In late 2016 Lee Davidson made a major move to advance his career: he joined ANZ in Hong Kong as North Asia Financial Controller. But it wasn’t just taking up the challenge of a senior regional role that excited him; he was also pleased that his new employer fully supported his plans to work flexibly.
Davidson, who has children aged two and four, re-arranged his work day, starting early so he could head home early to make the most of the evening with his family. “It’s very important that I spend time with my children and wife, especially the children while they’re still awake. I also work from home once a week, so I can do a school drop-off and pick-up for my eldest child. ANZ has backed me all the way with this,” says Davidson, who has recently moved roles to become a senior business partner for international finance.
His own flexible schedule made it easier for Davidson to lead by example and encourage members of his multi-country team to re-evaluate the way they worked. “Flexible working traditionally had some stigma attached to it in Asia, so I initially had to meet with my team to dispel any negative connotations.”
Sumeet Wadhera, ANZ’s Singapore-based Head of Client Insights and Solutions, is also a firm believer in the benefits of flexible working. “At ANZ, working flexibly won’t hinder your career and you won’t be seen as lacking ambition,” says Wadhera, who also leads a team across several markets. “There’s a perception in banking that personal circumstances can’t be accommodated, but that’s not the case at ANZ.”
Wadhera believes flexible working can mean that a team is more responsive to customers. “It creates a more open team culture. When there’s a flexible way of working, people feel they have more freedom to be innovative in solving customer problems and also pursuing their interests. This approach also allows us to be more agile in how we organise ourselves and respond to our customers.”
Davidson agrees. After making sure his team at ANZ all had remote access, he says more people started working flexibly and he began noticing that productivity was improving. “For example, if people have an urgent project to finish, working from home lets them switch off from the distractions of the office and avoids them wasting time commuting. They can just focus on getting the job done,” says Davidson.
More fundamentally, when managers encourage flexible working, it’s a clear sign that they trust their employees. “At ANZ, I’ve found that when people know they’re trusted to do their job regardless of location, they repay that trust by working effectively and efficiently,” says Davidson.
Wadhera says ANZ is “flexible about flexible working”. Instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach, Wadhera likes working with individual team members to create bespoke plans that balance the employee’s needs with those of the bank and its customers. “While I can anticipate some elements of flexible working, it’s hard to second guess exactly what each person needs.”
He cites the example of a mother who has returned to his team on a part-time basis, initially working two days in the office and one from home. “Agreeing the days and location was easy, but for the flexible arrangement to be successful we’ve had to structure it properly. We’ve made sure her work can be done in three days and doesn’t spill over. And that she has a meaningful role that matches her abilities – she’s not just constantly doing projects.”
ANZ has global standards for flexible working, but also adapts its approach for different markets. “In my team, we offer great service to customers and also still take into account culture differences between the countries we operate in,” says Wadhera. “In India, for example, safety concerns mean we offer transportation to employees when they work late.”
In his team in ANZ’s operations and technology support centre in Bengaluru, flexible initiatives (such as allowing staff to work local Indian hours and giving them access to work remotely) have helped keep employee turnover at below 10% for the past eight years, says Wadhera. The industry average for service hubs in the country is about 30%. “In India, you have to take the extra step of dispelling any stigma attached to flexible working – my team head in Bengaluru has been proactively working on an appropriate arrangement with a staff member who would have considered leaving the bank otherwise.”
“No matter the market – it’s the same here in Singapore and in Hong Kong – you risk losing good people if you don’t accommodate their reasonable needs. By offering flexibility, ANZ is creating loyalty,” adds Wadhera. “Our strong reputation for flexible working also helps us attract the best talent. Without it, we’re less likely to have a diverse applicant pool.”
Both Wadhera and Davidson say they encourage their team members to have up-front discussions with them when their personal circumstances are changing. “If you’re applying for flexible working, set out the reasons why you want it and what you aim to deliver,” says Davidson. “When I joined ANZ, I was confident that my own delivery wouldn’t suffer from working flexibly, and it hasn’t.”
“There’s responsibility on employees to define success and build a case for how flexible working allows the employee to meet their personal circumstance and supports our customers,” agrees Wadhera. “ANZ has created a culture of transparency around flexible working that allows us to all discuss it openly and honestly with our managers.”
Wadhera isn’t always in the Singapore office himself. He’s on the road a lot – visiting clients across Asia – and he also works flexibly from ANZ in New York. “I’m from New York and I go there each year on vacation. After that, I spend a week in our NY office and visiting clients, working during the day and logging in again later in the evening to cover Asia time zone,” he explains. “My manager is extremely supportive and there’s no issue with this at ANZ as many of our senior managers are working flexibly. When staff goes on holiday near an ANZ office, we encourage them to work out of that office for a few days to connect with their colleagues and clients in our network. The message from the top is clear: we trust our people and we want to support them.”
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