The Truth Behind Family Friendly Working
The concept of Family Friendly working is become more and more prevalent. In a modern household, the days of the Dolly Parton 9-5 just don’t cut it anymore, and more and more people are looking for flexibility from their employers, whether this be for their role as parents, carers or simply for work life balance.
But are people really getting it? Is the concept of flexible working starting to become more mainstream, or is it still the minority that benefit?
I was really interested to read the findings of the Mumsnet Family Friendly Survey for a number of reasons. Firstly I am a HR Advisor by day, and as such, flexible working and work life balance is something that I consider myself to have a real passion for. As a recruiter, I have in recently years how it is becoming more and more important to offer flexibility in hours and location in order to hire the right person. In my experience, employees expect it more, they want it more, and they will negotiate for it more. As an employer, if you don’t offer it, and the employees are high in demand, they will simply find someone else who does.
As a Mum, I also recently had to make a huge personal decision for our family. I was due to return from maternity leave at the end of August. I loved my job, I had a great team of colleagues, and I had an established and enjoyable role in the private sector. However, despite being part time (somewhat of a luxury within a HR role), my hours were fixed. I worked 8.30-5 every day with a fixed hour lunch break and an hour commute either side. Whilst I always planned to return, a job came up in the public sector that was closer to home and offered Flexi-Time – the ability to control my part time hours across 3 days around my own personal circumstances, meaning I could do the school run occasionally, did not have a set start time, in theory then could not be ‘late’ and could attend the odd assembly or harvest festival should I wish. To me, this was immediately too good to refuse. With a total change of circumstances at home including nursery runs, school runs and heading into work, my desire for more flexibility around the needs of my family increased dramatically.
Leaving my previous employer was quite a wrench, and I was truly sad to hand in my notice. However I had to make a decision based on the here and now, and I decided to put my family first. For me, being able to sit after work and do reading and homework with my daughter or occasionally greet her at the school gates was something you cannot put a value on.
For many families however, the level of “family friendly” in the workplace just doesn’t hit the mark.
The Mumsnet survey, completed by 1411 Mumsnet users) found that 17% of respondents who didn’t work cited childcare costs as the main reason. I can completely relate to this. We are extremely lucky that we have family supporting us and that Neve is with her grandparents two days a week. In all honesty, if I had to pay for full time childcare, it probably wouldn’t have been worth me going back, as the affect on our take home salaries would be substantial. Whilst I appreciate and believe the nursery earns every penny of what they charge, the costs for those with more than one child in a nursery or childcare setting can be truly crippling.
Perhaps reverse to what some people might expect, the survey found that people tended to get more flexibility the more senior their role became in an organisation, with lower paid employees often having more unsociable working patterns, or work patterns that may be dictated by customer need. With technology making the UK a more 24/7 culture, the need for some fixed working patterns is inevitable. Whilst senior managers who have reached the higher rungs of the ladder can have more freedom to manage their family commitments, those in the middle therefore may feel they need to sacrifice their career in order to secure the family time they desire.
Interestingly, 27% of those surveyed by Mumsnet said that what was most important to them was a welcoming attitude towards ad hoc requests for flexible working. From this I would interpret that many parents don’t even feel they need flexible working ALL the time, just to help them out when it is needed. Childminder is ill, school inset days, no one to pick your child up on Thursday afternoon because after school club isn’t running. It is all very stressful if your employer isn’t able to help.
One conclusion and learning point that Mumsnet made that I whole heartedly agree with is that employers need to be more open to potential flexible working arrangements, and visibly make this known. – “‘if you’d be willing to consider it, say so upfront’. Some employees will assume that if it’s not in your offer, it’s out of the question – and it could prompt them to start looking elsewhere, without coming to you first.” – I couldn’t agree more. There have been so many times as a part time worker that I have seen a job advertised that I felt I would be perfect for, but it was full time so I didn’t bother applying. A simple statement such as “We welcome conversations about flexible working” would be enough to encourage someone wanting a non standard working pattern to apply, and they may well be your perfect candidate.
And what about paternity? I still agree something more needs to be done. Whilst attempts to equalise and share the parenting with Shared Parental Leave touched the surface, the take up has been so low that it risks being scrapped or completely overhauled. We spoke to local parents Kate and Steve about their Shared Parental Leave experience, and although positive, it wouldn’t work for everyone.
My personal view is that so much more can be done by so many more employers to make themselves more open to a flexible working set up, and help many mothers return to the workplace who may otherwise decide to stay at home. I hope that research like the above makes employers think more about their set ups and whether they really need to be as fixed as they currently are. Time for a change maybe?
You can read the full results of the Mumsnet Family Friendly survey here.