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Ian and Jane Spencer met on WHSmith’s graduate programme. And as their family has grown and their needs changed the company has flexed along with their working patterns
For Ian and Jane Spencer working at WHSmith really is a family affair.
Not only do they both work for the company in senior roles but more importantly, how they’ve worked has flexed and changed as their children have grown and their needs evolved.
In fact there might not even be a Spencer family were it not for WHSmith – the pair met on the firm’s graduate programme!
“We’re very attached to the place!” laughs Jane.
Ian is Head of Logistics Planning at the company. Jane is a Business Partner in IT looking after the tech needs of the merchandising section as well as those of the logistics department where Ian works!
Their story shows that WHSmith accommodate the needs of both working mums and working dads. Since their first daughter Lucy was born 15 years ago they’ve both altered their working pattern. And crucially they’ve both progressed their careers in that time.
But, perhaps unusually, after Lucy was born they were both back to work on regular hours. That’s because WHSmith had an in-house nursery at the time. “It was really helpful,” explains Jane. “There was no guilt about the girls being in nursery for longer than we worked and they were on the doorstep if they were ill or needed us. It was really helpful when they first went to nursery as I could pop in to check on them – they found the transition easier than I did!”
When second daughter Ella came along it triggered their first change in working pattern. Jane dropped Friday afternoons at work allowing her to get more involved in the toddler groups and activities. .
And when Lucy started school it was time for Ian to get in on the flexible working act.
“The school offered breakfast and after school clubs but we didn’t want the children in school from 8am-6pm, five days per week so decided I would delay my start time to avoid any breakfast club requirement. I would take a shorter lunch break and leave a bit later too.”
With Ian squaring off breakfast club Jane stepped in at the other end of the day. She changed her pattern so she finished early two days a week. She still works like that today.
With the girls at secondary school now Ian is back to an earlier start time.
Crucially both Ian and Jane stress that the company has been flexible when it comes to school events or emergencies. “Informal agreements allowed me to take lunch breaks at odd times or leave the office early and make up the hours working from home in the evening. This allowed me to go to all school assemblies, parents evening, school plays etc,” explains Ian.
“Because work is flexible I haven’t missed out on anything,” adds Jane.
Jane has a formal flexible working arrangement setting out how she’ll hit her full time hours via shorter lunch breaks and working longer on the days she doesn’t finish early. Ian, like many men, has gone down the informal route.
Neither reports any issues with agreeing their working patterns. Although they both work for WHSmith, because they are in different departments their applications were administered separately.
Line managers, so key to making flexible working a success, were accommodating. Ian’s wanted to know what would happen if he had to go to a distribution centre away from his usual base in Swindon. As long as there was some notice given they agreed that wouldn’t be a problem. That experience informs Ian’s advice to anyone thinking about applying for flexible working. “Don’t be afraid to ask,” he says. “People think they are asking for odd things that will be an inconvenience or limit their careers but it’s the quality of work and commitment that count, not the specific hours worked.
“Be sensible as the arrangements work both ways – if you want flexibility, you’re going to have to give a bit back – working in the evenings sometimes, for example. If you just want to work less hours, ask for part time working and accept your salary will reduce accordingly.”
Being sensible and recognising it’s a two-way street is key to Jane’s advice too. “Come up with a proposal that you believe you can make work in your role. Be willing to be flexible with your employer. Go for it.”
The rewards if you do go for it are immense according to the Spencers. Both agree having the ability to be around for their children has improved their lives as parents. “Being able to spend time reading, spelling and playing with the children when they were younger was great,” says Ian.
And they both reckon they’re better employees because of it too. Both are grateful for the flexibility they’ve been granted, so they give back more to WHSmith. “I appreciate being able to work flexibly so I tend to keep an eye on my emails when I’m not in work and pick up on issues as they arise whatever the time. I probably do this more as I have flexible working than I would if I worked core hours,” says Jane.
Where Jane and Ian might have been trailblazers in flexible working things have changed at WHSmith now. The company is trialling a core hours policy at its head office. Everyone there has to be at work 10am – 4pm but they can build early starts or late finishes around that according to their own needs and those of the business.
It seems clear WHSmith has embraced the ethos of flexible working. Which may well set them in good stead as the world of work alters. And it’s why it’s worth heeding Ian’s advice for other employees looking to get on board. He suggests starting with trial periods to see what works for everyone, making sure line managers are trained up and bought into the idea, and ensuring policies are clear.