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FLEX – Revolution, not evolution!


November 8, 2018

This story has been provided by one of Hoxby’s Partners, HSBC, to demonstrate how other businesses are embracing flexible working within their organisations. Written by Sam Bethune and Dee Gosney, who job-share the Head of Content Planning, Global Communications role at HSBC.

In 2017 a movement was sparked inside one of the world’s largest banks. Hundreds of individuals from across HSBC in the UK came together to tackle the professional taboo that was flexible working. This was not a corporate exercise in cultural change or an official HR diversity initiative. It was the organic formation of a grass-roots community started by two employees looking for some answers on how to make flexible working work for them. Myself and job share partner Dee Gosney were the unwitting duo. This is how it happened.

“Necessity is the mother of invention”

Our story is a fairly typical one. Both Dee and I had worked at HSBC for some time, building successful careers in an ambitious team which involved long hours and international travel. We both became mothers during that time and soon began to experience the conundrum that millions of working parents do – how to be the best employee AND the best parent we can be. Dee struggled for some years to juggle the responsibilities of a growing career and a growing family through variations of part-time working. Meanwhile, I, a new mother, was facing the prospect of a four-hour daily commute and sacrificing precious time with my baby in order to return to work. We both came to the conclusion – as many working mothers do - that the only way forward was to step away from the careers we loved and had worked so hard to build. That was until our manager, Jenny Varley Head of Digital Communications & Employer Brand suggested a job share. But what started as a professional arrangement to help with a personal situation was about to become the start of a passionate mission to enable flexible working at large.

FLEX – the accidental employee network

Job sharing brought about some immediate benefits, including the ability to share the load which comes with a senior role at a global organisation. But we quickly realised that it also brought a unique set of challenges: How to ensure hand-overs are water-tight? What if one disagrees with a decision that’s been made by the other? How to manage the expectations of stakeholders (and, surprisingly, peers) as a pair? So we decided to seek out other flexible working colleagues in the business with experience of job sharing. There was one problem though - this community was completely invisible.

Where were these mythical creatures hiding – under a desk somewhere? Was it possible that in a bank of over 40,000 people in the UK there was no one else working in a job share, or any other flexible format? We knew this simply didn’t add up, so we made it our mission to unearth the underground flexible working community. We put out an open call for anyone who was interested in a discussion on the topic of working flexibly at HSBC to share their experiences – positive or negative – and their best practice tips to making it work. Suffice to say, we hit a nerve.

We received over 600 responses from UK colleagues alone interested in joining the initial conversation. Some simple questions were put to the group which sought to shine a light on the benefits as well as the challenges of flexible working at such a large organisation. From this, a huge amount of valuable real-world insight was gathered from across the business with some big themes rising to the surface, including: the issue of trust between line managers and employees which was perceived to be the main blocker to flexible working; the negative stigma still attached to flexible working which was highlighted as a potential deterrent for those considering making a formal request; and the perception of flexible working – particularly part-time and job sharing – as being potentially career-limiting. The findings, whilst not a surprise, were powerful given we had been poised for feedback on lack of technology and systems to support flexible working. As it turns out, culture and mindset were found to be the real barriers at play. What’s more, 90% of people who took part expressed an interest in joining a flexible working network to promote and raise the visibility of the issue inside of HSBC UK. FLEX was born.

FLEXing some muscle

Suddenly, the lid had been lifted on a previously silent community. Before long, FLEX had amassed over 1,000 members, gained senior sponsorship at Board level and recruited a fully-fledged committee of passionate champions to lead the network forward. Since our launch in November 2017, FLEX has become an active voice inside of HSBC, offering its members a wide range of support from flex mentoring to helping those interested in job sharing to find a match through our job pairing events. The network has also been recognised by the business as a valuable source of insight and we’ve been invited to feed into HR policies and initiatives to support flexible working more widely.

But this is really just the start of the flexible working conversation at HSBC. With the continued support of our senior sponsors, line manager and other enlightened people leaders we’ve met along the journey, who knows what this little network might achieve in the future?

Authors Sam Bethune and Dee Gosney are Head of Content Planning, Global Communications at HSBC. The pair has been job-sharing since 2016 and are Co-Founders of FLEX, HSBC’s flexible working employee network. They were named on the Timewise Power 50 2018 in the Power Job Sharers category.

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