UMA Fellows' Interviews

For organizations concerned about losing top talent, the key driver of workplace loyalty is…. management’s understanding of the demands of family life

Business blogs and magazines are chock full of advice for workers on how to juggle their work and busy personal lives, running the gamut from taking up meditation to engaging in less frequent email checks. But personal strategies notwithstanding, experts say individual coping skills alone won’t solve the problem.

Just as we all can benefit from making changes in our lives to work more efficiently or improve our health, organizations must also be willing to change.

Some companies have gotten out ahead of the curve and created policies and programs that foster a supportive workplace. And those that have report improved productivity and stronger financial performance as reflected in their bottom lines.

The real test, however, lies in a company’s culture and its commitment to flexibility. “When you have true top-down commitment, it means that workplace flexibility is systemic, like the air you breathe, not a function of whether or not you have a supervisor that ‘gets it,” said Susan Seitel, president and founder of WFC Resources, a Minnesota firm that offers help to create effective workplaces.

“Top management doesn’t always see the value,” she added. “They’ll agree to a policy that says the organization encourages flexibility, but ‘encourages’ is not the same as ‘is committed to.’”

For several years now, the nation’s accounting firms have been actively working to create supportive workplaces.

As early as 2011, Deloitte, one of the “Big Four” professional services networks, was reporting that stepped-up flexibility policies had helped cut turnover to 15 percent a year, down from 24 percent. Even then, former Chairwoman Sharon Allen said Deloitte’s flexibility policies saved more than $45 million a year by reducing turnover.

Recently, Uma had the opportunity to chat with Deloitte’s Jen Fisher, Managing Director of Well-being, to discuss the way respect for the personal needs and family lives of the organization’s employees is embedded in Deloitte’s culture and how this fosters employee loyalty and trust.

Uma: Managing Director of Well-being is an interesting title. Tell us a bit about the origin of that.

JF: It’s the best title and the best job I’ve ever had. I wake up every morning and love what I do and am incredibly grateful. It [the position] is a strong representation of the commitment of our leadership to foster well-being at our organization.

Uma: It’s clear, then, that employee well-being is integral to Deloitte’s culture. What were some of the influences that motivated Deloitte to embrace employee well-being so pervasively?

JF: We are continually looking at the market and the expectations of the people we want to hire. We’re listening to what the people in this multigenerational workforce are telling us. Family leave and flexibility have been two important areas of focus.

As a client service organization, we are always talking about how we can innovate around our people. What tools and resource can we make available to them? It’s a constant evolution to find the right programs and develop the right culture to support people in their life journey.

Uma: What has been the employees’ reaction to innovations in this area?

JF: What we get back in return is so much more than the “dollars and cents” aspect of it. Many people are purchasing their first home, having children either naturally or through adoption, caring for sick or aging family members. As an organization, it’s our job to support our employees as their lives evolve.

We see our peoples’ sense of well-being grow as they come to understand they’re working in a culture and an organization that tells them, ‘We’ve got your back.’ This impacts the way they show up every day. It impacts their [employee] productivity. It impacts our clients. It impacts the way we go home at the end of our day and week.

Our Paid Family Leave Program in particular is a leading program in the market, and it’s a driving force for our leaders. It’s the right thing for our people. Hopefully, it will have an impact on public policy so that other large organizations will follow. We really feel it’s the right thing to do to meet people’s changing needs.

Uma: In addition to your Paid Family Leave program, what other programs do you have in place?

JF: In terms of flexibility people can work with their leaders to develop a schedule that meets their needs. We all live in a highly tech-enabled world and we are all overly connected—sometimes to our own detriment. But most of the time, we can work from anywhere. We have promoted a culture of having flexibility when, where, and how we need to—and this supports Deloitte’s client service business.

We moved away from having formalized flexibility policies and programs. We’re more focused on having these behaviors entrenched in our culture.

