two-way street. It needs to work not only for you but for your company as well.
“When you approach your boss with the possibility of working flex, you need to come at it like it’s a business offering,” she advises. “You must be able to provide a solution. Articulate why it’s a good idea, and how it will work. And you have to be the one to set out what flexibility will look like for the company. There’s no point waiting for your boss to do it, because he doesn’t know what’s important to you.”
Emma acknowledges this can be a hard conversation to have, but it’s one that can be made a lot easier if you have a history with the company.
“By the time the situation arose for me, I had been working for Lion for seven years,” she says, “so I had a good relationship with my boss. I had credibility and trust around how I work and what I do.”
Emma is also very fortunate to work for a company that has a great culture. “Lion is very supportive of flexibility,” she says. “They are more focused on your achievements and outcomes, and not to so much on the “how” you get things done. If you can do your job in 6 hours a day, that’s great, as long as you’re delivering what you need to.”
Although numerous studies have been carried out that support the validity of embracing flexibility in the workplace, there are still companies, and individuals within companies, that perpetuate the stigma attached to working flex. So how do you tackle the “If you’re not visible, you’re not there,” mindset?
“This is what I call dinosaur thinking and it won’t last,” says Emma. “It’s just not how people are and it’s not how they work. Flexibility is great for so many reasons and it’s not always child-driven. Some people volunteer out of work, some are passionate about sport or other hobbies. There is just so much research available into how flexibility is really important to either retain great people or attract great people.
“If you’ve agreed with your employee on what they have to deliver each week or each day, it shouldn’t matter how they deliver that. If they can do it working from home one day a week, then that’s ok.”