To mark the end of Working Parents Week, we caught up with ACC’s HR Manager, Sarah Hay-Jahans, on how the professional landscape has changed for working parents and the importance of adapting to the evolving needs of this vital employee demographic.
I’ve worked in HR for about 25 years across a range of different industries. My background is predominately in learning and development and I’m now moving more into organisational development and the traditional HR management side, in which I have a fair breadth of experience also.
How much has the landscape changed in the last ten years in terms of working parent flexibility?
I’ve seen a lot of change in business over the years. Organisations are moving towards much more flexible working practices generally, but especially with regards to parents, and the recognition that people have a life outside of work.
There’s also the acknowledgment that employees may have caring duties at either end of the age spectrum, not just people with young families but those with elderly relatives as well.
So, in my experience, the most significant change has been the recognition that this aspect of peoples’ lives needs to be considered and supported, and that if you don’t, you can end up losing valuable employees as a result.
How can companies improve working practices for parents?
I think it’s down to organisations to challenge themselves on how they can adjust their practices in a fair and equitable way, because that’s the way to keep good people.
One of the things ACC does is to try and look at an individual’s circumstances – not just whether they are a carer or have a family – but also if there are other members of staff that could benefit from this flexibility policy, and providing a framework that allows it to be applied in a consistent and fair way.
One of the key things is for companies to challenge their own preconceptions about the rigidity of specific job roles. One of the things I sometimes hear is that one role suits flexible working and another doesn’t, and sometimes we need to really think whether that is genuinely the case or is that just our perception, because that is the way it has traditionally been.
And, while SMEs can struggle with getting that balance between being fair and supporting people and acting in the interests of the business, there are advantages to being a smaller business in that you are generally closer to your staff and can give more support.
The family-friendly aspect and support for working parents isn’t just about the practicalities of things such as working hours and childcare either. It’s about being family-focused in your approach as well, providing a more inclusive environment, and I think you get that more with a smaller organisation.
Businesses have to have their core principles and policies in place, but on top of that the flexibility to take a ‘one size doesn’t fit all approach’, looking at each person’s individual circumstances and exercising their discretion to assess and give them the support they really need.
What are the benefits to employers?
Obviously, one of the main benefits, as I’ve already touched upon, is not losing good employees, but I think you also gain an incredibly loyal and committed workforce who will spread the good word. I don’t think you can ever underestimate the value of your reputation as an employer and the role that your staff play in enhancing that reputation.
You can also find yourself with a pool of people who are working parents who have chosen to take a position that offers a better work-life balance, who may have held more senior positions or more skilled roles previously. Those staff members can bring a lot of experience with them and, as a company, you can benefit from having highly-qualified people and being able to capitalise on those skills.
What do ACC offer in terms of supporting working parents?
On top of the support already available via Government-approved childcare vouchers and parental leave, we have our flexible working policy. Also, as an organisation, due to the pattern of work for the roles that we offer, we have more opportunity than some businesses for part-time roles.
As an employer, we use our discretion to give support where we can in emergencies or when there are issues at home that need to be dealt with urgently.
We also host annual Family Days, where we encourage parents to bring their children into the offices just before Christmas, put on a number of activities for them and really try to enhance that sense of family and belonging within the company.
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