Business sector: Retail – transportation solutions provider
Number of employees: 5,000


Key themes from the case study

  • Experimentation is key when it comes to flexible working: be prepared to give things a go and learn from them.
  • Flexibility can be afforded in non-traditional areas of business such as customer service and call centres; and flexibility can also result in service innovations (like extended opening hours for customers).
  • Two-way flexibility underpins successful flexible working relationships.
  • Put your employees at the heart of your flexible working strategies: listen to what they want and make it easy for them to ask for flexibility.

Overall lessons learned

  • From an individual perspective, the flexible worker recommends talking with your line manager about your situation and how important flexible working is for you to give your best. It is also important to put a well-thought-out and well-researched business case together.
  • The line manager recommends being consistent: ‘Be fair and transparent so that everyone can see what is happening.’
  • Be prepared to try different approaches to flexible working: ‘You don’t know what’s possible unless you give it a go.’
  • Each organisation is unique and has its own opportunities and challenges: ‘It’s not about copying others but about thinking, where can we be flexible and how can we be creative about our offerings?’
  • Acknowledge that you are on a journey when it comes to flexible working and that it is vital to be flexible and adapt along the way: ‘Listen to your employees and ask for their advice on how to make it work for everyone.’

Next steps

  • Explore core hours working.
  • Promote flexible working to men to encourage uptake.
  • Continue on ‘our flexible working journey’ and expand to find creative approaches to flexible working. 

Organisational context

Enterprise started its flexible working journey 15 years ago following feedback from a global employee opinion survey. Enterprise Rent-A-Car (Enterprise) offers a range of flexible working options, including:

  • alternative working arrangements
  • compressed hours
  • working from home
  • staggered hours with late starts/early finishes
  • part-time working.

Offering flexible working arrangements is a key way of retaining employees for the long term. Enterprise’s focus on flexibility develops employee engagement and supports all employees, regardless of their circumstances. The business fills 98% of positions through promotions within the company, so there is a clear understanding that all employees will need flexibility at some point in their careers. 

The HR director for the UK and Ireland says that Enterprise tries to keep flexible working practices – or, as they are known in the business, alternative working arrangements (AWA) – as informal as possible to ‘encourage employees to do it’. The business has found that formalising the process can put some people off taking it up, because of concerns around the perceived impact it might have. Women are more likely to go through the more formal ‘right to request’ approach, whereas men very rarely do. As part of Enterprise’s engagement strategy, the company is keen to promote flexibility to men and to working fathers as much as to women and working mothers: ‘Men have the same thoughts, challenges and fears that women experience.’

Enterprise is keen to support overall flexibility and is looking at ways to ‘allow people to set their own schedules in a way that best works for them.’

Enterprise also offers a flexible approach to benefits and has replaced its sick day entitlement with the more flexible option of ‘choice time’. This can be taken for sick days but also holidays, caring requirements, religious reasons as well as for general wellbeing. It can be easier for people to say they are taking a ‘choice’ day rather than a ‘sick’ day.

Eliminating ‘presenteeism’ is an ongoing priority, especially among more long-standing employees. However, the HR director for the UK and Ireland maintains that Enterprise is ‘working hard at changing our culture to enable as many people that want or need flexibility to come forward. We are focusing on a culture where the message is, get the job done and move on.’

It is easier to be flexible for the organisation’s office-based staff. Greater creativity is required to ensure customer services staff at Enterprise’s 470 branches can provide service to customers while working more flexibly. Branches and depots are being encouraged to be creative when it comes to flexible working – for example, implementing split-shift options and job-shares. Some branches have deliberately extended their hours to enable more shift working, thereby creating a win-win for both employees and customers. 

Flexible working in non-traditional and/or senior roles

Enterprise is innovative in allowing its call centre workers to work flexible schedules: the call centre is entirely staffed by homeworkers, who control their own flexible work patterns. The organisation analyses call volume and schedules accordingly. For example, employees can work three hours and then have a two-hour break during a quieter period, before returning to work. 

When recruiting to fill vacancies in this population of 260 homeworkers, interviews are now conducted virtually – replicating the conditions in which successful applicants will do their job. This means that hiring managers can directly assess the core competencies required for the job. They also receive their training virtually. 

Gaining senior and line manager buy-in

Flexible working and alternative work arrangements are supported by top line managers and discussed and promoted through internal communications. Flexible working is seen to be important and prioritised. ‘Our senior leaders appreciate how important it is to retain staff and are very open to affording flexibility. They are clear on the benefits for the organisation and the individual, and clearly communicate these.’ 

