Last month, a News.com.au report highlighted a novel way that a CEO in Australia has been trying to encourage better work-life balance and less presenteeism in his workforce. Robbert Rietbroek, CEO of PepsiCo in Australia and New Zealand, asks his executive team to “leave loudly” when departing the office so that they are being extra visible (and audible) role models for junior employees.
“If I occasionally go at 4 pm to pick up my daughters,” Rietbroek told the news site, “I will make sure I tell the people around me, ‘I’m going to pick up my children.’ Because if it’s okay for the boss, then it’s okay for middle management and new hires.” He added that if you are “younger or more junior, you need to be able to see your leaders go home, to be comfortable to leave.”
Since Rietbroek became CEO in 2015, he has been promoting a number of family-friendly workplace policies, including 16-week parental leave, flexible work times, and summer Fridays. The benefits are not just limited to working parents, either, as the flexibility is centered around the concept of “One Simple Thing,” where an employee can pick the most important thing in their personal life and can build a work schedule around that. For many, the one simple thing is being more involved in their children’s lives, but for others, like the head of procurement, it can be a hobby like surfing.
“His entire team knows when he’s not in the office he’s catching waves,” Rietbroek said. “And he’ll make it up on other days. He always meets his numbers. It’s about trust—you’ve got to trust your team to do the right thing.”
Rietbroek has also been working to get more women in leadership. Right now 40 percent of senior management roles are occupied by women. This is much more than just a feel-good story, however: Staff turnover for PepsiCo Australia & New Zealand has gone down from 12 to 7 percent, while other business outcomes are also positive.
“We obviously started on the flexibility journey focused on our female employees, but as we were introducing the policies, our men were just as excited about them as our female leaders,” added the CEO.
This year’s UK Gender Diversity Report from the recruiter Hays, which came out this week, suggests that negative perceptions about flex work are discouraging employees from taking advantage of the benefit when it’s available. According to the survey, two thirds of workers—and more than three quarters of women—believe that working flexibly would have a negative impact on their career development, and those feelings persist even though four out of five workers agreed that flexible work was an important benefit, and a majority said that flexibility had helped more women move into leadership roles.
Unfortunately, almost a third of respondents also believed men would be perceived as less committed to their careers if they took advantage of shared parental leave. Fewer than 9,000 UK parents took SPL last year, and the Hay study isn’t the first to indicate that fear of a “fatherhood penalty” is part of the problem for dads who want better balance between their work and family lives.
As CIPD’s Dr. Jill Miller pointed out in People Management‘s writeup of Hay’s findings, “Visible role models, across genders, can help to shift perceptions that flexible working and career progression aren’t compatible, and the traditional assumptions of why people work flexibly.”
Back in July, another study, also in the UK, found that 74 percent of workers tried to copy the attributes of their colleagues in some way, providing yet more evidence that for good or ill, modeled behavior is contagious.