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Flexible Working Initiatives: A conversation with Oberalp’s HR Business Partner, Kristina Foertsch

Flexible Working Initiatives


Flexible Working Initiatives:
A conversation with Oberalp’s HR Business Partner, Kristina Foertsch, and SRi’s Head of Continental Europe, Patrick Albrecht

Companies seeking to attract and retain top talent must be flexible in their approach to modern working practises and initiatives. Otherwise, they simply won’t attract or keep the talent they need to propel their businesses forward.

Across SRi’s Continental European practice, we have seen a definite and significant shift in our clients’ attitude towards embracing flexible working initiatives; Oberalp is one such example.

Oberalp’s HR Business Partner, Kristina Foertsch, recently spoke with SRi’s Head of Continental Europe, Patrick Albrecht, about the new flexible working initiative soon to be trialled at their offices in Germany and Austria, and how this new arrangement will benefit their organisation.

Patrick AlbrechtPatrick Albrecht: You’re about to launch a new flexible working initiative; can you tell us about the genesis of the programme and the thinking behind it? Is this something current employees asked for?

Kristina FoertschKristina Foertsch: Absolutely. We have seen a significant increase in interest and demand for home office solutions, flexible working hours and benefits, especially over the past year. After hearing it brought up on various occasions, including job interviews (well before questions regarding salary or holiday), annual appraisals and just day to day business, we decided to embrace the demand as a company.

We will soon implement a new programme, the Flex Office Day, which will allow every employee to work one day every other week from home. We will start testing it as a pilot in Germany and Austria, and hope to roll it out to our other global offices if it proves to be successful.

PA: What do you see as the benefits of flexible working for your workforce/company?

 KF: Employee commitment is a crucial factor for a company’s success, and this can be achieved by offering employees flexible working solutions that puts trust in their abilities and motivation. In our ever-evolving and changing industry, we depend more than ever on our employees to go the extra mile, and so for this reason, ensuring they are committed to the company is imperative.

As a leader, I rely on my team to help build the company’s success, which is why trusting them and allowing them to take responsibility of their own work schedules can help in solidifying positive working relationships.

In my opinion, flexible working initiatives are more than just an employee benefit and are instead a true sign of positive company culture.

PA: How much do you consider the initiatives and policies of your industry competitors when devising your own policies? Do you feel that you must compete on flexible working policies to attract and retain talent?

 KF: I see our programme as neither ground-breaking within our industry, nor lagging behind. What we have seen in recent years, is that companies within the sporting goods industry are no longer only competing with each other for the best employees; newfound competition from other industries has disrupted this.

In comparison to a few years ago, where we would source the majority of our talent still from within our own industry, we are now finding talent in banks, the pharma industry and consultancy firms, amongst others. We have even lost two employees this year to the police force!

When we must compete with employers of these industries, who offer differing benefits and career opportunities, we can find ourselves slightly behind.

PA: Have you seen an increase in the amount of focus candidates place on benefits such as flexible working? How important do you think policies such as flexible working are to ensure Oberalp is seen as a progressive employer that talent will want to be a part of?

 KF: I think employee benefits are more important than ever when it comes to attracting the best in talent. Ambitious and committed people strive to continue to improve their skills in their job and seek to be top of the game. In return, these kinds of motivated employees seek to be rewarded and appreciated by their employer, which can be achieved by benefits.

Salary is unsurprisingly important, however if you can earn enough that comfortably covers your cost of living, it becomes less of a main driver – especially not on a day to day basis.

When hiring, we’ve found that candidates are mostly interested in our company’s culture, their potential future manager’s leadership style and their team.

This is particularly true for the millennial generation, who have shown to place greater importance on self-efficacy and responsibility over their own job. Flexible working is an effective way to demonstrate that the company can see and recognise these particular interests.

However, it doesn’t stop there. Whether it’s a free-for-all canteen, an in-house massage service, yoga courses, or social company events, each of these offerings that have been shifting more and more into focus can make a huge impact on a person’s decision to join a company.

It’s likely that the benefit itself is not the deciding factor, but rather the evident appreciation shown by the company towards its employees by offering such bonuses. These in turn demonstrate the company’s genuine care and intention to ensure each employee feels appreciated and inclined to stay with the company for the long term.

PA: How do you see Oberalp’s approach to flexible working evolving over the next five to ten years? Do you have plans to eliminate physical offices altogether for example?

KF: We will not implement a wholly “freestyle” programme, but rather have clear rules and limitations for our “Flex Office Day” (FOD) offer. For instance, it is required for each employee to be working in office on one specific day per week, or Jour Fixe, and work face-to-face with their team.

We believe that although modern technologies are undoubtedly very useful, building personal relationships in and between teams is crucial in establishing a healthy company culture.

The FOD is also not perceived as a general right of each employee, but rather a voluntary initiative implemented by the company. As such, the interests of the business still come first.

Implementing practices to entice and retain the best talent is imperative for the longevity and success of any business. Through our conversations with candidates spread across Europe over the years, we’ve seen the effectiveness that flexible working arrangements can have on the ability to attract and retain talent.

Businesses who do not make a priority of implementing these kinds of policies will find themselves far behind in the race for talent.

For a confidential discussion, contact our Head of Continental Europe, Patrick Albrecht

Patrick Albrecht is a Partner and Leader of our Continental European operations, based in Switzerland.

A pan-European expert with a formidable global network, Patrick leads the firm’s German and Swiss multi-lingual teams, in addition to advising and consulting on senior talent strategies for sporting goods and fashion brands, international sport federations and agencies.

A senior professional who is thoughtful, collaborative and boasts a broad outlook, Patrick is a leading executive search operator who is innately in tune with his market. He was also a former elite level professional athlete and has a deep understanding of sport.

Patrick Albrecht