How family friendly is your workplace? It’s a question most employees will ask themselves at some point, usually when they’re about to become parents. How you answer that question is what will mark you as either the kind of organisation they want to stay working for or the kind they want to leave. With recruitment and retention an issue in many industries right now, it’s not hard to see why more forward-thinking companies are making the conscious choice to actively support parents. But introducing a new family-friendly policy isn’t as simple as putting out a new policy document, it often requires significant cultural change to embed successfully.
We’ve spoken to the experts in this field – who’ll also be discussing this topic at our Make Work Better conference – to find out more about the issues parents are facing, what the most progressive companies are doing to help and how to make sure that when you do implement a new policy it’s taken up by those it’s aimed at.
Family friendly policies – what’s progressive and what’s not?
When we think of family-friendly policies we tend to think of two distinct phases in a parent’s life. There’s the year after the birth, when maternity and paternity leave policies can have a huge impact on the financial and emotional wellbeing of your employee and their family. And then there’s the nursery and school years, when parents often feel like they’re in a constant juggling act, balancing the competing demands of work and home.
When it comes to maternity and paternity leave, according to Jane van Zyl, CEO of the charity Working Families, progressive employers, like John Lewis, Vodafone and Aviva, are equalising leave. And the very best are offering 26 weeks on full pay for both mums and dads. More employers are also implementing policies which help people on their journey to parenthood, providing paid leave after a pregnancy loss, for example, or support for anyone undergoing fertility treatment.
When a family enters the school years, however, she says it’s important to remember that supporting parents doesn’t just mean offering the option to work from home. The nature of many people’s jobs means they have to be on site and it’s this group of people, mostly women in lower paid work, who call their helpline for advice: “It’s about them literally just wanting to get staggered start and stop times or possibly work part time, which can then have huge financial penalties, not just immediately but over the course of their working lives.”
It’s in the professional services industry where, during lockdown, working from home really took off. But now Elliott Rae, the founder of MusicFootballFatherhood.com, says he’s hearing of more employers rowing back on flexible-working policies put in place during the pandemic, requiring people to come back into the office either full time or set days a week. This group of parents, particularly dads in the more traditional industries such as law and accounting, face different pressures. It is, he says, often about being seen to be, “dedicating your life to work. Long hours, being present, being in the office, being available for emails at any time of the evening and clearly showing your superiors you are prioritising work in your life.”
Family Friendly Workplace of the Future
Want to know how employers can use policy to create a workplace that supports and encourages a family friendly work-life balance?
Family friendly policies – what’s progressive and what’s not?
It’s clear then that, in some sectors, there’s a way to go when it comes to persuading those at the top why they should change the status quo. Jane’s charity helps organisations improve their parental policies. She says if an employer comes to them wanting help, “the first thing we always do is make the business case for supporting the policy…It’s very much about what benefits it will bring to the business or organisation. It may be around staff retention, it may be around staff engagement, it may be around well-being. Flexible working supports all of those issues, but you might introduce it in a slightly different way. You might, for example, want to start with trying to understand how much overwork there is within your organisation.”
The other crucial piece of advice all our experts agreed on was the importance of first understanding your employees’ needs. It’s what Emily Christmas, HR Manager at Carrington West, says they did before they brought in flexible working: “As a very traditional sales type environment, it was quite unheard of when we first introduced flexible working, but it was something our employees wanted. And we wanted to listen to them, so we asked for their feedback – what does flexible working mean to you? How does it look? We took all that feedback on board and created this new policy and what I really like about it, is it’s unique to each person.”
Whether it’s a desire to come in late or take a short lunch break and leave early, employees only need make sure there is cover in the team and they’re otherwise free to figure out what’s best for them – and this includes the option to work from home two days a week. The feedback since implementation has, she says, been “very positive.”
“Culture and leading from the top on this are hugely important,” says Jane when it comes to making sure that your new policy is taken up by staff. And here Elliott also agrees:
“It’s very important to do the wrap around cultural support because you can introduce a policy that’s really good, but you’re also battling against the kind of cultural attitudes people have had for generations…So it’s really important for the workplace to do that work as well – to say we support this, you have our backing, the job will be here when you come back and we’re going to address any negative behaviour or microaggressions.”
So, how do you ensure those who take advantage of your new progressive policies aren’t disadvantaged? According to Beth Samson, Investors In People’s very own People Director, you need to start with data. Why? Because “you don’t know you’ve got a problem unless you’re able to see the problem. And sometimes, especially if you have good policies, it can give you that false assurance everything’s fine.”
Beth recommends looking at return rates after parental leave, as well as satisfaction levels one, three and six months later and comparing that to the wider population. You can also look at progression statistics – is there a negative impact of taking parental leave over time? And what is the impact on pay? Once you’re clear on that you then want to invest in training and support for managers and look more widely at your diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Creating a genuinely family-friendly workplace is no small task and all our experts had lots of tips and advice. If you’d like to hear more from them, make sure you sign up to our Make Work Better conference, happening in London later this month. As Beth says, “there are moments of truth in your life, pivotal moments when things change and you need support and flexibility from your employer – and becoming a parent is one of them.” It’s why here at Investors In People we believe it’s so important employers invest in their family-friendly policies and that, when they do, they’ll have more engaged, motivated and loyal employees.