We want our employees to be present for the things they want to be present for in life, and we know our people have different priorities. This is key aspect of our inclusive culture. This is who we are.

Uma: It sounds like employees take cues from the culture. Is that how you’d describe it?

JF: Our people watch what our leaders do, so it’s important that our leaders model the appropriate behavior [relative to work/life support]. The biggest impact for employees comes from the people they work with every day, and we are very open and transparent. For example, I like to work out around 9:30 in the morning. I get up, have breakfast and answer some emails. Then I close my laptop and work out for an hour and 15 minutes. Doing this makes me better at what I do. Working out at that time is good for me, and then I sometimes work later in the evening and that’s okay. I’m very transparent about this and encourage my team to follow my lead. Ultimately, this doesn’t impinge upon but benefits our work environment.

Uma: It’s said that flexible policies attract women to a workplace. But do men at Deloitte take advantage of these policies, too?

JF: Since the inception of our Family Leave Program, we are starting to see an uptick in the amount of time men are taking for leave, whether with a new child, or even in other instances when a man has specific care-giving duties.

We’re also addressing changing roles people have in their families, challenging the norm around what a traditional family is and expanding the definition of what family leave means. All of our programs are inclusive. Everyone at any age can activate them. We support our employees at all life stages.

Uma: Do you have any mentoring or sponsorship initiatives in place?

JF: Mentoring and sponsorship take many different shapes and forms. We recently reinvented performance management at Deloitte, focusing on the practice of continual check-ins with employees throughout the year and encouraging conversations between managers and employees about their well-being. For example, we encourage discussions about the employee’s comfort level with his or her workload or review whether he or she is travelling too much. Again, embedded in those conversations is reinforcement of the idea that Deloitte recognizes that in life things do happen. And when they do, employees should take advantage of the opportunities we offer for workplace flexibility and support. Equally important is making employees understand that taking advantage of these various opportunities does not impact their careers. We want our employees to know we will be there for them on their life journey. Then, when they are ready to come back to work they can jump back in and be fully engaged. We are constantly evolving our culture and mindset to address employees’ changing needs.

Uma: Where are you in terms of numbers for productivity and performance?

JF: In terms of the [Paid Family Leave Program] program, it’s still early, but the feedback from our people is phenomenal. Regardless of whether an employee needs to use the program now or never, what’s important is the fact that they work for an organization that has a program like this. Knowing they have the support of the organization creates an incredible sense of purpose and loyalty.

Retention is huge for us. There’s definitely a war for top talent. We’re in the war as much as anyone else. There is a great cost to replacing high performers. The last thing we want to do is lose those people because we couldn’t make work and life work for them.

Uma: Beyond your regularly scheduled workouts, have you personally benefitted from the workplace support Deloitte offers its employees?

JF: My story is a recent one. I’m a young breast cancer survivor and finished treatment a little over a month ago. I was in cancer treatment the better part of eight months. I decided not to take formal leave but certainly took advantage of the flexibility Deloitte affords employees.

Everyone does what works for them. We have leave programs for people with serious illnesses, but I wanted flexibility [not leave]. I needed to take care of myself as I went through treatment. But when I felt like it, I wanted to have the choice of doing what I love. As I’ve said, I’m passionate about my work. It energizes me, and I wanted to continue to stay engaged and have a sense of normalcy. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to do it my way.

This is much deeper than choosing to work out at the same time in the morning. When something like this happens—something serious and unexpected—it matters that the organization really rallies around you and helps you get through it.

My husband is also an employee, and he did take paid family leave as he was a caregiver and coordinating things related to me and our family life. Other care-giving duties were things we normally would have split, and [during my treatment] the responsibility fell to him. He was able to access the program when there was so much going on—the yin and yang of things: the shock of my diagnosis; my going through treatment; my being engaged and part of rolling out the Paid Family Leave Program, the program my husband accessed so he could do what needed doing. There were tears and a feeling of joy at the same time.

  • Share