As one of Marketing Week’s key trends for 2019, flexible working is growing in popularity among marketers across every sector and level of seniority. Yet, despite the appetite for flexibility many companies are still failing to meet the demands of the modern workplace.
Marketing Week’s Career and Salary Survey 2019 reveals 90.1% of marketers say flexible working is very important or important, up from 87% in 2018. The number who believe flexible working is very important is up from 47.2% last year to 53.3%.
However, just 46.4% of marketers are able to take advantage flexible working, a slight rise from 42.6% in 2018. Over the past 12 months 37.7% of marketers have actually worked flexibly, an increase from 34.2% in 2018. The research questioned 4,415 marketers in total.
Pizza Hut Europe promotes a flexible approach to working, based on trusting the individual to organise their time, explains chief sales and brand officer Stephan Croix. A fan of co-working locations, Croix sees such spaces as a source of inspiration on how other companies are challenging the established norms. However, it’s all about striking the right balance.
“In marketing, building relationships is a big part of our job and getting the recognition from the network of people we’re surrounded with. It’s much easier to communicate face-to-face,” he notes.
“I think also in marketing learning from others is really at the heart of everything and connecting the brand work within the business is equally as important, so I don’t think a marketer can be successful if he or she is only working from home or from a remote location.”
The fact that just 37.7% of marketers have actually worked flexibly over the past year suggests the industry is slowly getting its head around the new reality, suggests Premier Foods marketing director Yilmaz Erceyes.
His team are encouraged to adopt more flexibility, with productivity increasing directly as a result. Erceyes makes a point of personally modelling flexible working practices.
“I think it’s up to the senior leaders to lead from the front, rather than expecting people to have the courage to come up and ask,” he explains.
“I try to make sure I leave the office loudly when I leave at 5.30pm and say ‘goodnight guys’ rather than trying to sneak out. Some people will receive an email from me at 10pm, but I make sure I don’t expect that from other people. This is the way I’m flexing my working style to fit with my other life outside work.”
While she accepts that the industry has come a long way, Philippa Snare, head of the EMEA marketing group at Facebook, believes much more could be done. She favours a cognitive diversity approach, which instead of focusing on gender roles is based on an acceptance that people work differently and outcomes are what really matters.
“It doesn’t matter whether they’re in at 6am and leave at 3pm, what matters is they are producing the outcomes that will move the business forward,” Snare explains.
“Everyone wears multiple ‘hats’ and to attract the best people to the best jobs you’ve got to look at the society people are living in and recognise it’s not simple; people’s lives are complicated.”
Snare believes this approach eases off the pressure of presenteeism, the practice of coming into work when you are ill, which has more than tripled in British workplaces since 2010, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
Access to flexible working is often determined by the size of the company, according to the Career and Salary Survey analysis. It is most commonly available in businesses of 250-plus people (52.6%), followed by companies of 50 to 249 people (42.5%), 10 to 49 people (40.6%) and lastly one to nine people (38.1%).
Over the past year marketers in businesses with over 250 people are most likely to have worked in a flexible manner (41.6%), compared to those in organisations numbering fewer than 10 people (34%).
However, the popularity of flexible working is high regardless of company size. Some 90.9% of marketers in 50- to 249-person businesses think flexible working is very important or important, versus 88% of marketers in organisations of under 10 people, which is still a significant majority.
Erceyes sees flexible working as an opportunity for smaller businesses to enhance their productivity, although this requires careful planning to ensure it runs smoothly. Croix agrees that balance is important regardless of size. At Pizza Hut, for example, Mondays are reserved for face-to-face meetings and once a month there is a non-travel week when all the different departments work in the office.
Making career breaks work
While the appetite among marketers for flexible working is undeniable, popularity is also growing for career breaks. Some 52.4% of marketers responding to the 2019 Career and Salary Survey say career breaks are very important or important, up from 48.7% in 2018.
However, despite over half of marketers calling for career breaks just 7.8% have the option to take one, down from 8.3% in 2018. Career breaks are most likely to be offered in companies of 250-plus people (12.1%) and are least likely in companies of 10 to 49 people (3%). Just 0.9% of all marketers have taken a career break over the past 12 months, up slightly from 0.7% in 2018.
A lack of economic freedom could be putting marketers off exploring what are usually unpaid career breaks, Erceyes suggests. He also identifies an underlying fear that being away from the office would result in missing opportunities or cause others to question their commitment to the company.
The decision to take a career break is very personal, says Croix, who can see the value for marketers in accomplishing something new, finding inspiration and then coming back to work with a refreshed mind.
“We have somebody in my team who did a road trip for seven months with his partner and it’s incredible the level of skills you gain that are non-specific to marketing. More maturity, becoming extra street smart and from a behaviour point of view managing conflict and managing different cultures in a very positive way. It’s very enriching, but it’s probably not for everybody.”
Career breaks strike a personal note for Philippa Snare. Three months into her role at Facebook her partner snapped a tendon in his knee, leaving him learning to walk again for six months. With a house being rebuilt and a child to look after, plus a new job covering Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Snare made it work with the support of Facebook.
“All they said was ‘these are the things we would really like you to experience over this first six months of your job, if you’re finding that difficult tell us what we need to do’,” she recalls. “It didn’t even occur to me that it would be a problem because they made it so acceptable.”
While Snare understands that not all companies operate in this way and it is not applicable for every role, making employees feel comfortable taking a career break is all down to the attitude within the business.
The individual also has a responsibility not to feel like they have to conform to a ‘clock-in, clock-out’ culture, which Snare admits often requires a shift in thinking that can be difficult, especially early in your career. The key is having the confidence to work smarter, not harder.