by Sanya Kerksiek

Hiring Our Heroes and Aon sponsored a “Creating a Flexible Workforce” symposium in Chicago, Illinois, on October 13, 2017. The speakers were Carol Sladek (Partner, Aon, Work-Life and Communication), and Cassandra Sullivan (Senior Consultant, Founder & Program Manager of the National Military Spouse Initiative, Deloitte Consulting LLP). In the audience were primarily human resource and recruiting representatives from several larger companies.

Ms. Sladek gave the most lengthy and substantive presentation. She has worked as a consultant for approximately thirty years, first at Hewitt and then at Aon after Aon acquired Hewitt. She talked about her experience advising companies on creating flexible work programs and policies for their employees. She observed that, in recent years, there has been a movement in society and across industries toward more flexibility and remote work options and away from a rigid “9-5” workday mentality. Some industries and companies are certainly more responsive to such change than others, but overall the momentum of this movement is increasing. The millennial generation in particular is beginning to demand more flexibility and remote-work options, and progressive companies are taking note and changing their ways.

The movement began with companies that wanted to address the problem of losing talent when young mothers “opted out” of the workforce after having children. But more and more professionals — not just working mothers — are starting to demand creative solutions that can help them avoid the high stress that comes with managing the long list of obligations (e.g., children, aging parents, volunteering, professional development, etc.) that seems to come standard with being a working member of modern-day society.

For companies, the benefit of being more accommodating of modern life stresses is that workers who are more successful at “blending” (as opposed to “balancing”) life and work are more productive and are more likely to be retained. The problem is that despite recent trends, a majority of employers, even in 2017, are still not convinced of that as a premise. The key to changing the mindset of an organization, according to Ms. Sladek, is to convince both managers and senior executives that providing flexible and remote work opportunities will ultimately allow them to draw from a greater pool of talent and is highly likely benefit their bottom line in the long run.

The presentation by Cassandra Sullivan, a military spouse who has maintained a career as a consultant at Deloitte despite several short-term military-ordered moves, was a great example of how a “grassroots” movement within a company can cause a sea change in how the company approaches the life circumstances of its employees, whose talent it values and does not want to lose. Ms. Sullivan started the initiative at Deloitte simply by reaching out to other military spouse consultants on an internal social media platform. She did not even know there were others like her at Deloitte, but within just one year, the initiative grew from nothing to connecting a network of over 70 military spouses and developing an official program within the company to support military spouses in professional development and navigating PCS’s.

With respect to law firms, Ms. Sladek did observe that in her experience, they are notorious for being on the less progressive side of this movement. That said, Ms. Sullivan’s experience at Deloitte shows that sometimes, all it takes is for someone to recognize a problem and then ask for help in order to get the ball rolling. Many of MSJDN’s own members have created remote and flexible employment situations for themselves with an impending PCS move simply by developing a proposal and bringing it to their employer. (Several of these members discussed their experience “PCS-proofing” their careers in a panel discussion at the recent Making the Right Moves conference.) The bottom line is that you won’t get it if you don’t ask.

Moreover, many legal employers are already committed to the movement toward more flexibility highlighted by the symposium. Many are also committed to hiring military spouse attorneys in particular. Among them is MSJDN partner Bliss Lawyers, which, according to a Huffington Post article by its co-founder and managing director (Suzie Scanlan), “draws upon a network of over 20,000 lawyers across the US to provide top lawyers for temporary engagements supporting Fortune 1,000 companies and law firms.” Also check out other MSJDN Homefront to Hired partners, who have all committed to hiring military spouses!