talks 'sustainable flexibility'
Words by Sarah Williams
If there’s one word that business leaders and HR professionals must be tired of hearing, it’s ‘flexibility’ and all the permutations thereof. So, let’s sum it up: adaptability, understanding and emotional intelligence are all part of what we mean when we talk about flexible working conditions and managers. In adults, flexibility is prized. “Playing well with others” and “being a team player” are incredibly valuable attributes, whether that’s in friendship, romance or at work.
And lately, this admirable meeting of agility and kindness has been crystalised in that ubiquitous word: flexibility.
We realised that our employees needed more help from us to work less
In Glassdoor’s recent 2023 Hiring and Workplace Trends Report, analysis of both the labour market and the thousands of reviews on the Glassdoor site found that workers who mentioned their workplace’s flexible hybrid working approach were far less likely to apply for other jobs and overwhelmingly rated their companies higher. Flexibility, as we can see, is integral to good employer brand, something that HR is fast realising is just as important as customer-facing brand.
With many people trying to drink less, or being a designated driver, or not drinking for religious reasons, the alcohol-free ‘adult beverage’ market has boomed recently. Keeping up with the needs of consumers, Accolade introduced its new alcohol-free range, &Then, in May of 2022. The range so far features two wines: Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Both have only 25 calories and fewer than 2g of sugar, and are made using a de-alcoholisation process created to preserve optimum flavour.
For Anjanette Murfet, Chief People and Communications Officer at Australia-based Accolade Wines, keeping the employer brand top notch is a huge part of her work for the winemaker and distributor.
“We strive to be the wine company that people want to work for and the kind of place that when they come, they don’t want to leave. But if they do leave, they are our biggest ambassadors.”
From the looks of the reviews on Glassdoor, Murfet is correct: on the employer reviews site, Accolade has a rating of 3.9 (the average company rating is 3.4), and also has a commendable 70% rate for current employees who would recommend it as a workplace to friends and family.
Murfet, who has spent five of her 20 years in HR at Accolade, tells myGrapevine magazine that that’s no coincidence: “My focus is on nurturing the organisation to become an employer of choice.”
The Tasmania native manages the people function for 1,500 employees across Australia, the UK, Europe, Asia, South Africa, New Zealand and South America. A huge part of why the company is so successful at managing employee relationships and keeping its talent is that Murfet and her fellow leadership team have realised that talk is cheap.
Chief People and
“We’ve learned that big internal campaigns and flash in the pan initiatives don’t move the needle,” she explains. “A steady approach where we are doing rather than saying is proving more effective.”
The CPO shared that the company has invested heavily in action over words, saying, “We want HR changes to be something employees started to notice, feel and discover. We didn’t want to overwhelm them and so we started weaving messages into our internal communications bit by bit. Instead, we’ve created a two-way dialogue with our people, to seek their input and respond to their ideas and concerns.”
So, six months into lockdown Accolade ran a full engagement survey to understand how the company’s people were feeling and what they needed.
Offering your team flexibility shows that the business wants a balanced relationship between itself and its employees. Ultimately it is a two-way street
“The finding that stood out most to me was that only 32% of employees thought action would be taken as a result of the survey,” Murfet shares.
However, due to the firm’s commitment to listening to employees and then acting on their feedback, there has been a major shift in perception amongst employees.
“I’m pleased to say that over the almost three years since then, this number has improved to 72%. This shift started with a change in some of the senior leaders at Accolade, as well as a conscious decision to prioritise people and to understand that this investment will play a significant part in our overall company performance,” she says.
In 2021, Accolade introduced the Realising Your Potential Podcast to offer advice and support for their people around work-life balance, personal development, and leadership. These included conversations around topics such as how exercise is linked with managing mental wellbeing, fostering resilience, and giving and receiving positive feedback. Guests have included TV presenter and D&I expert June Sarpong, Australian MP Rebecca White, Paralympic rower Erik Horrie and Olympian Krista Cullen.
Murfet has been open about the company’s culture, which sounds fast-paced and exciting, yet with plenty of room for individual needs to be understood and met.
