Balancing a client-facing role at EY with playing rugby for Scotland

AnnabelBeing selected to play for your country is a huge honour. But, as many working sportspersons have found, trying to juggle match and training responsibilities with pursuing a career can be tough. Unless, of course, you have an employer who is prepared to let you flex around your sporting commitments.

 That’s certainly Annabel Sergeant’s experience. A client-facing risk advisory manager at EY, she was both shocked and delighted to be picked for the Scotland national rugby team. And although initially she was able to manage both, it all got more complicated once she was being picked more regularly.

“At first, I timed my annual leave around tournaments, taking a week off at a time to travel and play with the team. But as I made my mark and got picked more frequently, I realised I needed more flexibility. Fortunately, thanks to the culture at EY, I knew it would be OK to ask.”

Working together to agree a way forward

Annabel wasn’t sure at first what exactly to ask for, as the flexibility she needed didn’t fit into a typical pattern. But she spoke to her managers, and between them they were able to work out a plan. The approach to flexibility at EY meant it was a collaborative discussion about what would work, rather than a tough negotiation.

“I agreed with my EY career counsellor and engagement partner that I would continue to work full-time, but would have flexibility around both training and tournaments. I now flex my start and finish times so I can attend training before or after work. I buy extra holiday to help me manage the time off I need for tournaments. And if I need more time than that, EY are happy for me to take additional unpaid leave.

“I’ve also had to factor in that I often need to provisionally book time off for an upcoming tournament, but not take it if I’m not selected. It’s complicated, but it’s working so far.”

Practical tips for making it work

So how has Annabel made her arrangement work? Although her circumstances are unusual, much of what she’s learned could be applied to any flexible role. Here are her top five recommendations for making a flexible role work in practice.

  • Be open about your story and bring people on board

“I’ve found that my passion for my sport has made people more supportive of me. But you don’t have to be playing for your country to deserve flexibility – or to celebrate your life outside work. Whatever you’re doing with your time away, tell your story and bring people with you.”

  • Get ultra-organised, and keep everyone in the loop

“I have to be 100% on top of my calendar. That means booking off time for potential tournaments as far in advance as I can, and being equally quick to release the time if I don’t get picked. My team, my managers and my clients are all kept in the loop so everyone knows what’s coming. Similarly, if I’m working a slightly different day to fit in training, I make sure everyone knows.”

  • Give whatever you’re doing your total focus

“I wouldn’t be able to succeed at my game if I wasn’t 100% committed to it – and the same goes for my job. That doesn’t mean spending all hours working or training; it just means not getting distracted from whatever I’m focusing on at any one time. I’m convinced I’m more efficient and productive at work because I know I have to crack on and get things done.”

  • Delegate thoughtfully and empower your team

“My team are really supportive of my life outside work and I try to be as supportive of them as I can. I make sure I delegate with care, and share the work out fairly. I also give them the autonomy and authority to do their jobs to the best of their ability when I am not around.”

  • Finally, be as flexible as you can in return

“I do think it’s important to meet flexibility with flexibility. I start early or leave late to make up my hours on training days, and am clear that I don’t mind picking up emails on non-match days when I’m on tour. I know EY have taken care to help me combine the two parts of my life and I owe it to them to be as flexible as I can in return.”

And with the Six Nations tournament starting in February, Annabel will be putting all her own recommendations into practice, as well as hopefully bringing home some silverware.

This article has been written in association with EY, one of our Timewise Partners.

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