How Lloyds Bank flexed their game for a pro athlete

A photo of multiple people in wetsuits and goggles about to dive into water
January 26, 2021

We met pro-triathlete and long-time Lloyds Banking Group employee Ruth Astle, to find out how she blends work with sport. Ruth has recently moved from full-time working to a two-day a week contract. Here’s how she makes it work

Ruth Astle joined Lloyds Banking Group as a graduate in 2012 on the General Management scheme. During a placement with the Responsible Business team, she put herself forward for one of their charity places for the London Triathlon. Ruth was a keen runner and had cycled and swum a little, so she went for it.

A push into pro sport from work

She loved the event and aged 24, decided to join the local triathlon club in London. 

“I’d always been quite sporty, playing hockey through school and university. I’ve also always enjoyed having something competitive in my life, for the social aspect as well as the focus.”

Ruth took part in local London league races and realised she might be able to qualify to represent GB as an age group triathlete in the Olympic distance events. She competed in Chicago but it was here that she realised her forte would be in endurance events. (Most of us would rightly consider Olympic distance triathlon to be an endurance event, but as we all know triathletes are a super breed all of their own!)

Next stop was Ironman. Let’s just put that into perspective. The full Ironman event is back-to-back 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run.

That takes an enormous amount of training, dedication and energy.

So how do you combine full-time training with a full-time role in banking?

Ruth said: “‘I was working in a role which can involve managing external clients and fitting around their schedules, but I was able to be flexible by sticking to the business management side of the work.”

As Ruth continued her journey into triathlon, she started to hear stories about people who had become professional athletes in their twenties and the seed of an idea was planted. Placing third in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in 2017 was not enough for Ruth, who vowed to come back and win it before considering turning professional.

The pressure was then turned up a few notches on both sides of Ruth’s life when she took a role in a new area of the bank, working for someone who just two weeks later was promoted to a very senior role.

Ruth said: “It was an intense job, which I loved. From the outset, I told my boss that triathlon is a huge and very important part of my life. I was so lucky because he had also recently been on a health kick and he understood. The training actually makes me better at my job, because it gives me the mental head space to work better and he got that. As long as I could be flexible and attend early morning meetings for example, we knew we could make it work.”

Early mornings took on a new meaning for Ruth as she regularly got up at 4.30am for her morning session, ready to arrive at the office around 7am to catch up with her boss before his day started. She interspersed her day with training sessions in the pool or gym for example, when her boss was in a long meeting.

Communication is key

Ruth said that the leadership team was supportive but the thing that truly made it work for the wider team was communication, combined with her standpoint that work was her absolute priority. She would let the team know if she would not be available so that she could attend key training sessions, and likewise she would flex her training schedule if a big deadline was coming up.

Culture shift

Lloyds has gone through a culture shift in recent years, welcoming approaches from people who want to work in an agile way.

A foot in both camps

In 2019, Ruth competed at the Ironman World Championship in Kona again and won the overall age group race, pushing her towards her decision to go professional in 2020. She had planned to take a sabbatical for six months to pursue her dream until she was advised to keep a foot in both camps. Having work alongside her professional sports goals would mean she put less pressure on herself when the sport didn’t pan out or she was injured, and would keep her mentally stimulated as well.

Ruth said: “I knew I had to find a two day a week role and looked at job sharing, but found it hard to find the perfect fit. I didn’t want to get stuck with doing a full time job in part time hours, or doing something I would consider a boring job.”

For some time, Ruth had been leading on inclusion and diversity related initiatives as a voluntary activity, due to her passion in this area. She realised it would make the ideal part-time role for her and suggested it to her boss, who had also by chance recently become a member of the Group Inclusion and Diversity Forum members.

She said: “He is a massive advocate and sponsor, and I’m so lucky.”

Staying in touch, part-time

Ruth is full of admiration for Lloyds Banking Group because they have been so flexible around supporting her goals. In return, Ruth spreads her two days of work across three days to make it easier for the team.

She said: “It’s about having the right conversations. I find I have to say no to joining certain meetings. I actually say no to a lot of stuff and I’m disciplined now about not feeling bad about that. I ask, ‘What value can I add to this meeting?’ and unless I have a real input, or it is something I’m really interested in, I say no. Those meetings and catch-ups are lovely to have, but when you have 14 hours a week to play with, you have to be selective.”

Organising your work life, part time

Ruth is militarily well organised, with a week-by-week planner and a rigorous approach to deadlines. She lets people know which hours and days she is working and sticks to those. She’s also grateful for Lloyds Banking Group’s approach to holiday time, “When I’m off, I’m completely off. I’m quite strict about it.”

How to ask for an agile working arrangement

As final advice for anyone who wants to upend their working relationship for something that works better for them, Ruth is positive. She said: “People are generally reasonable. If you explain to people why you’re doing something different and ensure you are doing it in a way that works for the business as well, everyone gets it and they want you to succeed. It’s having that conversation and giving the reasoning. Just have a go.”

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