How to support your employees' outside ambitions

Secondsight advisor Sally Read-Cayton is a keen professional athlete. Here's how the firm supported her sporting ambitions, and how you can support your workers with theirs

Sally Read-Cayton is a remarkable lady. At the age of 50 she has three children, a full-time job working as a financial adviser with Foster Denovo/Secondsight, and this August she represented Great Britain in the International Association of Athletics Federation's world championships in Beijing. What's more, she won the 400 metre race! This was the first event of its kind for women aged 50 and over.

We are extremely proud of her achievement in winning for Great Britain, and it has created a real buzz in the office – it's not every day you have a world-class athlete in your workforce.

We appreciate the need to recognise what is important to individual staff members at any given time. It may be they require more flexibility around childcare/out of work priorities, or they could have suffered a bereavement. You have to treat each set of circumstances individually.

Sally needed to take valuable time away from the office to train, and also to travel to Beijing to compete. She was able to undertake her training regime and fit her work responsibilities around it.

Whatever flexible working arrangement we implement for a particular member of staff, we're mindful that we are setting a precedent and may need to provide justification for the actions taken. Not choosing to support workers in this way means in effect you are not recognising them as individuals and taking into consideration their external driving factors. In turn you may experience an increase in staff turnover and absence along with a reduction in employee engagement.

People remain loyal to a business if you choose to support them wherever possible. If you don't clock watch then they don't take advantage, and employee engagement levels should be high. Foster Denovo has a long tenure for employees, and I truly believe this is down to the culture.

We try to really instil flexibility into our working culture – to help support employee engagement, and attracting and retaining staff. We are flexible when it comes to policies and are prepared to make changes where necessary. Line managers have autonomy and are allowed to implement their own rules around flexibility. We enable them to work around the company policies, depending on an individual's circumstances.

Top tips for supporting employees with ambitious extra-curricular activities:

1. Gain a full understanding of what you are considering from the outset – take time to properly review it.

2. Consider the impact it may have on the individual, their work and the team.

3. Assess everything on a case-by-case basis.

4. Ensure that you are always being fair with your approach.

Claire Soutar is head of HR at Foster Denovo/Secondsight. Secondsight is a trading name of Foster Denovo Limited