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News Analysis 16 Feb 2020 - 3 min read

Choose your own hours? Publicis latest to overhaul flexible working model

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

"What Liberté does is acknowledge people's lives, their differences and what works for them as individuals. Workplaces in general, not even just in our industry, are probably guilty of doing a one size fits all."

Born out of a brief to determine the viability of a new sabbatical program, Publicis is going large on flexibility, launching a new 'Liberté' unit and manifesto for flexitime in a bid to address some of the fundamental problems within media and marketing: burnout, work-life balance and mental health.

    As part of the new approach, a range of measurement tools, working behaviours and processes have been developed to support managers and staff to deal with a new, more fluid environment.

    Examples of these working behaviours include: 

    • Set your boundaries: opting for hours that better suit working lifestyle
    • Focus on outputs: Forget clock watchers, its results that matter
    • We are all different: flexible working is... flexible, i.e. different for different people
    • Use tech to your advantage - there's a reason comms, platforms etc. are popular


    The background:

    • The initial project looked at sabbaticals, flexibility, perks and benefits and even unlimited vacation/leave
    • Group-wide interviews and workshops were conducted across all levels of staff
    • Atlassian and NZ-based Perpetual Guardian staff were also interviewed 
    • Other clients' policies were reviewed as well

    What Liberté does is acknowledge people's lives, their differences and what works for them as individuals. Workplaces in general, not even just in our industry, are probably guilty of doing a one size fits all. That's why this had to be about support for each member of staff in accordance with who they are and their needs.

    Pauly Grant, chief talent officer, Publicis Groupe

    What's the goal?

    Mental health, burnout, ageism and worse. As former agency leaders suggest, yoga isn't going to fix underlying problems.

    By mapping out a new approach Liberté is trying to make a difference - crucially, without trying to systemise flexibility: Chief talent officer Pauly Grant says the approach is all about understanding what flexible working arrangements mean for individuals. I.e. Not working from home once a week, but trying to create schedules that meet the needs of every team member as far as possible. 

    The hope is that clients will also benefit.

    "The key outcome here is a combination of absolutely looking at increased engagement and lower turnover, but it's all hand in hand. If someone is happy in their role which is what I would link into mental health - happiness - then they're going to want to be in that organisation," Grant says.

    "It will also, as a result, give better work to our clients because happy, healthy staff members mean great quality work and diverse thinking and in our industry, when you don't have a product as such, we have to bank on our people being at their best, in all facets of their role."

    Grant says it's hard to pinpoint what one schedule could look like and that this was the point of the approach. Using herself as an example, her schedule is based around, in some instances, being able to "go offline" in the late afternoon to pick up her children from school and bring them home.

    "Then I'm back online in the later hours of the evening. Now that might not work for everyone, however, this is why we are focused on having every manager educated on how flexible working arrangements need to work for not just the individual themselves but within the structure of their team," she says.

    She says the group conducted six months of training for executive staff and higher level management prior to launching Liberté , while ongoing workshops will enable staff to not only learn more about the approach but provide relative and fresh feedback on how it is progressing.


    Our survey says:

    • From engagement surveys, 84% of staff listed flexibility as being important or extremely important to them
    • Publicis also found an 81% correlation between happiness scores and internal leadership and strategy scores.
    • When surveyed, 35% of staff said that their current work environment was either very or extremely flexible. Publicis is hoping to increase this number significantly. Around 55% said their current environment was 'somewhat flexible.'
    • Only 50% of staff felt comfortable running ad-hoc, personal errands during work hours.


    What's new?

    Many agencies have varying levels of flexible working options. It's pretty "patchy", according to Grant.

    Publicis Media ANZ’s associate director of strategic projects, Scott Ramsay, agreed: most flexibility policies often come with a "load of asterisks", undermining their usefulness, he suggested.

    Speaking to a group of next-generation staff throughout the entire group, Grant noticed stark contrasts between each of the agencies. While some felt confident enough to work form home, others felt they couldn't even ask their boss to leave early to make an appointment.

    "From our research, there was this huge scale from an agency to another, which I imagine would also be mirrored throughout the agency landscape outside of Publicis," Grant says.

    "What I think is different about what Publicis is doing is we're looking at this as a group. So, every single one of our 14 agencies are on board with the changes. That's 1,700 people across ANZ in our industry that now have access to flexible working. It's now part of our culture."

    As part of measuring how Liberté is performing, agency leaders will look apply multiple measures and metrics such as around turnover levels, retention levels and happiness scores - but also hard metrics such as productivity levels and revenue.

    "We've got an internal acquisition team and they've been getting a fantastic response when they're talking about this because they say nine times out of ten, when they are talking to candidates, it's one of their first questions: flexibility," Grant says.

    "This goes back to the point around other agencies talking about it but not following through. Clearly, if one of the most asked about subjects is flexible working arrangements and it's a reason why they are looking for another role, then it's not being actioned industry-wide."

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    Josh McDonnell

    Senior Writer

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