American Express, Commended 2015, The Centrica Best for Flexible Working Award

American Express (AmEx) has taken a multi-stranded approach to ensuring flexible working is, as it suggests, “embedded into its very DNA”. It is clearly outlined in formal policies, and accompanying leader guides have been created to support the implementation and understanding of these policies. Training on how to manage flexible working requests is also available to all managers. Managers are encouraged to consider what working arrangements are required for employees returning from maternity and adoption leave, moving the onus away from the employee to initiate a flexible working conversation with their leader. The focus on supporting and training line managers has been a cornerstone of AmEx’s success. When surveyed, 90% of UK employees responded favourably to the question “My leader gives me the flexibility I need to balance my work and personal life”. The score was highest among flexi (94%) and home workers (97%).

Amex’s ‘BlueWork’ programme enables employees to work from a variety of locations, sending a clear message that output is valued over physical presence. Evolving and upgrading the technology available, such as the remote network (VPN), video-conference software, live meeting software and soft-phone technology, has been paramount in making AmEx a highly collaborative, productive and flexible workplace.

To build additional flexibility into their lives, employees are able to buy extra holidays, take unpaid sabbaticals (depending on their length of service) or enjoy summer hours (flexitime/time in lieu for some lines of business in the summer months). To enable employees to balance life commitments while in office buildings, personal WiFi is now available to all.

Over three-quarters of UK employees respond to AmEx’s Annual Employee Pulse survey. Across key areas such as loyalty, overall engagement and leadership ability there was no difference in responses given by those in a traditional working arrangement and those working flexibly, in the last survey. This clearly demonstrated that flexible working is embedded in the culture.

Perception of fair treatment is the same for flexible workers and those working in traditional working styles. Indeed, the career development score is slightly higher among flexible workers compared with the baseline in terms of support given by leaders and development opportunities.

AmEx has endeavoured to engage with home workers, part-time workers and employees out on family-related leave. The organisation reached out to employees through innovative methods, as well as through traditional approaches such as benefit fairs, posters, desk-drops and email communications. One example was the augmented reality app ‘Blippar’, which was used to bring to life the benefits package and showed employees where to go for further information via their personal devices, enabling engagement outside of office locations and on the go. By simply hovering their smart phone over literature, employees could interact with key benefits information online. This was found to be especially useful for employees on or returning from maternity and adoption leave.

The results were very encouraging, showing an increase in the uptake of employee benefits, including childcare, which at AmEx is now more than double the national average.