Champion and CEO of Westpac David McLean shares lessons for leaders who want to implement greater workplace flexibility.

“It’s often a fallacy to think that we in management have all the answers. To make flexibility work, often the answers are best found by asking the people themselves – what works for them? The challenge is to then find the sweet spot between what works best for the individual, the team and the organisation.” - David McLean, Champion and CEO Westpac


Why flexibility matters

Flexibility at Westpac is a key component for allowing employees to bring their whole selves to work. In 2016, they conducted an employee survey where 86% of Westpac New Zealand employees said that flexible working will be beneficial to them in the next three years, and 62% acknowledged they were already working flexibly to some extent.

Empower teams to find solutions

In 2015, one of the New Zealand Westpac branches was in a situation where the business demands, in terms of the volumes of people going through the branch, were dropping off. This meant the branch needed to reduce their staffing ratio to match the lower demand, by the equivalent of one full time employee.

Rather than simply take one full time employee out of the equation, the branch manager sat down with the full team to explore how to achieve this result—with all options on the table. As a team, all of the staff, for their own individual reasons, said they would like to work less than full-time. As such, the branch came up with a plan where each staff member reduced their hours to a .8 or .9 full-time equivalent.

As a result, all staff at the branch are now working slightly reduced hours by choice—with impressive results following the shift to flexible work hours:

  • productivity through engagement and performance rose across the whole team
  • each team member has achieved more than 200% of their goals
  • the branch is now number one in the whole region for customer satisfaction.

Infographic showing improved customer satisfaction statistics.

This is an example of what can be achieved when you turn a business challenge in to an opportunity. It’s often a fallacy to think that management have all the answers. To make flexibility work, often the answers are best found by asking the people themselves—what works for them. The challenge is to then find the sweet spot, between what works best for the individual, the team and the needs of the employer.

Westpac infographic demonstrating the sweet spot between needs.

Treat flexibility like a business problem

One of the key insights for managing flexibility, is to treat it like any other business problem. This means you measure it, set targets, and allocate accountabilities.

Westpac has a governance framework with a Diversity and Inclusion Council, and a number of subgroups under that Council that support specific areas of focus. The subgroups are populated by self-selected employees who are passionate about the specific issues, and each subgroup has an Executive Sponsor that supports the delivery of that team's ideas.

Infographic showing different aspects of Westpac diversity and inclusion council

Normalise flexibility to break down perception barriers

It’s important to normalise flexibility as a leader. Traditionally, flexibility has been seen as something that really only applied to certain types of employees – mainly those in a caring role, such as a parent caring for a child.

Yet, flexibility needs to be much broader than this and available to all. As an example, Westpac has an employee who is a FIFA referee, and given the FIFA calendar doesn’t align to Westpac's calendar of work, flexibility in this instance is essential for this individual to continue to carry out their role as a FIFA referee.