In my opinion: Chartered management institute

Chartered Management Institute Companion David Radcliffe, CEO of Hogg Robinson, explains how his firm tackled motivational and work/life issues.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Technology is a wonderful thing. Mobile telephones, wi-fi laptops and accessories such as the Blackberry have revolutionised the way in which we work. Open channels of communication give us access to e-mails, phone calls and colleagues at all times and make it possible to create a virtual office environment.

These allow for a more effective working environment, making best use of the dead periods we experienced when travelling to a meeting or catching a flight. It allows us to talk to people as needed, to work at home and spend less time on the road and more with our friends and families. That, at least, is the theory.

But our constantly contactable world results in a reluctance to switch off and a blurring of the divisions between home and work - all of which add up to continual pressure on the individual. Today, business is fast-paced and relentless, demanding that we make decisions and make them quickly.

This brings both challenges and opportunities, but it also creates a need for discipline and understanding.

The discipline element affects each of us. It's about not being afraid to leave work untouched in the evening and ensuring that we take time out to enjoy our lives outside the office. We must recognise that the world will not stop revolving because we haven't managed to answer that last e-mail. And then there is understanding, which must be applied by organisations at all times - understanding that better communication channels and gadgets are there to help us do our jobs more effectively, not encroach on our personal time.

The term work/life balance has been bandied around by management gurus with almost indecent regularity over recent years, but I'm not sure that companies, or individuals themselves, have embraced its true meaning.

As a company, we specialise in corporate and employee services - from business travel through to employee benefits and pensions processing and software. Most industries have experienced significant change in recent times, but none more so than within the business travel sector. War, terrorism, natural disasters, disease and a global economic slowdown are just some of the challenges that have been thrown our way.

Never has striking a balance between home and work been more important.

Motivating our staff, retaining skilled people during difficult periods and helping them juggle their working lives with family responsibilities and lifestyle obligations continues to be of key importance. We need our people to be at their very best to deal with day-to-day issues, stresses and strains.

An extensive employee survey at Hogg Robinson highlighted work/life balance as an area of concern. So we set up a working group comprising people drawn from all parts of the organisation - different roles, responsibilities, ages - to look at the subject from scratch and identify the elements that would help them, and their peers, maintain an appropriate balance.

The result is that Hogg Robinson now has a formal work/life balance policy that sets out a range of working opportunities to help our staff manage their work and lifestyle commitments. From part-time working and jobshare through to extended leave and social activities, we have a comprehensive range of options available, all of which were identified by the working group as initiatives they'd like to see introduced rather than being imposed by head office. And the policy is widely communicated - as a hard copy document, on our company intranet and verbally through our briefing processes.

We have introduced e-mail-free Fridays to encourage our staff to pick up the phone or walk across the office and talk to one another. This helps them realise the benefits of the spoken word and avoids that sinking feeling as they open their inboxes and are faced with a plethora of electronic messages, all vying for attention.

We're keen to motivate our workforce in other ways too, and have devised schemes both to reward employees and to recognise the commitment that they show the organisation. Employees from all over the company are invited to apply to participate in powerboating days on the Solent, or to enjoy the facilities of the company's corporate boxes at Twickenham and Ascot; and there's Thanks, our employee recognition award scheme.

As well as regular awards for nominated employees, there's an opportunity to attend an annual awards event, to be crowned Employee of the Year and receive an around-the-world trip.

Hogg Robinson is a client-focused company, and we recognise the need to exceed client expectations and achieve our business objectives. But we also recognise the benefits of a motivated and included workforce; after all, with every employee you get a free brain that is a huge energy source when harnessed. This is reflected in our attrition rates, which are much lower than the industry average. This is a positive indicator and we're working hard to make them lower still.

We're committed to evolving our work/life balance options to match our ever-changing personal requirements, listening to our staff and responding to their needs.

CV

David Radcliffe joined Hogg Robinson Travel (later known as BTI UK) in 1978, and became CEO of Hogg Robinson plc in 1997.

In 2000, he led an MBO of the company, which was one of the UK's largest public-to-private deals. Hogg Robinson is the UK's fourth-largest private company.

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