Let employees suggest creative solutions to increase productivity, blogger Anna Whitehouse tells Travel Weekly’s Women in Travel Executive Lunch. Juliet Dennis reports

Travel companies have been urged to take a fresh approach to flexible working by allowing employees to come up with creative solutions on how to work differently and increase productivity.

Speaking at Travel Weekly’s Women in Travel executive lunch, Anna Whitehouse, founder of blog Mother Pukka and a Heart FM radio presenter, told industry leaders to work with staff to find ways to improve their work-life balance.

Whitehouse, who is behind a campaign for flexible working called Flex Appeal, suggested firms put the onus on employees by tasking them to come up with ideas.

She said: “Trust your workforce. Think about how you can get the best out of people. I hear about swathes of frustration among women who want to work and yet are consistently told they cannot [work flexibly].”

Pictured: Mike Bonner, Rosewood London; Alison Page, Global; and Anna Whitehouse

Bringing in more flexible working does not mean businesses need to make wholesale changes to working policies, she stressed.

“It doesn’t have to be a huge shift; it can be small and incremental. You can trial it and base it on productivity. This is also an opportunity in terms of sales; I now purchase based on how companies treat their staff,” she added.

The key is educating companies on the need to change to attract and retain staff and ensure a better way of working for future generations, she said.

Whitehouse herself left her job at L’Oréal after the company refused to agree to her starting work 15 minutes earlier to finish in time to collect her daughter from nursery.

“I was on the Tube and a guy got his briefcase stuck in the door. Parents were looking at their watches, panicking about being late. I got to the nursery and my daughter’s key worker told me off for being 12 minutes late; there was a £1 a minute late charge. I asked if I could come into work 15 minutes earlier and they said no because it would open the floodgates. I don’t want my daughter to hit the same roadblock [as I did]. There should not be a roadblock for allowing talent to continue.”

Pictured: Lindsay Garvey-Jones, Holiday Extras; Anna Whitehouse; and Gail Kenny, Gail Kenny Executive Recruitment 

Travel recruitment firms have reported increasing numbers of candidates wanting to work flexibly – but say the problem is that companies are not willing to change.

Gail Kenny, managing director of Gail Kenny Executive Recruitment, said: “People want a work-life balance. It’s not just about working mums. It’s about location, not just hours. One of the challenges we face is some of our clients [travel firms] do not see the benefits of it. It has to come from the top and they still want people in the office 9am to 7pm. The end result is you are not getting the best out of people.”

Travel bosses said one of the barriers to more widespread flexible working practices in the sector was a general ‘fear factor’ about the issue among agents.

Lisa Henning, chief operating officer at The Travel Network Group, said agents often did not know how to raise the issue with employers. She added: “You have to feel you can raise it, but not everyone knows how to approach it. They are scared. We do training workshops on this but there is so much fear among employees.”

Pictured: Jo Rzymowska, Celebrity Cruises; and Rachel Riley, Kuoni

Rzymowska: Travel workplace diversity still has a way to go

The industry still has a long way to go to create a truly diverse workplace, according to Celebrity Cruises’ Jo Rzymowska.

The line’s managing director for the UK, Ireland and Asia, said: “The good news is that diversity and inclusion, and gender equality in particular, are far more on the radar of the travel industry than they have been historically. However, we still have a way to go.

“At Celebrity Cruises, gender equality and diversity have been a keen focus for a long time, and we have increased the number of female officers across our fleet from 3% to 22%, including four female captains.

“There are still very few senior women at the top [in travel]. Companies such as easyJet are really making a transformation but we have a long way to go.”

Pictured: Anna Divers, Holiday Extras

Holiday Extras embraced flexible working as part of its ‘need to evolve’

Holiday Extras is a strong example of a travel company that has embraced the need for flexibility in the workplace.

Product director Anna Divers said the company was trying hard to bring about change on workplace issues, particularly for women. Of its 1,000 employees, 60% are women. So far it has run seven forums for women to share experiences and talk about career challenges.

Divers said: “We have flexible working for all our staff. We are learning that we need to evolve and be mindful of the new world.

“We had a lot of nay-sayers who deemed us as a bra-burning movement. We have had to bring them on the journey, including the chief executive.

“We have managed to make changes about women on maternity coming back to the workplace and our mentoring scheme has led to promotions of women who work part-time.”

The company is now set to run its first-ever session on the menopause. “It will be a milestone moment for us and we are hoping it will impact
our policy,” said Divers.