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‘People are our most valuable asset’

MRM’s Head of HR on navigating the future of flexible work

Alison Sargeant, MRM

Head of HR

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Office culture, hybrid working, flexibility, work life balance and burn out. As an HR professional these are the things that I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about. They were always important considerations in managing people in hectic agencies but post-pandemic, they have taken on an even more significant place in my thinking. I talk about the issues endlessly with my colleagues, my friends and even my 76-year-old mother seems interested in whether the world of work will ever be the same.

When it comes to implementing solutions to some of these challenges though, it becomes a lot more difficult for organisations. As agencies we have never asked more of our people. The pressure is on for us to win new clients, retain our existing clients and deliver against revenue targets, all against a backdrop of a looming recession. We have also learned from our experience of coming back to the office, that our work is undoubtedly better when people have the opportunity to work together face to face. All of that said, we are very clear that people are our most valuable asset, and we want to be able to give them the flexibility that they want and need to manage their lives and recharge their batteries. There is an undeniable tension in this, hence the sleepless nights for us HR folk and the agency leaders that we partner with.

Our plan for 2023 is to create true collaboration in our hybrid world and design our office to make it a destination of choice to create great work.

Alison Sargeant, Head of HR, MRM

At MRM we have implemented a number of things designed to balance the agency needs and those of our talented teams. In terms of coming back to the office, we have adopted a two day per week pattern. Thursdays are our ‘Anchor’ days where we come together as an agency to work together, meet our clients and generally feel the buzz of agency life again. Central to Anchor Day is Anchor News which is less Ron Burgandy and more about sharing agency news with an update from each department delivered as a news bulletin. Anchor News happens at 3pm so that those employees who care for others can get away in time to attend to those commitments. After the bulletin we have an opportunity to have a drink and socialise with our colleagues, something that many of us have missed in the last three years. Department Heads are free to choose the second day that their teams attend, working with individuals to accommodate their needs as best we can. Our Flexi Forty policy allows people to flex their hours around a core of 10am to 4pm which gives people the opportunity to travel out of rush hour, increasing flexibility and reducing the burden of the cost of travel.

We first attempted to tackle the issue of burnout in 2022 with the introduction of our Time Well Taken initiative. The scheme allowed employees to take unlimited time off, subject to sign offs, in addition to their contractual holiday. The idea was that people could take odd days to recharge and get the rest that they needed. Whilst great on paper, we received feedback that employees weren’t able to make use of this benefit because they didn’t have time to take days and felt guilty for doing so. We listened and this year we have decided on three days spread throughout the year where the whole agency shuts down. This gives our people more down time but crucially, because the whole agency is closed, there are no interruptions or a crammed inbox to return to.

This experience with Time Well Taken hammered home the importance of really listening when designing a workplace that offers the best experience for as many people as possible. We will continue to work in partnership with our people to build on our 2022 progress. Our plan for 2023 is to create true collaboration in our hybrid world and design our office to make it a destination of choice to create great work.

 I look forward to 2023 being a year where we find firmer footing in making hybrid working work – for our product and our people and our business. Where we get better at making the best out of both worlds and where we see an increase of happy people and less burn out. That will help me sleep better at night!

Guest Author

Alison Sargeant, MRM

Head of HR, MRM

About

Ali has worked as an HR Professional for nearly 25 years. She started her career in Learning & Development – running graduate development programmes, facilitating large leadership development programmes, developing teams and coaching individuals. Her heart still lies in helping people to reach their potential. For the last 12 years she has worked in the world of generalist HR, running HR Teams across a range of sectors including in the education, automotive and market research. For the last 5 years she has been working in the advertising industry where she secured IPA Platinum CPD accreditation for a previous agency and supported MRM in becoming Campaign Customer Engagement Agency of the Year for 2021.

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