General Mills takes a balanced approach to workplace flexibility

As companies strive to attract the top talent in their respective industry, more and more are re-examining their own workplace practices in order to stay competitive.

A report prepared by the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) found that reforming federal government childcare policy would encourage many female executives to stay in the workforce full-time after starting a family – boosting gender equity and GDP.

Many FMCG companies are starting to take note of the needs of parents in the workplace and are offering more flexible working options and better parental leave policies.

General Mills is one FMCG company leading the charge in terms of workplace flexibility, having recently received a Great Place to Work certification.

The FMCG supplier is behind five major brands, the biggest being Old El Paso, which is produced locally along with the Latina brand at its Rooty Hill factory in New South Wales. Betty Crocker, Nature Valley, Fibre One and Haagen Dazs ice cream are sourced from GM’s large regional manufacturing plants, predominantly in Europe.

Jennifer Higgins, national business manager General Mills Australia

Jennifer Higgins, national business manager General Mills Australia, shared an insight into working life at the food giant.

INSIDE FMCG: Tell us about the flexible working options at General Mills and the difference it makes to employees.

Jennifer Higgins: The feeling internally is that General Mills is leading the charge, certainly in FMCG, around flexibility and therefore workforce diversity and inclusion. Having the level of flexibility that we are afforded here means mums can come back to work, part-time work is very commonplace and handled well, there’s job sharing; people are able to really balance their personal and their work lives in a really meaningful way with regards to flexibility.

We are always offered half-day Fridays – we all finish work at about one o’clock on a Friday. That allows us to ease into the weekend so we all enjoy two and a half days every weekend. Parents can pick up children from school and people can go about some of the things that are meaningful to them in their personal lives on that Friday afternoon, which is really valued by many of us here.

INSIDE FMCG: Is there an expectation that workers are available at other times outside of work?

JH: Many of the staff here do have regional counterparts that they need to connect with quite regularly in order to do business, and many times those regional connect calls do happen at night. So if you’re on a call at 10 o’clock at night and you’re spending that time working, rather than say spending time with family, then it’s very accepted and almost expected that you then take the time in the morning to take the kids to school or to get that time back by some means and and also get some sleep. It’s another way that the company demonstrates care and support for how you’re feeling and how you’re managing to balance working life.

INSIDE FMCG: Has flexible working at GM encouraged parents to continue working and move up to bigger roles?

JH: Absolutely. They’ve just introduced a very generous parental leave scheme for both parents. There’s no suggestion that [a certain gender] is primary and another is secondary. Some of our very senior leaders have taken advantage of that and really gotten a lot of value out of it.

Note: Primary caregivers are entitled to a total of 20 weeks paid leave, while secondary caregivers are entitled to 12 weeks.

INSIDE FMCG: Sales is one department across different industries that is so often dominated by men, but GM has flipped that on its head with a 60:40 women to men ratio on the team. How do you think that came about?

JH: The sales director sees it as an important aspect of his team to have some balance and diversity, and having female leaders sitting on the SLT is something that he’s gotten a lot of value out of as opposed to having all males. I think that the opportunities that some of the female leaders in the organisation have been given, you don’t see it everywhere. Certainly in FMCG you don’t see people being given those opportunities.

INSIDE FMCG: Is there mental health support for employees?

JH: Yeah, absolutely. We had a program called Benny Button, and it was about resilience, mental agility and wellbeing. All of the organisation went through that program. It was a series of informative presentations, a little bit of training, some activities and it was stepped throughout a 12-month period so that really made it clear that while the work will always come, the power does rest with the individual to prioritise and to make sure they’re carving out enough time to keep themselves happy and healthy.

This interview took place pre-COVID-19 outbreak. Read the extended interview, and much more, in the April issue of Inside FMCG magazine, out now. Subscribe here.