Case study: ILF Scotland - Living the Dream

Harvey Tilley and familyWinner of the 2017 David Drysdale Memorial Award for best employer for all stages of fatherhood.

In an ideal world, what family-friendly policies would you bring to your workplace? HARVEY TILLEY had the chance to help build a public-sector organisation from the ground up: here the dad-of-three describes the kinder, leaner work culture that has changed his life for good. 

“I came from a 70-80-hour-a-week job culture where I thought that anyone who has a less than 50 hours was bluffing it,” says Harvey Tilley, Chief Operating Officer of the Independent Living Fund Scotland, which today won the 2017 David Drysdale Memorial Award for best employer for all stages of fatherhood.

“Coming here has been an epiphany for me. I come in at 7 or 8 in the morning, leave at 3 or 4, sometimes work from home. We have flexible hours, flexitime, and I try to work my hours and no more, encouraging colleagues to do the same. As a consequence, we have no stress-related illness in the 20 months since we set up.”

This in itself is a miracle given the enormity of the task that faced Harvey, his CEO Peter Scott and colleagues in 2015 as they put together a new organisation – the ILF Scotland - from the closure of a UK-wide body.


“We had no offices, nothing,” remembers Tilley, a former Army officer and father of three who was the first employee through the doors at ILF Scotland. “Three months before we were due to go live we had no business systems, employment contracts or HR policies in place.  We concluded pretty quickly, the organisation just needed enough staff in place to answer phones, field enquiries and make payments to 3400 disabled folk who relied on us in Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

“But very quickly we realised this gave us freedom to collaboratively shape the work culture we wanted from the ground up, influence the kind of attitudes we wanted to imbue in our people. Basically, we had a blank sheet of paper to be the kind of organisation we wanted to be.

"We started to really think about our employee proposition, as they would be the main interface with all stakeholders. Our values were about trust and respect of disabled people, so we decided this should be replicated with all colleagues. I recruited all the staff initially with the exception of the CEO and we put all the HR systems in place as we went on. Core to our recruitment was the motivation and values of those joining the organisation."


As a father he was keen to set the bar high when it came to family-friendly flexible working and leave, offering 26 weeks on full pay for those taking Shared Parental Leave or Maternity Leave, dropping to statutory pay for a further 13 weeks.

Alex Bunch, IT and Development Manager was the first to have a baby in the new organisation, and helped shape the policy towards fatherhood, which already included paid pre-natal appointments and full paternity pay. “At the time he needed leave it was two weeks’ full pay, with the option to work from home for 6 to 8 weeks,” remembers Harvey. “But we’ve since doubled that to four weeks on full pay.”

Paul Hayllor & daughterAnother employee Paul Hayllor who is the Project Development Manager, works part-time so that he can drop his children off at school in Edinburgh and pick them up afterwards, working from home.

“Being the primary carer for school children puts a lot of pressure on working parents,” he says. “If you get the call from the school, or the cancelled after school support, you can be made to feel guilty for leaving work to race to get them. I can work flexibly and remotely and this anywhere/anytime ability to work has helped me balance the needs of work with the fun of being a parent.

"For me, it is about mutual trust and confidence and knowing that I have the support of my manager and team to organise my time to meet both sets of needs. I certainly feeling supported and not pressurised and still part of the team.” 

Harvey says: “I trust people to get on with the job if they’re working from home and there’s been nothing to say that the work has suffered at all – quite the opposite.  Indeed since starting, we have exceeded all the ambitious targets set against a backdrop of significant change and financial restraint.”FFWS-Awards-Logo.jpg


The achievement has been recognised with a clutch of awards: in addition to the David Drysdale Memorial Prize at today’s Family Friendly Working Scotland Awards, the organisation won the Community Engagement category in the 2016 Scottish Public Sector Awards, and was Best Finance Team in the UK Government’s 2017 Finance Awards.

However most importantly to us, our recipient satisfaction has increased to just over 98% and we know what we do changes lives for the better! ”

On the other hand, he was keen not to spark resentment among those without children. “When I was in the Army as a single man, anyone with kids automatically got Christmas leave, while the rest of us didn’t – and that’s not fair.” 

“We decided on a people-friendly culture, not just a family-friendly one,” he says. So while ILF Scotland offers flexibility to its working parents, it doesn’t stop there, offering any employee the right to work flexibly from home, on the basis of trust.

“Also in this modern age, the traditional definition of a family unit no longer applies, so we wanted to be as inclusive as possible no matter what the individual circumstances were. “It is only fair that if we allow someone time to look after ill children, we should do exactly the same if their family includes relatives or pets.”


Staff training at ILFThis approach makes for an efficient and effective organisation. Such things as sickness rates have been extraordinarily low in the 20 months since the organisation went live averaging under 3 days per annum compared with the sector-wide average of 8.5 as reported by CIPD’s 2016 analysis. There have also been no staff retention, disciplinary or performance related issues, adds Tilley.

Including the Board, there are 46 staff and Directors engaged  in a combination of part-time and full-time contracts, plus freelancers; the gender mix is 67:33 Female:Male, with 15 per cent of staff registered disabled. And among the parents and grandparents there are five  dads of young children, including Harvey himself.

A staff survey at the end of last year (2016) found a strong sense of culture around values and feeling valued, a 95+% satisfaction rate with family- and life-friendly practices.

“It’s not rocket science. If you’re happy at home, you’ll be happier at work – the two are interlinked. So in our organisation, if someone says they’re taking leave to go and look after their family, we’ll say, why are you taking leave? Just go home. And we’ve found very quickly that that’s paid back to us in spades.”


Of course, it’s possible to have the most enlightened policies in the world, but if the boss isn’t modelling them, they just won’t filter down. “The leadership of the organisation shouldn’t be sending out emails after 5 or 6 o’clock because you’re setting the example. It’s these little things which everyone else follows.”

So Harvey also works flexibly, sometimes from home, enabling him to share childcare responsibilities and spend more time with his children, while his wife Sarah is freed up to travel more for her job with the Scottish charity SAMH. Does he ever regret leaving the high stress environment of London presenteeism and putting his family first?

“I’ve decided I will never work for an organisation like that again,” he says. “The last 18 months has fundamentally changed my life outlook and health. I’m not constantly exhausted, I’ve lost over 5 stone, I don’t feel anxious about working, I feel clearer of mind, freed from that constant fug of stress and pressure on you. My family life has been enhanced and I’ve never worked in a more efficient environment. It’s utterly liberating.”

What would he say to other managers wondering what impact flexible working will have on their margins and morale? Harvey doesn’t hesitate: “You can have a highly effective (or profitable) organisation that is also family and people friendly environment – you can have both and there is a huge amount of evidence to support this. Whatever role I do in the future, I will always champion people friendly working!”

www.ilf.scotDavid Drysdale

The David Drysdale Memorial Award was instituted for the first time this year to reward employment practice that specifically recognises the importance of fathers to their families and society at large.

David Drysdale was the founder and CEO of Fathers Network Scotland, who died of cancer in July 2016, half way through the Year of the Dad, which he co-founded. Read about David's life here.