How do you successfully navigate the world of career & kids?
This was a key discussion topic posed at a marketing network group I attended last night, called The Marketing Mamas Collective.
As the name probably suggests, the group which was recently launched by a good friend of mine, is a support and networking platform for a bunch of like-minded mums who work in marketing and PR jobs based in the South Liverpool area.
Anyhow… as the conversation evolved, I was surprised to find that although we talk a lot about modern women being empowered and able to hold down both careers and families in 2017, the reality of doing this is still quite difficult for many of us.
Sitting around the table with a number of other mums in marketing, I couldn’t believe how many them had faced pregnancy discrimination, or inflexibility from an employer when a child was sick, or prohibitively long working hours…
I was left saddened that so many capable, talented and confident women, many of whom I have worked with personally and/or are close friends, have been pushed to the brink by inflexible working arrangements and intolerant bosses.
In fact, the situation left me wondering if this was 2017 or 1917?!!
I came away feeling pretty lucky to be working for the NHS which, despite all its problems, still provides a reasonably good mat leave allowance, advocates and promotes flexible working hours, regularly offers mums returning from mat leaves reduced or condensed hours, and in my case even offered me a day a week working at home for the first 12 months of my return to work after my son was born.
But even with all this support and flexibility in place, the logistics of juggling school runs and nursery drop offs and school holiday cover can be a complete nightmare, not to mention the sheer cost of paying for childcare or breakfast and after-school clubs in order to be able to work.
And I only have child currently… I know that families with several children have a much harder task on their hands.
How come, that despite lots of talk from the government about making it pay to work and supporting working families better, the barriers still seem to outweigh the benefits of doing so in so many cases?
Flexible working has become such as buzz word in recent years, and lots of employers like to think that they’re offering it, but relatively few really do – at least not in a way that works around family life.
The world has moved on, and so has technology which makes new, agile and more flexible ways of working more possible than ever… but the truth is that far too many employers still haven’t.
For instance, how many work places still expect mums (and dads!) who work reduced days to still carry a full time workload, and just to take it home in their evenings?
And how many employers really trust their employees enough to let them regularly work from home? Or are prepared to put their money where their mouth is and invest in the basic IT infrastructure such as a laptop and mobile phone to enable it to be possible?
Maybe this situation explains the huge rise in freelancers and the so-called ‘portfolio’ careers over recent years. I am left wondering if it’s really a work preference for so many people, or just a necessity in order to achieve a good work/life balance?
And maybe this is a sensible solution to the issue… But I can’t help wondering how many large organisations are missing out on the strengths that this hugely skilled and experienced section of the workplace could offer them, if only a bit more work/life balance was available.
Also, how many employees are actually missing out on the support structures, and the social elements that the work place can provide as a result of working as a freelancer alone?
It’s fine if your preference is for solo working anyway, but perhaps not so great if you’d rather be part of a team but simply can’t find a work place that will let you flex around your caring responsibilities.
And of course, its worth saying that the desire for greater flexible working options is not just an issue limited to working mums (and dads!) either. With an ageing population where many people are living longer, but with more ill health, there’s a growing number of older employees with caring responsibilities for another family member to factor in now too.
Plus for generation X-ers and the new millennials – who actually make up the bulk of the new marketing talent coming up through the job market today – flexible working and the ability to gain a good work/life balance, not just achieve the highest pay possible, is an increasingly valued part of the renumeration package.
In fact, a recent research report by Timewise into flexible working revealed that 25% of all full time workers would prefer to work part time hour for part time wages, if it did not affect their pay per hour or their potential career progression.
The craziest part of all this is that employment law actually supports flexible working arrangements too. As of April 2014, the law stated that UK organisations have to consider flexible working requests from every employee, not just parents or carers, if an employee has been with their organisation for more than 26 weeks.
But whilst flexible working is now law, it is often still difficult to achieve in practice. Clearly there also needs to be a shift in workplace cultures, so for example, if someone is working from home or another location – they aren’t just seen by colleagues to be ‘slacking off’ or ‘work shy’.
And whilst this needs to be championed from the top down, it is also about recognising that we can all help to reshape the organisational culture which we work in too, because people create a culture.
So let’s stop clock watching and measuring employee value by how many hours someone is sat an office desk for … let’s face it, we all know that some of those hours will be wasted on Facebook and google anyway when a full time employee gets bored.
And let’s start new conversations about how best to harness maximum creativity, productivity, impact and outcomes from each employee instead.
After all, the benefits of flexible working are now pretty well established for employers as well as employees. Research shows that offering staff flexible working arrangements can help to reduce absenteeism, and can improve focus and increase productivity when staff are in work because they are working smarter rather than just longer hours.
It can also massively enhance employee engagement and loyalty, helping to retain experienced and skilled staff already there who feel more valued because their organisation recognises them as a whole person, and will flex around their personal circumstances and preferences.
In addition, it can also help attract the best talent to apply for roles within an organisation, since in our ever-busier modern lives people increasingly value flexibility over other more traditional forms of remuneration.
So when will employers really wake up to the needs of the modern workforce, and fully embrace the flexible working revolution?
The Work Foundation has reported that by 2030 20% of UK workers will be mothers, and 25% of families will be single-parent families where the parent has to work, and up to 10 million people will have carer responsibilities as the population continues to age.
So what all this adds up to… is that it’s absolutely vital issue for employers to get new and more flexible ways of working right now.