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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Flexible working supports new vision for Highams
Article Type: HR at work From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 7, Issue 5
Short case studies that demonstrate best practice in HR
Recruitment specialist, Highams Group, has worked placing IT professionals within the insurance sector for 25 years, building long-lasting relationships with clients and candidates alike. One of its key success factors is the length of service of its employees. In a market where traditionally recruiters move many times, Highams’ heritage of keeping its top people is highly valued by its customers resulting in continued and strong business renewal.
The company employs 36 people. Of the 24 employees who have been with Highams for more than a year, over 50 percent have been onboard for ten years, and a further 30 percent for more than five years. This means a wealth of knowledge exists within the organization that is a key competitive advantage, ensuring Highams can provide specialist insight and strategic support and assistance to help insurance companies meet their rapidly changing IT recruitment needs. Keeping employees engaged and motivated is therefore one of Highams’ top priorities and it constantly reviews how best to invest in and support its people, whose experience and enthusiasm make it a great place to work and guarantee its success.
In January 2007, Dave Pye joined the company as chief executive officer, bringing with him a new and dynamic vision to establish Highams as the leading insurance recruiter, firstly in the UK and then globally. Pye has put people at the heart of this vision and since coming onboard has developed an innovative home worker initiative and flexible working practices that have enabled Highams to retain its top talent and expand internationally.
The introduction of flexible and home working
One of the first actions that Pye took as CEO was to establish an internal “Ideas Factory” to enable employees to feed back on operational processes and suggest new ways of working together. This showed that flexible working and the ability to work from home were high on the agenda for employees. Historically, a lot of employees have stayed working for Highams for so long because they have been treated well. For example, mums returning to work have been given the option to choose their hours to fit around family needs or the school run. This in turn has benefited Highams, enabling it to keep onboard experienced employees who know the company and the insurance marketplace inside out. Pye saw an opportunity to expand flexible working at Highams in order to attract new talent to its head office and support operational growth on a European level.
Highams is headquartered in Caterham, Surrey and also has offices in the city of London in the building known as “The Gherkin”. Its London offices put it in the heart of the city and close to its customers. These showcase offices are used primarily as a venue for interviewing candidates and holding client meetings, as well as acting as a sales hub. The majority of operational work and resourcing takes place in Caterham, which in the past has proved a harder location to recruit for internally. Being able to offer the opportunity to work from home now means that Highams wins talent from more rigid organizations that do not provide the same type of flexible working environment for employees, despite the fact that its headquarters are not centrally located in London.
The nature of Highams’ business means that a lot of work is done on a contract basis, which suits a home working model well. The job also entails spending a lot of time on the phone, with candidates in particular keen to talk out of normal working hours about potential new roles that Highams is looking to fill for its clients. A flexible approach to working benefits both the company and its staff meaning support is available to clients and candidates out of hours and employees can work to their own schedules. With changing demographics, such as an aging population, and new attitudes towards career expectations and more flexible working being expressed by the younger “Generation Y” workers, as well as the environmental considerations of commuting, Pye feels that providing flexible working is integral to winning the war on talent and establishing a sustainable workforce.
Foundations built on trust
What stands out about Highams’ home working policy is that it is built on trust and a sense of community. Team spirit has always been important at Highams and it works hard to engage its workforce through a variety of activities. These include charity work and fund raising events, which make up a core part of its corporate social responsibility program, the Ideas Factory and an annual team building day to facilitate discussions on the business and the recruitment industry with the whole company. The strength of the Highams community is reflected by its retention rates and underpins the success of its home working strategy.
Rather than implementing stringent performance management systems to monitor employees working from home, Highams looks at results. It uses checks and balances such as weekly activity reports to help measure ongoing levels of work but steers clear of intrusive big brother monitoring systems. Pye believes that as long as the work is done well in a given timeframe it does not matter where it is being done.
A flexible model for expansion
This philosophy has been such a success for the business that Highams has replicated the home worker model overseas and has recently launched a European home workers network. This network was launched at the beginning of 2008 to support the company’s European growth. It is a low cost, high touch model designed to help Highams become an international organization in a world where talent is sourced and delivered globally. Outside of the UK, the model primarily involves expatriates, typically parents returning to full or part time work having had families.
The new recruits, mainly based in Brussels, have proved a huge success and have been able to put back into practice much experience from previous roles. A lot of Highams’ clients operate internationally and while the work does not justify establishing offices overseas at present, it makes sense to have workers based in locations such as the Benelux countries. The pattern can be replicated easily and Highams already has its first home worker in Germany. Pye eventually hopes to have as many as 200 home workers based in Belgium, France, Germany and The Netherlands.
Highams provides all its home workers with the training, technology and advice needed to get them up and running quickly. For instance it runs training courses such as “Returning to Work” and “Developing selling techniques” and for its overseas workers it produces guides to living and working abroad.
Positive business benefits
Many of the Highams’ staff now work one or more days a week from home. The team spirit and supportive nature of the organization means that even when people are working remotely they feel connected and can do just as good a job as when they are in the office. The European home workers network forms part of Highams’ philosophy to support flexible working and allow people to achieve a work-life balance that suits them. It also brings enormous business benefits to Highams as it allows the company to reach international clients and customers.
The flexible working policies that Highams has in place are set to support its new vision for the future, helping to grow its presence internationally with an initial focus on Europe to support customers who are demanding Highams’ high level of UK service delivery across this region. This approach means that Highams continues to invest in its own employees ensuring that its people make the difference to its service delivery. It also supports Highams’ ethical approach to work and compliments its wider social responsibility program by enabling its employees to live well and work happily.
Mike RadlettEuropean operations director at Highams Group. He has worked in the recruitment industry for 15 years and joined Highams in 2004. Radlett is responsible for implementing new business initiatives at Highams, such as www.bluefuse.biz, a new social networking site for insurance technologists, and has been instrumental in establishing Highams European home workers network. He also manages Highams CSR program and its charity partnerships. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org