Every day, financial institutions lose some of their best talent – not because they dislike their job or aren't motivated – but because they have other interests and commitments outside of the workplace. For some, it may be spending more time with a young child or an aging parent. For others, it may be to explore a passion, to volunteer or to go back to school.

Our way or the highway — old school thinking

The problem is that few financial institutions have a flexible work policy (particularly for management and head office employees); fewer still publicize it or encourage employees to take advantage of it. And that means that, more often than not, employees feel they have little choice; either compromise on their dreams or leave the organization.

As Sam White, Director of Public Policy & Sustainability at Aviva PLC notes, “An awful lot of good people are leaving companies because their employers aren't ready to flex to keep them. And that means a lot of great talent is being lost and a lot of valuable skills are being underutilized.”

To retain top talent, Aviva understands that flexibility is key. Sam currently job-shares his role with Will McDonald, which we believe is one of the most senior two-dad job shares in the UK. Earlier this year, the pair were awarded Timewise's Power Job Sharer Award for their successful model and for their advocacy for flexible working arrangements. (Timewise Power 50 awards, a UK-based awards program, celebrates the achievements of pairs of senior individuals who work together in a job share or job split.)

It IS possible

What makes the story even more interesting is that Sam and Will are responsible for some of Aviva's most important projects, initiatives and files. They lead Aviva's policy work on Brexit; they drove the company's successful efforts to become a Living Wage employer in the UK; and they launched Aviva's Community Fund globally.

“Our role reports directly to the global Executive Committee and Chairman so we manage some very important, fast-moving and fluid projects,” notes Will. “There was certainly some skepticism within the ExCo when we first introduced the idea to them.”

Getting the model right - from the very start - would be critical. In the beginning, Sam and Will say they had to spend a significant amount of time talking to other job-sharers in the industry, thinking about their operating models and creating an understanding on how decisions would be made. Once they had a strong framework in place, they launched their job share as a 6-month trial.

“We wanted to position it as a trial to give us an opportunity to not only test the framework but also gain the trust and support of our executive team,” adds Will. “By the end of the 6 months, we had vastly improved our framework and operating model. And we had the full support of our Group Exec members and CEO.”

The better way?

Sharing a role is very different from having two part-timers share a desk. In a shared role, you are both responsible for achieving the same goals, managing the same people and ensuring continuity in strategy and decision-making. You need to be coordinated, unified and committed. You also need great lines of communication.

Both Sam and Will work 3-day weeks, overlapping on Wednesdays to ensure a seamless transition. “Even on Wednesdays, we're rarely ever in the same room or on the same calls. We don't even live in the same parts of the country,” notes Sam.

To ensure no project gets 'dropped', they have a consistent process for capturing their activities and sharing decisions (and decision processes) through handover notes. And that weekly report back to a colleague helps motivate them to do more.

“You want to leave a handover note that shows all kinds of progress so that your partner can start their workweek off well and can immediately pick up the baton and move the projects ahead,” adds Sam. “If you have the right dynamic, you really want to impress your partner and that sort of dynamic doesn't happen when it's just one person working at the same role.”

Why job-sharing and flex working matter

In today's rapidly changing business environment, flexibility matters. Employees are looking for jobs that are both challenging and flexible. They want a fulfilling career, but they also want to experience life. At the same time, employers are looking for employees who are able to flex, develop and evolve as their organizations transform and grow.

“What businesses need today is a more fluid workforce - you want to make sure that your best people are moving towards the most important work and that resources are being fully utilized,” notes Will. “A key to that is encouraging more flexible working and flex arrangements.”

Sam and Will also believe that – as a team – they are performing at a higher level than they would as a single employee. They are able to bounce ideas off of each other (“Two heads are better than one,” reminds Will). They are more productive (“We both come to work with a renewed vigor and get an awful lot done in just 3 days,” notes Sam). And they are more flexible (“Together, we bring a wide range of experiences and skills to the role,” adds Will).

More recently, Sam and Will have been talking about how job-sharing might help organizations transition roles to newer generations and encourage knowledge sharing between employees. “You've got employees who want to slowly transition out of the workplace, employees who want to transition into the workplace and organizations that want to maintain continuity in the roles. Job-sharing could be a brilliant way to bridge the inter-generational talent gap and drive succession planning,” notes Sam.

Being able to job-share and spend more time with their families has also been incredibly rewarding for Sam and Will, both fathers of young families. “Sure, I've made a lot of pack lunches and picked a lot of baked beans up off the floor, but my relationship with my children has been utterly transformed. It's an opportunity I'll never have again,” adds Will.

But they are also clear that their role is much more than just a `pay-the-bills' mission. “Job-sharing isn't a place for us to park our careers while we have fun raising our children,” adds Sam. “We're both incredibly ambitious and very focused on what we want to deliver this year both as a team and as a company.”

Embrace it

At KPMG, we believe that flexible working is key to talent retention and development. And, as workforces in the financial services sector – and across most services-based industries – evolve and transform, we expect flexible work arrangements to play an increasingly important role in the transition of skills, capabilities and roles across the organization.

Our view is that financial services CEOs need to start thinking about flexible work arrangements more as an innovative strategy to build the workforce of the future, rather than simply as a `benefit' or consolation you offer employees. They also need to start experimenting and testing new models.

“Don't be afraid to experiment with flexible working,” advises Sam. “You might find that you are able to hold on to some brilliant people, improve your productivity and drive workforce flexibility, all at the same time. I think our experience just shows it can work at almost any level of the organization.”

Indeed, it does.

Aviva builds families

Flexible work arrangements (like the one showcased in the accompanying article) is just one of the ways that Aviva plc is trying to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Indeed, the company also offers one of the most generous parental leave programs in the industry.

“We are very serious about leveling the playing field and reducing the pay gap within Aviva. And part of that is by allowing new parents – regardless of gender, marital status or sexual orientation – to take the time required to look after all of those responsibilities that come with early child care,” noted Danny Davies, Chief People Officer at Aviva Canada.

In Canada, Aviva offers its employees at least 1 year of parental leave for each parent employed by the company. There is no requirement to share the parental leave between parents, even if both parents are employed by Aviva (they can even take it at the same time). And it applies to all employees, both full- and part-time, across all levels of the company.

Similar policies (set in accordance with local laws and labor requirements) are in place at Aviva's offices in the UK, Ireland, France and Singapore. More Aviva businesses will be adopting similar policies within the next year. “We want people to see Aviva as a progressive, inclusive and welcoming place to work,” added Danny Davies. “Treating parents equally is just one way that we are helping make that a reality at Aviva Canada.”

About Will McDonald

Will McDonald is Group Public Policy and Sustainability Director. Previously Will worked in the Treasury, the Dept for Work and Pensions and DCLG as a Special Adviser to Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP between 2007 and 2010. Will also managed the public affairs team at the Commission for Racial Equality and worked for 5 years in Parliament as a researcher. He has degrees from Leeds University and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Will is also Chair of the Fatherhood Institute, a charity that campaigns for a great Dad for every child.

About Sam White

Sam White is Group Sustainability and Public Policy Director and a member of the Customer Executive at Aviva. From 2004-2010, Sam worked at the heart of UK Government as Special Adviser to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rt Hon Alistair Darling MP at the UK Treasury; and prior to that as adviser in the Department of Trade & Industry and Department of Transport. Sam began his career in various policy roles in Brussels and London and holds degrees from Oxford University and Bruges.

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