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  Flexible Work-Arrangements at Procter & Gamble: A Cultural Clash 

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In 1998, Procter & Gamble discovered an alarming trend emerging from its offices in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region. Although women made up 50 percent of the company´s total workforce, the executive level was predominantly male. During exit interviews, women voiced their concerns about a lack of balance between their personal and work lives. While employees had tolerated long working hours in the 1980s, Procter & Gamble found that in the ´90s people yearned for equilibrium.

These findings prompted the company to focus o­n gender as a key issue of its new, enterprise-wide diversity program. Each country was assigned a diversity manager, who ran focus groups to study exactly why women were leaving the company and why some employees did not progress as quickly in their careers as others. Flexibility emerged as a critical topic.

To better meet employees´ needs, Procter & Gamble decided to launch a new program offering flexible work arrangements. In the case study "Launching Flexible Work Arrangements Within Procter & Gamble", Steven Poelmans, IESE Assistant Professor of Managing People in Organizations, and MBA student Wendy Andrews explain the ins and outs of the program and the factors that caused it to eventually falter.

Procter & Gamble´s EMEA president, Wolfgang Berndt, fully backed the flexibility campaign. Diversity managers and human resources officers provided support for the general managers in each country, who were asked to introduce the policies to their workforce. Four practical arrangements were offered to all employees, including reduced work schedules, family care leave, personal leave of absence (a three-month sabbatical after seven years of employment) and flexible work schedules. Three others were considered for a trial period: job sharing, working from home and a compressed work week.

The launch of the policy involved two phases: the communication phase and the implementation phase. The communication phase, based o­n brochures, a website and videos, took three months. From the beginning, it was apparent that some general managers communicated the policies with more zeal and openness than others. During the implementation phase, an employee who was interested in an arrangement had to speak to his or her manager, who would ultimately decide whether or not the employee was eligible.

Helena Josue, a regional diversity manager and HR manager for Western Europe, was put in charge of tracking the progress of the flexibility program. Josue noticed that problems arose when employees started asking for the policies. While some managers encouraged and embraced the flexibility arrangements, others simply did not accept them. There was evidence of a cultural clash. The program went well in predominantly female departments, but there was some frustration in predominantly male departments. Some people considered it a lack of commitment to ask for time off. There was also a perception that if you didn´t have a child or a sick parent to look after, you shouldn´t use the policies.

By early 2001, the program had faded so far into the background that people in some business units wondered if the flexible work arrangements still existed. It was Helen Josue´s job to re-evaluate the campaign. o­ne positive change was the appointment of Alan G. Lafley as the new CEO of Procter & Gamble in June 2000. Lafley actively pushed the program, almost doubling the network of diversity managers in Western Europe.

Josue planned a re-launch of the program, which now included working from home and job sharing as part of the official set of flexibility policies, for December 2001. The compressed work week was eliminated. Josue hired an agency to drum up creative ways to increase employee awareness, and she began preparing a new communication campaign, which would include a discussion area and merchandising materials. A fact book would show how other companies in the same league as Procter & Gamble had successfully implemented similar flexible work arrangements.

This article is based on:  Launching flexible work arrangements within Procter & Gamble EMEA
Publisher:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Year:  2005
Language:  English