Facilitators to implementing flexible working 

  • Experiment: ‘You don’t know unless you give it a go. You can provide greater opportunities and service for customers through experimentation – like extending opening hours to accommodate shift working.’
  • Shine a light on managers who work flexibly and successfully: ‘It’s important to show people that you can progress even if you are working flexibly. Shine a light on managers who are working flexibly and successfully.’
  • Move away from rewarding presenteeism: ‘Some people discuss busy-ness like it’s a “badge of honour”. We highlight moving away from inputs and hours worked to outputs and the quality of work.’
  • Listen to and empower employees to ask for flexible working: ‘Listen to employees, trust employees and make it easy for them to ask for flexibility.’

Benefits of implementing flexible working (including any data/evidence collected)

Flexible worker perspective

  • Attracting and retaining valued employees: ‘My alternative work arrangement (AWA) allows me to work. Without flexibility I wouldn’t be able to properly look after my two young children, nor afford childcare.’
  • Two-way flexibility: It also generates an attitude of flexibility back towards the organisation: ‘If I can be flexible, I’ll stay later to get things done, when it’s needed.’

Line manager perspective 

  • Increased motivation: ‘The benefit is that it keeps people motivated and retained. It makes people want to work harder and give more, because of the flexibility the organisation affords.’
  • Increased wellbeing: ‘Flexibility also supports people’s wellbeing and leads to a healthier home life, which is good news all round.’ 
  • Two-way flexibility: ‘Employees are much more likely to be flexible back to the organisation if they are afforded flexibility in the first place. They want to help and will do so if they can.’

HR perspective

  • Greater employee engagement for all: ‘We started our focus on alternative work arrangements as a key employee engagement tool and that hasn’t changed. It’s a key way of boosting engagement for all employees, regardless of circumstances.’
  • Attraction and retention: Being flexible helps to attract employees and, as most promotions are from within the company, it also means that most employees stay at Enterprise longer and will be looking for some type of flexibility at some stage in their life and career. Flexible working is therefore a key way of retaining employees for the long term.

Challenges/barriers to implementing flexible working

Flexible worker perspective

  • Traffic issues during work travel: One challenge experienced by some flexible workers is where their role requires a lot of driving, so traffic problems, such as hold-ups and traffic jams, can cause unexpected delays and impact on flexibility.
  • Childcare requirements in the summer: The summer months can present more of a challenge from a work schedule and childcare perspective because of school holidays. 

Line manager perspective

  • Not wanting to leave the team short: ‘I have to make sure that the team is not left short at any time. All team members have families and sometimes they might want the same time off.’ 
  • People taking advantage: In rare cases, the flexible working system can be open to people taking advantage. ‘One employee might not want to change the day they work to accommodate important meetings or training activities.’

HR perspective

  • Perceptions that flexible working is just for certain groups: People’s perceptions in the business can be a barrier to successfully implementing flexibility, particularly when they assume that flexible working should only be afforded to certain groups with certain needs.
  • Presenteeism: A culture of presenteeism also represents a barrier if people are still judging each other based on their time at their desks rather than the quality of their work.

Overcoming the barriers and challenges

Flexible worker perspective

  • Two-way flexibility: Two-way flexibility can help with overcoming the challenges of travel and traffic issues, and also of balancing work schedules and increased childcare demands over the summer period. The flexible worker is clear that because the organisation affords them flexibility to help juggle different demands, they will also be as flexible as possible for the organisation – staying late where necessary and where possible.

Line manager perspective 

  • Fairness and open dialogue: When there are conflicts in flexible work schedules and leave requests, the line manager emphasises fairness and open dialogue: ‘It’s about being as fair as possible, keeping the team happy and maintaining an open dialogue around this.’
  • Setting clear boundaries and ground rules: It is important to set clear boundaries and ground rules when it comes to flexible working and claiming flexi-time, so that everyone knows what is and is not acceptable and is clear on the organisation’s approach.

HR perspective

  • Clear and open communication about flexible working: It is important to promote clear and honest communication about the organisation’s approach to flexible working, including the fact that it is open to all employees, regardless of their circumstances. 
  • Shifting the culture away from presenteeism: It is also important to shift the culture away from presenteeism by not rewarding long hours and placing the focus on the quality of work achieved. 

How to measure and evaluate the impact of flexible working

  • Using customer service metrics: Measuring the success of flexible working will differ depending on the circumstances and priorities of each organisation. Customer service is the core performance metric at Enterprise. We can immediately see where flexible working could be impacting customer service scores. Sometimes scores are improved as people that enjoy their work provide great customer service. That is what we measure most for business insight. 

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