22 October 2003

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Juggling work-life commitments - the HSBC experience

HSBC’s Training and Development Manager Mary Louise Agius, addresses the recent conference on ‘Juggling Work-Life Commitments - Does it Make Business Sense?’ – organised by HSBC, the Foundation for Human Resources Development and the Richmond Foundation. Following are extracts from Ms Agius’s speech, in which she discusses the integration of work and personal life, gender equality and workplace effectiveness as well as elements of local culture, which impact the work-life balance of Maltese employees.

In our lives, we all try to juggle the demands of home, family, friends and work. Work-life balance is about adjusting our life patterns – work, family, learning, friends, relaxation etc. Regardless of age, race or gender, everyone can find a rhythm to help them combine work with their other responsibilities or aspirations.
Futurists throughout the last century foretold a coming age of leisure, where automation and computing work took the strain, liberating us for rich, rewarding and balanced lives. This has failed to materialise.
Instead, those of us in employment work harder and longer.
The solution to this problem has to revolve around how we organise our working lives and how much employers and employees are willing to be flexible
We are living in times when:
• Customers have learnt to be very demanding
• We live in an age when high quality goods and services are demanded outside of normal working or opening hours. Customers’ lifestyles and expectations have changed. What we must also remember is that WE are those customers.
• Competitiveness and quality of service are an organisation’s way of life
• Competition is making the customer more discriminating and selective.
• Competitiveness, flexibility and quality services are key concepts in the organisation of work today.
One particular issue is now very real for us - How is Malta’s entry into the EU going to effect us? More competition? Higher expectations from customers?
Employees’ expectations are high
It is not only customers who have high expectations, but also our employees. Job security to a certain extent, job satisfaction, fairness and the opportunity to have a life beside work are all high on employees’ agenda.
Legislation is changing
Legislation is there to guard us - but if we only do it because of legislation, we are going to be way behind.
A key challenge for organisations is to consider the business benefits of promoting work-life balance policies, and to design strategies that marry organisational flexibility with individual flexibility.
Another challenge for employers is to try and be initiators rather than followers. It is important to be seen as a good employer in the workplace scenario. This helps attract the best people.
HSBC, in the UK, is proud to have been the first employer to provide workplace nurseries way back in 1988 – 15 years ago.
I believe that HR must somehow be the driver of work-life balance policies in the workplace. It is people in HR who are closest to the individuals’ needs. It is not easy, because results are not immediate.
The biggest priority for any organisation is bottom line - profits - growing shareholders’ funds. Let us look at what can be effecting this objective.
Service profit chain
Service and other sector companies accept almost without question that increased customer satisfaction and loyalty results in improved business outcomes. However, how many are confident that they know the impact that their employees have on both customer behaviour and business performance?
Happy Staff = Happy Customers = Happy Shareholders, is a driving force that guides the Managing For Value principles at HSBC.
Managing retention
Retaining the best people is one of the Core Imperatives at HSBC. Understanding which people are key, together with the business implications of unwanted turnover, presents a real challenge to employers. Experience cannot be bought!
Workplace stress and long hours
As employees achieve a better work-life balance, they can reduce stress, and become more productive, motivated and happier.
Companies can boost staff morale, and introduce practices, which are more efficient and effective.
Remember what we said about Happy Staff = Happy Customers = Happy Shareholders? It pays the organisation to do something about it. Statistics show "a four per cent improvement in staff satisfaction will produce an one per cent increase in customer satisfaction"
HSBC policies towards achieving a work-life balance
We will now look at some of the policies that HSBC has adopted and see what benefits have been derived.
Clearwater for people
Clearwater for People is a programme based on the premise that what differentiates HSBC most from our competitors is the quality of individual service we provide to our customers - which is dependent on our individual employees. Therefore the way we treat our employees is very important. We understand the importance of each individual’s contribution to business success. Let us look at some of the things included in Clearwater for People.
Child care leave
HSBC gives the option to its employees who have children under 4 years of age to avail themselves of up to 2 years special unpaid leave.
In other parts of HSBC, the number of maternity leavers who return to work has grown from 30% to 85% within a ten-year period. Locally, the number of those females who come back is at 95 per cent.
The benefit to the bank is tremendous. Imagine the cost of recruiting new staff, training them and above all, giving them the same experience. Incidentally this option is not open only to female employees but to all members of staff.
‘As and when duties’
This is a scheme whereby employees on Child Care Leave have the opportunity to be included in an "as and when" pool of resources.
The benefit for the employees is that being included in this scheme is not considered as breaking their Child Care Leave period. It also gives them the opportunity to remain in contact with the branch network and keep up to date with what is happening in the workplace.
The benefit for the organisation is that when the need arises, there is a pool of resources available.
Reduced hours
Female employees have the option of working reduced hours, while still remaining full time employees, still enjoying all benefits, until their children are four years of age.
Keytime staff
Keytimers can opt for a range of working hours from a minimum of 15 hours per week to a maximum of 34 hours per week.
In our Cash Centre keytime staff currently have different working hours because it is not convenient for them to leave home during "normal" working hours. The Bank is saving money in the process, through reduced overtime and shift allowance payments.
HSBC’s new Call Centre, which will be launched later this month, will include keytime staff working for different numbers of hours, ranging from 15 to 30 hours, spread over a different number of days, besides others working on a 24 hours shift pattern and others working 40 hours spread over 6 days. This gives ample opportunity for employees to balance work with all their other commitments and it gives HSBC the opportunity to offer full services to call centre customers for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Another opportunity for keytime is being given to those full time employees who would like to work fewer hours, so long as there has been mutual agreement between themselves and their line managers.
There are administrative costs to the Bank for this but the benefits far outweigh this.
Employee Assistance
This is a free voluntary and confidential counselling service available to all employees and their families, through the Richmond Foundation.
Those who have used the programme and have offered feedback to HR, advise that the programme is very worthwhile and has helped.
Personal development
HSBC is very aware of personal development especially through self-learning. Every member of staff can borrow items from over 2,600 different titles in different forms: books, CDs, videos. Titles include both work related and non-work related subjects. Staff members can use these in their own time and in their own environment.
Future projects
The Bank is presently in discussion with the Unions to provide child care subsidy for members of staff with children.
We are also in the process of establishing how we can provide free ICDL training to all members of staff using means that will also be available to their families
Finally I would like us to summarise the benefits that HSBC is getting by trying to find this work-life balance.
Better customer service
Keeping our staff happy will help the Bank provide the individual service that gives that extra bit to our customers.
Having resources when we need them most
Using our knowledge of when our customers need our service most we can have the resources to provide that service
Retain the best people - low staff turnover
It is convenient for our staff to stay on at HSBC because their needs are being satisfied
Satisfied shareholders
Finding the right work-life balances helps us work smarter, thus contributing more to our bottom line.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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