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James Volkk was persuaded to join Schneider Electric by their enlightened attitude to family life
And James Volkk, a senior talent acquisition specialist at the firm and dad of two, is clear that it does work.
He’s a good example of the theory that if you give employees responsibility and the means to determine their own work life balance they won’t need much prompting to wax lyrical about their company. “Schneider are big believers in work life balance,” he explains. “They expect you to work hard and be successful. But if you’re on holiday you’re not expected to answer emails or pick up your phone. I think that’s quite rare.
“I’m working for a company where I can phone my boss and say I’ve got a family emergency, I’ll be out of the loop for a few hours and I’ll need to cancel some meetings – I know they’ll say that’s fine.
“That gives you peace of mind and encourages you to work a bit harder if need be.”
And in his line of work – headhunting essentially – that positivity actually gives him an edge. “If I’m trying to persuade someone to join the company it’s important that I sound happy and enthusiastic about it. It’s hard to deliver that if it’s not true.”
James works from home in Bristol most days, his hours largely up to him. He has to check in with the rest of his team in Crawley, West Sussex occasionally and there’s some travel around the country but he’s able to schedule that to fit around demands outside work if necessary. Schneider Electric trust him to innovate and flex as necessary, but clearly he’s accountable for results. “I can approach my day and structure it as I see fit. I have tasks to do and as long as I deliver it doesn’t really matter how I get there.
So he drops his children – a 10-year-old son and a teenage daughter – at school and splits pick-up duties with his wife. “If I wasn’t able to do that life would be a lot more difficult,” he adds. “And that means there’s less stress, less anxiety in my work and in my life. A happy employee is a productive employee.” Flexibility also gives James the opportunity to coach a junior rugby team one evening a week and to get involved with his son’s school as a governor. Activities that enrich his life and therefore his mental health further.
James has long been an advocate of different ways of working. As a student he had a job in a warehouse. He whizzed through his tasks aware that once he’d done them he could knock off. He laughs at the memory of colleagues telling him ‘slow down, we’ve got all night’. And it was the unpredictability and inefficiency of his London commute that prompted him to set up his own company, then move to Bristol when his daughter was born.
Schneider Electric tempted him to give up being a director of his own firm after 12 years and come in-house. “I’d had 12 years of working for myself, answering only to myself,” he explains. “I wouldn’t have joined Schneider if they couldn’t have provided flexibility to match that, and they did.”
He’s convinced that all employees and employers should think about embracing flexible working. “It works for the business and the employee.”
Dads in particular can benefit. He says, “Your kids are your greatest achievement but they’ll be the hardest manager you’ll ever have. Ignore them when they’re young at your peril.”