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Work-life Balance: Why Flexibility Matters

Discussing work-life balance, Surine and Katy find working for SHL means they can both keep the home fires burning at no cost to their careers.

Working from home means you need to balance jobs and private life, including childcare for those with younger children. In this edition’s Employee Spotlights, Surine van der Westhuizen and Katy O’Loughlin discuss the importance of flexibility in achieving work-life balance and their experience as working moms at SHL. 

Surine: I joined SHL’s South African office 15 years ago in a client support services role, then moved into HR. But, in 2019, I decided to leave because my life had changed. By then, I had two children and I wanted to spend more time with them. Of course, I did not see the Covid pandemic coming. I rapidly became a literal stay-at-home mom during the lockdowns, home-schooling the girls as well. An old colleague from SHL got in touch and asked me to come back in late 2021 to cover someone who was on long-term sick leave, so I decided to go for it. Then, I was offered a permanent role earlier this year supporting the HR business partner who covers Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). I would not have been able to come back if the role wasn’t flexible, which it is. It means I can still manage my non-paying job—keeping the family home running.

Katy: I can see why we were brought together to talk about our experiences because mine is quite similar in many ways! I only joined SHL less than a year ago, but it was a return to work after my second baby was born and I wanted a job that offered genuine flexibility. I had looked at vacancies elsewhere that said they were part-time, but, in truth, they wanted me to work condensed full-time hours. It was not what I wanted with a one-year-old and a four-year-old. Then I was approached by SHL to work in talent sourcing for the EMEA regions. It was a new role and they said it could be genuinely part-time. I work remotely from home in Cheshire, reporting into the UK office in Thames Ditton. It is the first company I have known that really practices what it preaches and where I have a true balance between work and home.

Surine: I know what you mean. Since I have come back, I work a hybrid model, some days in the office and some working from home. Equally, if I need to leave work early to pick up the kids, that is fine. If I have to take time away during conventional office hours, it is understood I might work between 6pm and 8pm in the evening to get what I need to get done. The job I do now deals with different time zones around the world, so working odd hours is an advantage. The flexibility has made it possible to come back to work on a permanent basis.

It is the first company I have known that really practices what it preaches and where I have a true balance between work and home.

Katy: My experience of returning to work after my first maternity leave was very negative. I have worked in places where if your child was sick, you had to take time off as annual leave. If you wanted to go to a sports day, it had to be taken as holiday. Raising children, working and fulfilling your needs in terms of professional development is hard enough without other pressures being added. Here at SHL, I get the whole package—the flexibility I need to be there for my family, plus stimulating work. I have a psychology degree, and this is really the first time I have felt I am using that in my job.

Surine: It is interesting you say that because, while I really appreciate having flexibility in my work at SHL, I have also realized it is really important I feel engaged and passionate about what I am doing professionally. We all need a job to pay the bills, but if you are not happy in it, it affects everything negatively, life outside work, too.

Katy: I agree. But coming back to flexibility, the reason I think it works at SHL is because you can see an example being set from the top. Those in the most senior positions in the company make it clear they have a life outside work. They are real people who are approachable. It is clear they place a value on their lives beyond work and they expect the same from others.

Surine: I think setting an example matters, but I have also seen the business world evolve in the time I have been working. A lot of companies talk about asking their employees for feedback, but they do not act on what they are told. SHL goes back to its people, listens to what they say, and takes action. It has created a culture of genuinely listening to its staff.

Katy: I find that really encouraging. Talking to you gives me hope about where I might be further down the line. I have not been with SHL long, but it feels like it ticks all the boxes for me now and I am hoping that will continue as my kids get older.

SHL goes back to its people, listens to what they say, and takes action.

Surine: The one thing I would say is my girls are 11 and 14 years old, so quite a lot older than your two and it does not get any less busy! But it helps a lot to have the flexibility we have been talking about. The passion of the people at SHL is also infectious. And it is great that the business is always innovating and striving to be better.

Katy: I have noticed that and the fact the people working here all have a common goal to make workplaces better. Other companies shy away from genuine innovation and new ways of working. But it feels that SHL is always seeking to improve what it does and how it does it.

At SHL, we believe that work-life balance is key to a successful organization. Check out our other Employees’ Spotlights for more stories from our employees, and if you are interested in building your career with SHL, go to our Careers page!

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Author

Surine van der Westhuizen

Surine van der Westhuizen is based in Johannesburg, South Africa and works as a Senior Advisor to the HR business partner covering the EMEA regions. She studied human resources at university and worked in agency recruitment before first joining SHL in 2007.

Co-Authors
headshot katy oloughlin

Co-Author

Katy O’Loughlin

Katy O’Loughlin joined SHL in January this year as a Talent Sourcer for the EMEA Commercial wing of the business. Having studied psychology at Sheffield Hallam University, Katy spent her early career working in agency recruitment for Robert Walters and Sacco Mann, among others. She lives in Sale in Cheshire with her family.

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