“Everyone’s needs are different,” she explains, “and we want our people to be confident that they can bring their whole selves to work. To facilitate this, we offer ‘sustainable flexibility’, which strikes a balance between working, collaboration, and connection from home and in the office. It’s tailored to the requirements of not only each team, but also each role and individual.
“For example, those in the early stages of their career value coaching and socialising, and it plays a key role in their development.”
But what exactly does ‘sustainable flexibility’ mean? Is this just a way for the company to claim that a flexible arrangement ‘isn’t sustainable’?
Thankfully, not at all.
Murfet explains: “Sustainable flexibility hinges on a leader’s ability to motivate their team. Highly developed communication strategies are critical to both engage and motivate teams. Because this is so important, Accolade has also conducted leadership training for our managers on how to lead in this more dynamic work environment.”
In addition to training their leaders to be more sensitive to the new way of work, Murfet says that connection and communication are also areas of focus.
“In the office, we create ways for teams to connect with others and our brands through regular wine tasting and wine knowledge sessions and we encourage face-to-face meetings when in the office, rather than sitting on video calls.”
She continues: “The reality is that flexible working arrangements, whether to meet family commitments, look after their mental and physical wellbeing through hobbies they love or working from different places, makes workers feel individually valued.”
While having a fast-paced, dynamic, exciting workplace can be great if you’re in sales, or have the kind of personality that loves the buzz and the rush, it doesn't suit everyone. What about folks who seek a gentler way of working, or those struggling with childcare or mental health?
“We recognised through engagement surveys that our biggest issue three years ago was work-life balance,” says Murfet. “We realised that our employees needed more help from us to work less. So, this became a focus in our wellbeing efforts. Incorporating some programmes into your employee benefits that contribute to work-life balance is a relatively straightforward way for HR professionals to create more balance for their people.
“Some examples at Accolade include summer hours, when we all finish work at 3pm on Fridays during summer, and everyone gets their birthdays off. Our Go Beyond Day stands out for me. It’s a day to volunteer with a charity of your choice and give back as a community. This can either be taken individually or as a team and we recently had the South Australian People and Comms team and Health and Safety team get together and plant trees for Landcare. Not only does this give back to community, it also creates connections with teams,” she says.
Founded in: 1853 by Thomas Hardy
Headquarters: Adelaide, Australia
Employees: 1,500 worldwide
Parent org: Carlyle Group
Subsidiaries: Viña Anakena, MORE
Famous labels: Stone’s Ginger Wine, Banrock Station, Echo Falls, Hardys, Kumala
Sells products in: More than 80 countries
Fun fact: Founder Thomas Hardy moved to Australia from Devon and worked as a farm hand and cattle driver before his days of vineyard glory.
As any HRD for a large, international company knows, managing HR across a diverse workforce is a definite challenge. In particular, with employees across different time zones, it forces agility and creative teamwork, and embracing asynchronous working.
We strive to be the wine company that people want to work for and the kind of place that when they come, they don’t want to leave
“As many of our people are working across time zones, we empower them to have flexibility in their days to ensure they can perform,” explains Murfet. “We want them to take ‘circuit breakers’ during the day to help recharge their batteries, as opposed to going full-out for the whole day or week. What that looks like is different for different people. For some, it might be a morning walk, or a run at lunchtime, for others it is playing sport in the afternoons or evenings.
She continues: “Our leadership team role model for this was our CEO Robert Foye going to the gym during the day. Personally, I am a runner and often my team know I will go out for a run mid-morning or late afternoon, especially if I have been on calls early or late.”
And finally, what is Murfet’s personal take on flexibility in the world of work?
“Offering your team flexibility shows that the business wants a balanced relationship between itself and its employees. Ultimately it is a two-way street. Previously the focus was on company and profitability first, creating an imbalance in the relationship. Flexibility signals that the organisation cares about people, rather than just numbers.
“Flexibility enables people to manage different aspects of their life, reduce stress, while increasing wellbeing and motivation.”