Work-life Programs: How the Big Seven Flex

Employees at audit firms can pretty much write their own work-life script. Here's a roundup of how the seven largest firms approach flexible work arrangements.

Weisberg, along with Deloitte’s chief talent officer, Cathy Benko, co-wrote Mass Career Customization, a book published last fall that promotes the idea that “climbing the corporate ladder” is an anachronism. Instead, it advances the notion of a “corporate lattice.”

“Mass career customization takes into account that today careers ebb and flow over time, that people will move in many different directions through organizations,” Weisberg said. “And that’s OK, because it’s already happening. This is not something we’re initiating; we’re responding to a reality that is here for us and most organizations.”

Deloitte has signed up 8,000 employees so far to a program based on Weisberg and Benko’s model. Employees fill out a customization profile in which they map out their career goals in four areas: pace, or the rate of career progression; load, or the amount of work; location and schedule; and role. The profile can be changed at any time. “The whole point is to build a model that allows the conversation with your manager to be about a career/life fit — about how your career unfolds in the context of how your life is unfolding,” said Weisberg. “Those two things are not separate at all.”

She said Deloitte set out in this direction as a way of fostering retention. “We were finding that people were leaving our firm not because of present needs but because of what they thought they might want to do in the future, and their view of their options,” she said. “Mass career customization creates tremendous option value.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers

In addition to the usual assortment of flexible work arrangements, PwC offers “Full Circle,” which like McGladrey’s “Flex career” program, allows employees to leave the firm for up to five years, but stay connected to it. They are assigned a “coach” during their absence, and the firm provides any training they need to keep their credentials up to date.

The firm offers an unusually liberal 16 weeks of paid maternity leave. And “Mentor Moms” is a PwC program that pairs new moms, or moms-to-be, with another PwC mother who has already experienced juggling motherhood and career for guidance and insights.

The firm also offers two kinds of sabbaticals that last three to six months, during which employees are paid 40 percent of their base salaries. One is called Personal Growth and Development, allowing time off for education or skills acquisition; the other is Social Service, for those who want to devote time to volunteer and charitable activities.

PwC is particularly vigilant about making sure employees use their vacation time. They get E-mail alerts when unused vacation is nearing the expiration date; the same alerts are sent to their supervisors. The firm also ran an internal communications campaign called “Rest and Relaxation: The Value of Time Off.”

PwC provides 22 vacation days to employees after their first year. In the past many were hesitant about using it, but they now see the company communications, which began in 2006, as “permission to use their benefits,” said Fenlon. Taking vacation not only is good for employees, he added, but “it’s good for our clients as well, by helping our people maintain their focus, energy, and enthusiasm for the work.”

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