With over 4 million workers in the UK now working from home, and a huge spike in the demand for innovative new work space away from the conventional office environments causing a ‘space race', the pattern and location of the working day has changed for many. But still there are seemingly many organisations only paying lip service to flexible working and child care.
By Kelly Harrison
Anyone passing my car on the way to work this morning may have been alarmed by the sight of me apparently ranting to myself. Talking to yourself in public is never a good look, but shouting is even less acceptable… apparently.
The cause of my fury was a news item about a new report calling for schools to embrace flexible working. There is a “shocking waste of talent” that sees women dropping out of teaching permanently after maternity leave because the profession is not compatible with raising their own children. Erm… I struggle to name a profession that IS compatible with raising children.
Flexible working has become a phrase that companies love to bandy about, with many of them not actually accepting or understanding what it means. To many flexible working means you will respond to an email at 9pm on a Friday night. In my own experience, I have found flexible working has meant you can come in a bit later or work from home on the odd occasion but don’t make it a habit and make sure you overcompensate by working extra hours to prove your commitment to the role.
This is also not just an issue for women, I know plenty of fathers who would value being able to work around school run commitments or at least enjoy being home before their children are tucked up in bed. How are we still getting this wrong?
Why can’t more employers offer working from home as a normal part of a role so mums and dads can have more choice and flexibility in how they organise their childcare? Why aren’t more organisations offering job sharing as a realistic option for employees?
For me, job sharing seems a win-win for all concerned. Done properly, the employer is getting the benefit of the skills and experience of two people in one role. There is continuity during annual leave and for the employee, it means they can work a role around their childcare and they have someone to bounce ideas off. There are examples of people who have made this work very successfully.
I know far too many women who have been forced to drop out of the workforce because they can’t, or don’t want to work 9-5pm, sat in an office five days a week. I also know far too many men who don’t feel that they can take advantage of new policy changes to request to share maternity leave or even take the 2 weeks paternity leave they are entitled to.
Recently a friend of mine revealed he adopted a new approach to job hunting. After running his own web development business from home for a few years, he had decided to go back to working for someone else. To help him decide if he wants to work for a particular company, the first thing he will tell them is that he has childcare commitments and needs to drop his children at school in the mornings. The response he gets will tell him immediately if they are a company that understands their employees have lives and responsibilities outside of work.
I had my second child eight months ago and sadly, due to financial reasons, I am back at work. After a few days of commuting for two hours each day, I decided I had to find something closer to home. I have been lucky enough to find a new role with a much shorter commute and an employer who seems to appreciate that a happy workforce with flexibility is much more productive.
The workplace has changed so much in recent years, but that evolution needs to continue so we do not lose vital skills and experience as people leave. Parenting itself is a vital job, we are all trying to raise children who will grow up to be valuable members of society. It really is time that more employers became far more flexible about flexible working.
Kelly Harrison is Senior Press and Communications Manager at Warwick University.
image via Flickr creative commons https://flic.kr/p/4jv34B