· Features

Flexible working and strong green credentials are essential to attract talent

A business needs the right talent to promote growth and boost its reputation. To attract this talent it needs to have a brand perception and work ethic that is both innovative and respected.

For HR teams, communicating the right messages in terms of attitude to employees' wellbeing, is intrinsic to this goal. Implementing workplace travel plans and incorporating flexible working schemes can both strengthen an HR team's offering and attract promising graduates and emerging talent while boosting a company's environmental credentials.

Since I joined National Business Travel Network a year ago as programme director, I've witnessed an increasing number of HR professionals engaging with the concept of ‘workplace travel planning' as a means to reduce business travel costs, make more effective use of resources and, in turn, minimise the environmental damage associated with travelling to, from and at work by cutting CO2 emissions. Despite this, however, the HR profession still has quite a way to go in terms of recognising the wider benefits of flexible working and workplace travel plans - namely the potential to attract and retain talent.  

A travel plan encompasses sustainable travel practices such as car sharing schemes, good cycling and walking facilities, improved public transport provision and marketing, as well as flexible working opportunities. These initiatives have many advantages in allowing staff the freedom to work in the way that suits them best, whilst boosting corporate social responsibility (CSR) credentials and lowering business costs.  

According to the latest figures, only 6% of UK companies currently facilitate sustainable travel for employees and yet a recent survey by You Gov identified that, of UK employees who travel to work, over half of those polled (63%) would take up a workplace travel plan if their company offered one. In addition to this another survey revealed that 92% of young graduates would prefer to work for companies with good environmental practices. This supports the argument that by communicating strong messaging and brand identity around CSR credentials, HR teams can strengthen their offering to talented employees.

Further evidence that employees seek this type of benefit can be seen in the Sunday Times Top 100 survey. One of the main factors the survey measures is the impact and delivery of CSR packages that cover smart travel planning and work-life balance initiatives. For potential employees, caring about the health and wellbeing of staff speaks volumes about a company's ethical and moral stance towards its workforce and naturally companies that embrace this are perceived as more attractive.  

An example of a company that has embraced this concept is BT. BT's pioneering Flexible Working and Workstyle Scheme allows employees to work in the way that best suits them, their job, their personal circumstances and their customers. Flexible working has reduced absenteeism to an impressive 3.1% (the national average is 8.5%) and less commuting has resulted in 7.5 million fewer kg of CO2 emissions being emitted. Encouraging teleconferencing has eliminated 859,784 meetings per year making £135 million in travel savings and £103 million per year in productivity gains. (May 2007). In addition to this BT won the Transport for London Greenfleet award last year. This involved providing employees with fuel-efficient driver training and utilising hybrid, biofuel and electric vans.

Brabners Chaffe Street, voted Best for Work & Home Balance in the 2009 Sunday Times Top 100 employers survey, also has an excellent flexible working strategy.  Staff who are able to work remotely don't think of work deadlines as unrealistic (a 76% score was achieved for this) and work-related stress is also not seen as a problem (78%) .  

Flexible working also allows companies to tap into a talented workforce of parents who need to balance their employment around family commitments. Again BT has achieved excellent results for this with 99% of women returning to work after maternity leave compared with a national average of 47%.  

Implementing a workplace travel plan allows talented employees sustainable access to their work - whether by physical or remote means - and it can often open up opportunities for potential employees who may otherwise find it difficult to get to a particular work location. A company that leads the way in terms of travel planning is the Wellcome Trust, a research laboratory based just outside Cambridge. As an institution it has recognised the impact that pollution caused by staff commuting can have on the surrounding area.  One of the Wellcome Trust's objectives is to encourage all staff to adopt environmentally-sound transport strategies to minimise polluting the local area. Since the campus itself is not easily accessible, particularly for those without a car, Wellcome Trust has set up a free bus service running to and from the centre of Cambridge and surrounding villages for its staff, which means fewer cars on the roads and easier access to the office.

Essentially I believe HR teams have to work hard for their companies to be considered an employer of choice. They need to encourage and enable their staff to succeed, treat them fairly and reward their contributions. Integrating smarter travel planning and flexible working into strategies is a means of doing this.

Heather McInroy is programme director for the National Business Travel Network