Today, it’s not uncommon for both parents to work. With employees trying to juggle parent and professional commitments, more flexible and different ways of working become necessary.
With both parents increasingly working full or part-time, we’re experiencing a change in workplace cultures and work schedules. Flexible working not only helps parent manage care as well as professional responsibilities but can have some real benefits for employers too.
Our article takes a look at some of the current attitudes towards flexible working and provides recommendations on how employers can promote flexible working for men and women.
The Gender Pay Gap
We’ve known about the gender pay gap for a while. In fact, it seems like most of last year was devoted to talking about the issue and how to better promote equality.
The UK has an average gender pay gap of 18.4%. While there are many reasons for the GPG, one of the most significant contributing factors is the fact that women are more likely to work part-time or take time off for childcare. For example, of the two million people not working in the UK due to childcare, 89% of these people are women.
Flexible working presents one viable solution, which could help address the GPG by helping women and men better balance care and professional commitments. By allowing employees to work part-time without repercussions or compressed hours, parents can be there for school pick-up.
UK Flexible Working Laws
Under British law, everyone has the right to request flexible working after a minimum employment period of 26 weeks (approximately 6 months). Requests have to be reasonable but could include working from home, part-time, flexi-hours or job sharing.
Employees are allowed to submit one request per year and employers must agree or reject this proposal within three months. Employers don’t have to say ‘yes’ but must have a sound business reason to turn down the request.
While it’s fantastic that flexible working is a legal right, studies suggest that it’s not enough. Not only are women significantly more likely to request flexible working, but the minimum employment period also deters women from starting a new position in the first place. This is one reason that the labour government has recently pledged to adapt current legislation to allow flexible working from day one should they come into power.
Gender Differences in Requesting Flexible Working
While both men and women are legally allowed to request flexible working, women are significantly more likely to work part-time or flexible schedules. They’re also more likely to take time off for maternity leave or to raise children. Studies have also shown that part-time workers are sometimes mistreated or passed over for promotions as they’re considered ‘not as committed.’ By working part-time, women can experience significant career setbacks.
Men often feel unable to request flexible working or aren’t aware of the available options, which can potentially negatively impact their relationships with their children. Working full-time can restrict opportunities to bond with their children, and as most young children go to bed around six or seven, working dads can easily go the full working week without any quality time.
What the Research Says...
Research supports these cultural trends by showing that while women are often encouraged to take their maternity leave, keep in touch days and work a flexible schedule. Men are often limited in flexible work options; even when it comes to paternity leave, with most having to take annual leave to spend time with their newborn baby. When they return to work, most men don’t know about the available flexible working options.
While shared parental leave was introduced to correct the issue, there’s been shockingly low uptake on this government initiative.
How Employers Benefit From Flexible Working
It may seem like only employees benefit from flexible working, but there’s value for employers too. Not only does flexible working promote diversity and help you recruit the best and brightest, but it also:
- Decreases operating costs as employees are less likely to take long-term sick leave or resign.
- Increases employee happiness and loyalty.
- Provides more recruitment options when sourcing your next superstar.
- Produces higher levels of productivity and engagement.
- Allows companies to better support clients as employees are available outside traditional working hours.
- Improves corporate reputation and promotes your company as a family-friendly workplace.
How to Create a Flexible Workplace
It isn’t as simple as only providing flexible working options. In fact, many employers already do. Instead, employers need to address some of the deeper social and cultural issues at play to encourage both sexes to take advantage of this opportunity. Simply having the option available, as many studies have shown, is not enough.
Provide Managers with Training
Managers must take an active role in supporting and encouraging staff to work flexibly, without penalties. After all, managers are often the first line of defence when it comes to negative judgements and prejudices against part-time or flexible workers.
It’s important to train line managers so that they know how to have open and honest conversations about career development and family situations. Talking about these subjects can be difficult, and many managers don’t know how to sensitively approach these topics.
As flexible working must be requested from a manager, opening lines of communication and encouraging a supportive work environment can make staff feel supported and able to ask for what they want.
Base Performance Reviews on Outcomes and KPIs
Many part-time or flexible workers say they feel discriminated against in performance reviews and aren’t able to access the same career development opportunities as full-time workers.
Research from Capita and IES shows that while managers say that flexible staff members are some of the hardest working and most loyal people on their team, this doesn’t always translate to positive performance reviews. Oldfashioned ideas about ‘bums on seats’ and ‘facetime’ often cast flexible workers in a negative light as they’re not physically present in the office and so are seen as less dedicated.
Basing performance reviews on objective KPIs helps to counter this unconscious bias and guarantee that all employees are treated fairly, regardless of their work schedule.
Make Sure Both Sexes Have Equal Access to Flexible Working
Both men and women should have access to the same flexible working options. Most employers actively encourage women to take their maternity leave and inform them about their working options when they return. But, men don’t always receive the same treatment. Due to cultural ideas that men should work full-time and bring home the bacon, one could argue that they need even more encouragement from their employers.
Requests for flexible working should also be treated fairly and assessed on objective grounds, rather than emotional or biased reasons. Consider whether your company can support flexible schedules rather than the reason for the request.
Create Structured Support for Returners
After a year on maternity leave, women can struggle to return to work and may need extra support. Companies can develop specific schemes that support and encourage women returning to work and examine how their current systems treat and assess returners. For example, if performance reviews take into account the last financial year, someone who’s only been back at work for a few months might not score so well.
Providing structured, carefully considered support for returners can help them make the transition and ensure that parental leave doesn’t negatively impact their career progression or opportunities.
Provide a Mentor
Mentors, or role models, are a fantastic way to encourage flexible working and show employees that they can still reach their career goals. Senior members of staff can serve as an example and provide advice on balancing work and life commitments. Mentors also provide additional support to employees working away from the company or on a different schedule than other staff members.
Recruit with Change
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