We look at how employers can focus on supporting employees who need greater flexibility in their lives.
While we’re lucky to work with forward-thinking employers, there’s still a long way to go before flexibility in the workplace is a default option for all employees. But if businesses can support working parents, including mums returning to work, single parents and those who have had a career break for other reasons such as caring for elderly relatives, the world of work will only be better for it.
Encourage Parental Leave
It’s a wonderful time when people settle down to start a family. But all too often, their initial concern is how they will make ends meet. Will their employers be supportive once they announce their impending parenthood?
The fact is, mums are often employed before they have their children. Yet the companies who fail to encourage them to return are the real losers.
Promote Your Job Flexibility
Working parents need to know they can ask for flexibility. It’s why Ten2Two exists as a recruitment agency. When working parents need flexibility just to get to work every day, it’s crazy that 90% of job adverts still don’t offer it at the outset. We’ve been seeing this being campaigned for but progress is slow.
You’d be surprised to hear we’re still having this conversation, but that’s the truth. It’s been great to see Mother Pukka campaigning for flex for all, but when we looked at the government’s new job site, the majority of roles don’t quite fit the bill, they’re largely for shift and unskilled work. At the very least, these roles don’t measure up to the expectations that many graduates will have of continuing their professional careers post childbirth.
The men and women we attract at our flexible recruitment agency have often had senior professional roles in management or at a high level. And they want to use these hard-won skills as time goes on. After all, they’ve had a baby, not a lobotomy. And the employers we work with know that they’re on to a great thing when they secure the talent of these professionals. They know that working parents, including mums returning to work, are a sure-fire bet when it comes to taking their job seriously, often working productively and with a keen ‘getting on with it’ attitude.
Don’t Discriminate On Age
If you have concerns that a more experienced member of staff will be trickier to manage or be overqualified, you should think again. It’s a fallacy to think that younger employees are a safer bet. The employers who fail to hire women with children forget that younger employees have their own worries and personal concerns that may also result in time off. They are also more likely to expect promotion quickly with millennials expecting to stay in their jobs for around two years maximum, according to Deloitte.
We hear all too often, the magic question asked by candidates going to interview: “When shall I ask for flexibility, upfront or once I’ve got the job?”. And this is just the proportion of women – and increasingly, men – who aren’t put off by the lack of flexibility and who are considering a new role in spite of the challenges of juggling family life. But there are many more who never even take that step in the first place – and only employers can make that change.
Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of sitting there worrying about getting down to a final interview and then asking for flexibility, parents could get back to work by having these conversations up front before the interview took place?
Offer Rewarding Careers For Parents
Often part-time work can fill the gap for many professionals. But what’s also often true is, there’s an acceptance that they won’t be promoted and will always be second fiddle to permanent, full-time members of staff – staff who are often male and senior by consequence. And that means, the work can become less rewarding over time. It’s a frustrating position for candidates seeking to get their careers back on track post having children.
On the positive side, part-time professionals make dedicated, loyal employees and can offer a business valuable skills for less than the price of a full-time salary. So if you have a skills gap or want to bring in new talent to help mentor the staff you already have, a part-time professional can help you do this and more.
If you have a company culture where the bulk of productive hours happens around 4pm in the afternoon, you’ll find it harder to be family friendly. But if you make sure mornings get off to a flying start and model that behaviour across management, you can make the day more productive. Other ways companies do this is to limit email use. When employees spend all day responding to email, they often aren’t ‘working’.
Working At Night Is Bad For Everyone
A major issue that stops many new parents from staying in the professional workplace –including mums returning to work after having a baby – is the perception that they won’t be able to drop everything and work late at a moment’s notice. It’s presenteeism and it’s sadly, rife in the UK. Yet over in France, legislation was brought in to kerb the need to look at emails after 6pm. It’s a strong signal that family time is precious.
If your business is working productively during the day, there is the wonder as to why employees are overworking. It’s not good for mental wellbeing and it’s also likely that the quality of work will suffer long-term. The same can be said for meetings held after work in the pub – some call this a social scene, but for parents who cannot stay late, it can feel uncomfortable and, dare we say it, if that is an important part of company culture, it’s worth asking whether this plays into unconscious bias when choosing a candidate.
Offer Generous Annual Leave
A major issue is the lack of affordable childcare. Children have around fourteen weeks off school but the average annual leave period for employees is just four weeks. By working part-time, dads and mums returning to work can cover some of the holiday childcare without needing to pay for more childcare in the holidays.. If you want to make a serious offer, make sure your annual leave includes bank holidays and be as generous as you can afford.. Consider offering unpaid extra leave as an added appeal to working parents.
Consider Going Remote
If you have clients overseas where a time difference plays into getting the job done, this can seem problematic. But if you give your employees the right tools and invest in technology, there is no reason why calls can’t be done over Skype or other applications. If you make home-working a viable option for all employees, you can reap the benefits and help working parents, including mums returning to work, to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
Be Flexible For Everyone
Ultimately, we’re aiming for a day when it will be simple for everyone to ask for flexibility without half of the anxiety they currently face. But until that happens, change needs to come from individual businesses. If valuable working parents and mums returning to work after having a baby drop out of the workplace, what’s the real reason why? And how could you make the difference so they feel able to continue with their roles?
Lead From The Front
Ultimately, it goes without saying that if you want your employees to act a certain way or promote certain behaviours, you need to model them from the bottom to the top. Managers who do this, leaving unease at the door, will make employees feel valued and will boost discretionary effort down the line.
If managers joke about part-timers or show any kind of bias towards full-time employees over part-timers, for example, you’re on to a losing streak. It may be worth investing in additional unconscious bias training for your staff to help the business ‘walk the talk’.
Here at Ten2Two, we work with forward-thinking employers who already offer flexibility for their employees and see the daily benefit of loyal, committed staff – after all, we’re moving towards an age where the four-day working week is very much on the table, and in some cases, is already being trialled.
If you foster a workplace culture that promotes mental wellbeing, health and wellness and employee engagement generally, with flexibility a major part of this, your business will flourish. You’ll retain and attract talent and develop longer-lasting bonds with your people. And as Richard Branson says, his people come first, customers second.
Ten2Two is a flexible and part-time recruitment agency. It was set up to help the swathes of professional mums (and a growing number of dads!) lining our playgrounds, to find work that fits around their family life. It was one of the first agencies to address the concern of the lack of rewarding, local roles for professional women in their child rearing years. To see if we can help you, get in touch today.