How TUI is ensuring that flexibility and trust are genuinely embedded as we emerge out of the pandemic

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Interview with Jane Rhodes, head of global mobility at travel company TUI

Covid-19 has changed employee expectations around flexibility and trust at work for good. While this realisation is scary for some organisations, others are embracing the shifts the pandemic kick-started and actively cultivating them further.

One of the companies leading the charge is TUI, which introduced a ground-breaking initiative in August 2021 called ‘TUI Workwide’. This enables any employee, whose job allows them to do so, to work from abroad for up to 30 working days per year. It could be in a holiday destination, in a place where family live or simply somewhere that means something to them.

Clearly, it fits seamlessly with the culture of a travel brand, but the main driver is to give employees the freedom to combine work with their personal lives better and to demonstrate how much TUI values employee wellbeing and trust. This is hugely valuable in a competitive talent market where, as Jane tells us, the first question that any potential recruit is asking her now is: ‘what’s your policy on office working versus homework?’

As workplace wellbeing matures, enlightened employers like TUI increasingly understand that it can’t just be about adhoc initiatives, but must be embedded into the cultural fabric of an organisation. To really support wellbeing, employers need to look at the entire workplace culture, job design and how to genuinely give people more autonomy.

Intrigued by TUI’s bold move, we reached out to the brains behind the idea – Jane Rhodes – to find out more, and to pass on her tips, to the www.makeadifference.media.community.

Where did the idea for TUI Workwide come from?

In the Covid crisis, most employees who were out on assignment came back to their home countries, because of the uncertainty.

Then, in a post-Covid world, people still had that desire to go and work from other countries. But there was a shift from mobility being employer-led, to employee-led.

Employees were saying ‘during Covid I’ve worked really well from my parents’ house in Spain’ or ‘I’ve worked really well in my second home in Greece and I would like to work there on a more permanent basis,’ or whatever.

We realised we needed to look at this.

It became very apparent that the new way of mobility was going to look very different from how it was. So I put forward to the HR leadership team that we needed to come up with something that would address these topics.

What were the first steps in making it happen?

We realized quite rapidly that productivity hasn’t dropped during Covid with people working remotely. The company had started to create new ways of working based around the philosophy that ‘work is what you do, not where you are’.

This led to us asking: what can we do to add some value to our employee value proposition, that fits with our culture of our organisation?

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What would work from a risk profile perspective, but adds that value to our people, that gives them that flexibility to still continue to work, both in their own country, but also internationally?

That’s where the concept of TUI Workwide was born.

Was it a hard sell-in internally?

No. I had to do a little bit of selling, but the HR leadership and executive committee were totally behind it.

They saw it as a way of us giving flexibility to our employees.

In a time of cost constraints, you can’t give salary increases and you can’t pay bonuses. But you can give that flexibility and be a forward-thinking organisation around ways of working.

It’s a great selling point for recruitment, especially of younger recruits. The first question that anyone’s asking now is ‘what’s your policy on office working versus homework?’

How much does employee personal wellbeing come into it?

It totally comes into it. That had been the bit that stressed people out: not being able to be with their families, or the thoughts of not being able to get back when all the borders kept closing and opening.

People also started to really redefine what was important in their lives and wanted to be more with their family.

We’ve had people use it where they didn’t have holiday, but their spouse did. Or go and visit family on the other side of the world. Or reconnect with family that they hadn’t seen for a very long time. Or employees who have got second homes in other countries. Other people wanted to just work in another culture.

You’ve said it’s important that this initiative is managed by line managers, not HR, and involves an adult-to-adult conversation?

Yes. A manager will know where the pinch points are in their team. If you’re working in a finance environment and it’s year end and one of your team wants to work abroad during that time, it may not be possible.

The adult-to-adult conversation is for the manager to say “look, I’d love to support you on this, but actually, could you change the week?”.

How many employees have taken advantage of TUI Workwide so far?

The number of participants that have taken the full 30 days allowance is only 30. That’s still quite a lot, but not huge. We’ve had a total number of requests of 534, we receive about 25 requests a week and had requests from over 61 different countries.

Where are employees mostly choosing to go?

The three top countries are Greece, Spain, and the UK.

The majority have gone from our German market, which was quite surprising. I thought a lot would have been from the UK. People have also gone to really diverse locations, like Ecuador, India, South Africa, America and Australia.

Any other surprises?

I was surprised at how quickly it took off because sometimes it can be hard to get something created that works across a whole organisation, across all different businesses at all different levels.

Want to read more like this?

  • Profile interview with the grandfather of workplace culture, Professor Cary Cooper, which you can read here, which talks about the importance of embedding cultural change like TUI Workwide, especially at leadership level, rather focusing on adhoc initiatives
  • The BITC’s ‘What if work was good for you’ report, which you can read here
  • AXA’s new 2002 study of Mind Health and Wellbeing outlining the key themes for employee mental wellbeing plans for the coming year and beyond. For more information see here and get the full report here

About the author

Suzy Bashford is a freelance journalist, podcaster and workshop facilitator.

She is passionate about destigmatising mental health by creating a more honest, helpful narrative around it, and related topics like emotional intelligence, stress management and empathy. She also believes in the power of creativity and nature to improve our wellbeing, which she covers regularly in articles for the likes of Psychologies magazine and her own podcast, Big Juicy Creative.

When she’s not writing or podcasting, you’ll probably find her dipping in a cold loch, hiking with her dog or biking the mountain trails in the awesome Cairngorms National Park, where she lives.

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