Anne Stagg

CEO - CXM at dentsu UK & Ireland, and UK CEO, Merkle

After 18 months of balancing home schooling with work, working families will likely look back and wonder how they managed this juggling act. As organisations start planning their return to the office, Anne Stagg, CEO of Customer Experience Management (CXM) company, Merkle (part of dentsu, one of Management Today’s Top 30 Working Family Organisations) shares how to create a family friendly policy that works – for both the people and the organisation.

The pandemic has been tough on just about everyone, as people grappled with being stuck at home, unable to see their loved ones and in some cases much worse. If you’re a working family, you’ll be all too familiar with the delicate balancing act of home schooling, work and childcare, and then, throw into that mix, what if one of you got ill? You get the picture.

For organisations, working practices had to adapt quickly during Covid. We had to be flexible to allow our people time to look after their families – from young children who often popped up on video calls, to elderly relatives and everyone in between. And now, as we start to return to something resembling normality, organisations are facing the challenge of attracting and retaining talent as people have started to move again. In some cases this is down to employees’ priorities changing. Some have relocated, or changed career completely and, after such a prolonged period of relatively few people moving jobs, it’s hardly surprising to see so much activity in the job market right now.

The last 18 months has certainly brought a sharp focus to employee wellbeing, resulting in many organisations reviewing and adapting their policies to provide a healthy work-life balance for their people.

Merkle and dentsu have worked at being one of the best places to work in the industry for many years. We have seen success not just by creating policies but by listening to our people and adapting based on their feedback, while at the same time ensuring that whatever is put in place is sustainable in the long term. Our success is a result of putting personal before policy. ‘How can I help’ and ‘we are all in this together’ is very much the Merkle and dentsu way – we aim to support the needs of our working parents and help them achieve a healthy work life balance. For example, we set a shared parental-leave policy that entitles all parents to the same leave and pay options. This led to much higher take up from fathers – well above the national average – who now felt that parental leave could work for them financially.

Here is my advice to other leaders looking to provide flexibility to working families in a way that works for employees and is sustainable:

1)           Talent attraction and retention 

To attract the right talent is to think about future ways of working and offering a way that helps people have a happy, healthy work-life balance. By doing this at Merkle we reduced sickness levels hugely. Different ways of thinking can also drive business results. Offering part-time working brings scale and flexibility and a more diverse talent pool – returning parents, students, etc. are all good for building a pipeline of future candidates. However, retention is as, if not more important, and so the focus is needed here. Longevity and loyalty drive business continuity and stability. Our long-standing employees are often in client roles longer than their client counterparts and retain a huge amount of valuable knowledge – we want to reward that loyalty and keep people in the business.

2)           Think long-term when it comes to costs 

It can be easy to be put off by new policy suggestions that look like they will result in eye-watering costs to the business. Obviously, costs are a consideration, but the thinking around this needs to be balanced by reduced attrition, and in the long-term, lower recruitment costs due to having a strong culture and a good reputation.

3)           Listen to your people

Successful policies for working families are those based around people, not data. Get it right and the data speaks for itself. My key piece of advice is listen, listen and listen again. Listen to your people and be prepared to review and adapt. Listen to all levels of the business – not just leadership or management. Invest time with people from all levels of the organisation and understand their pain points and challenges. Our parent and carer pillar at Merkle, which is now part of dentsu’s wider diversity, equity and inclusion program, has good engagement and generates fantastic ideas and feedback, and we see great results when our employees see their feedback being implemented.

Creating a successful working environment and inclusive culture isn’t based on just one change or policy; it requires a collection of initiatives and policies which caters for all of the different cohorts in the organisation. Leaders that are always thinking to the future of work and are willing to review and adapt based on difference and preference will drive the greatest results. 

Find out more about Working Families awarding dentsu a place on its prestigious list of the top family-friendly employers in the UK in our press release.