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Published: 20 Jan 2015

American Express, Winner 2014, The E-ON Best for Engagement Award

At American Express, flexible working is central to employee engagement: the business understands the challenges employees face with balancing work, family and other personal commitments. Over the last year, it has reviewed its policies on flexible working to reflect changes in legislation, and has gone a step further by creating an alternative working policy under which all employees, not just parents and carers, have the right to request flexible working. All flexible working policies have been reworded to ensure they are clear and easy to follow, and American Express has also created a ‘Leader’s Guide’ to help leaders manage requests fairly and consistently. By improving the ease of use of flexible working policies, American Express aims to ensure that employees who wish to apply are not daunted by the process, and that managers can support them appropriately.

In order to raise awareness of the availability of flexible working, American Express delivered specialist training through seminars and webinars. These included: ‘10 Top Tips for Highly Effective Parents and Carers’; ‘Work and Life in a Changing World’; ‘Unconscious Bias’; and ‘Supporting Carers of Adult Loved Ones: preparing for the time bomb’. The Work Life team has developed a back-up care programme as a support tool and is letting staff know that it is open to carers of adult loved ones as well as working parents. American Express has also rebranded its Employee Assistance Programme ‘Healthy Minds’, and is encouraging employees with caring responsibilities to consider using the service.

In January 2014, American Express reviewed its flexible working agreement process, which is open to all employees. Although a clear policy and process had been developed, it wanted to improve consistency across the organisation. A selected pilot group – one of the customer service centres, made up of 300 employees – was analysed to see what flexible working agreements were in place (both formally and informally). In particular, the study looked at how these flexible working agreements were benefiting both the employees and the organisation. The results showed that one-third of employees in the pilot group had a flexible working arrangement, and of that number, 65% had the arrangement in order to care for children or grandchildren, 11% for adult dependent care and 24% for medical and disability reasons. What was also apparent was how beneficial these flexible working arrangements were to the business, as well as to the employees – just under half of the employees were on shifts that enabled the business to operate more efficiently and successfully.

This data told a tangible story that could be communicated to the business and further embed the value of flexible working at American Express. Using this positive story, the leadership team re-communicated the flexible working process to the pilot group, with two objectives: to clarify the purpose of flexible working so all employees understood the process and how to apply, and to ensure a transparent and equitable process for all employees. As a result of this successful pilot, American Express is looking to establish similar reviews in other areas of the business. It has evidence that employees who work flexibly are more engaged than those who don’t, and can see a correlation between engagement and retention rates.