“The change in people’s mindsets is one of the big things we have to keep reinforcing; you’re a grown up – we trust you to manage your time.”
Despite the blanket media coverage, it’s rare to find organisations that have actually made totally flexible working and unlimited annual holiday a success in reality. But, says Rich Havercroft – head of support services at Inzpire, a Lincoln-based SME providing managed services and mission systems to the defence sector – lifting the cap on leave earlier this year was almost a “non-event”.
“We were fortunate that we got the cultural foundations right to start with,” says Havercroft, who joined Inzpire five years ago from the Royal Air Force and, as well as HR, heads up IT, quality assurance and business administration. “We have fantastic employees who are really committed to the company. We already encourage people to work flexibly, and in a pattern that suits them. So we felt we could say ‘we trust you to manage your own leave. If you need to take a few extra days, at short notice, why shouldn’t you be able to do that?’ It wouldn’t work for everyone, but for us it sends a really powerful message.”
After a trial in 2016, the holiday cap for all employees (around 75 per cent of whom have served in the Armed Forces) was removed early this year. “We have put in some caveats,” says Havercroft. “Managers still have the ability to say ‘there is a business reason why I need you in that day’. And HR supports them in doing that.”
But rather than worrying about Inzpire’s 115 employees taking too much holiday, Havercroft is more concerned that staff – particularly senior managers – don’t take enough time away from work. “High-performing people invariably want to give more back to the business, and we’ve had to work hard at saying ‘you need to have that work-life balance’,” he explains. “We find the more senior the person is, the more they are prepared to put in that discretionary effort outside the working day – but the last thing you want is your senior leaders to burn themselves out.
“I’d be quite upset if some of my staff were having to put in those extra hours, because that tells me there is probably a resourcing issue we need to address.”
Inzpire’s size – despite a growth in staff of between 20 and 30 per cent a year – means Havercroft and his HR team (comprising a full-time manager and part-time assistant) can still enjoy the luxury of taking a personal approach to their interactions with employees, managers and applicants. “A couple of weeks before someone joins us, for example, they get a personal email from the CEO welcoming them and saying how much we are looking forward to their arrival. We celebrate birthdays and the dates they joined Inzpire, and send flowers if someone has a baby or is unwell.
“These little things make a huge difference; it means we have a positive relationship with employees, rather than an ‘us and them’ relationship. I cringe when I hear people talking like that – we’re all in this together, and we’ve got to be seen as making life easier for everyone.”