Good Work for All: How Sodexo is using flexible working to improve employee engagement

Sodexo is one of the UK’s largest food services and facilities management companies, with a 34,000 strong workforce in the UK alone. The company has made a commitment to improve the quality of life for all UK staff with a target of reaching 68% employee engagement by 2025.

Working alongside Business in the Community and expert partner Timewise, Sodexo reviewed its approach to flexible working in catering teams based at two of Sodexo’s flagship sites, identifying changes to improve working lives that will be further piloted and rolled out in other parts of the business.
Deciding where to begin
In 2017 Sodexo had gathered views of staff through a Quality of Life survey and was already making changes in areas including benefits and reward, and learning and development. Looking at the data, Business in the Community (BITC) identified flexible working as a common issue that Sodexo was yet to tackle. In particular, staff wanted access to flexible working to improve their health and wellbeing, and to spend more time with family. Their employees’ views on flexible working varied too, as some wanted shorter working weeks, whilst others wanted to increase their hours.
Timewise identified that the likely positive outcomes from a whole-team flexible working approach would be increased teamwork, better work-life balance, improved employee engagement, and reduced intentions to leave.
BITC worked with Sodexo to identify an area that had strong buy-in from senior leaders and where outcomes and findings from the pilot could be applied to other parts of the business.
One of Sodexo’s clients was pushing for high ethical standards and innovation so the business case was there for Sodexo to initiate experimental activity in terms of flexible working. With the support of Sodexo’s Global Head of Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences, the catering function in London was chosen for the pilot.
The process
The project was launched with a flexibility audit within the catering function at two London sites. Timewise ran four focus groups, speaking with catering team members and managers and surveyed about 200 employees across the two sites.
The responses showed that flexible working was not well embedded at either site, with small numbers of staff having flexible arrangements, low numbers of flexible work requests and no vacancies being advertised with flexible work options.
There was a clear appetite for change too, with 50% of employees expressing a desire to work more hours and 21% expressing a desire for reduced hours. The input from these focus groups provided the basis for a flexible work action plan and a high-level plan for a proposed team-based approach to flexible working.
Quick wins
Sodexo started by implementing specific, targeted interventions to address findings from the focus groups. They are delivering training sessions designed to support the development of rising stars across the sites and increase the understanding of the management teams’ approach to flexible working.
They are also initiating talking days at on one site to discuss the needs highlighted by staff and opportunities within wider teams for term-time working and reduced hours during quieter periods. Finally, they are reviewing shift patterns with their catering teams and are training managers in how to manage the clocking-in/clocking-out system to ensure consistency and fairness.
Following on from this, Sodexo will be rolling out a team-based scheduling pilot to test how to implement flexible working within the business. As part of this, they will agree teams to participate, define the scope of the project, communicate the project internally, run workshops with pilot teams to capture solutions, and run new rotas for six months to capture learnings.
Top tips for businesses
Project design was crucial to the success of Sodexo’s approach to reviewing flexible working. Engaging with expert partner Timewise enabled the project team to quickly define the scope of the project, ensure that employees understood the concepts, and to co-ordinate and manage the pilot effectively.
Access to relevant business information as well as the right people was also crucial in order to drive the pilot forward and make sure that it reflected the realities of the business. Seeking senior level buy-in from the start was a key enabler for this.
Workforce data was invaluable for identifying broad trends and areas of focus but discussing and making sense of the data with frontline staff and managers was essential to ensure any changes would genuinely improve quality of life.