Family-friendly policies: A second time around Dad’s observations about engagement at work 

By Gary Gill, Director of Research, Engage for Success

As a ‘second time parent’ (I have 3 grown up kids and a 6-month old daughter) – I’ve seen how many organisations have adopted much more overtly family-friendly work policies since my first time around in the 80s. But I’m still seeing parents really struggling to balance family and work despite all this progress, so why should this be the case?

The Working Families charity recently published its Modern Families Index survey which found that while employers may be quick to publicise their flexible working policies, these policies often aren’t that helpful in practice. This can be seen from the survey as only 44% of respondents believed that flexible working was a genuine option in their place of work. Of those who had a flexible working arrangement in place, 31% said that their employer placed restrictions about where they had to work and a fifth said they had no control whatsoever over their start and finish times.

So why does this ‘say – do’ gap exist. From talking to other parents I’ve concluded that one reason is that most organisations offer flexible working subject to the ‘business need’ of the organisation. This sounds reasonable enough but there is rarely an absolute measure for this. It is usually left to the individual line manager to decide how ‘business critical’ the parent is, and even where the organisation has a separate HR department, its decision will be based on the line manager’s recommendation.

I do believe most line managers can be relied upon to be sensible when it comes to looking after their teams, but I wonder if a minority question the commitment to the organisation by anyone requesting flexible working. Worse, if the manager feels the organisation will question their own commitment by agreeing to ‘looser’ working arrangements in their team, then they are less likely to offer the potential flexibility.

The impact to organisations demonstrating this ‘say – do’ gap extends beyond those immediately affected. As the survey points out ‘Where flexible working is seen as an individual exception … all employees will feel the disconnect between warm words on flexibility and family friendliness and the reality of the way that people behave and are rewarded.’

In other words, the integrity of the whole organisation is called into question, risking damaging employee engagement more widely.

As the impact of the Line Manager and Organisational Integrity are two of the Four Enablers of Employee Engagement promoted by Engage for Success, positively applying an organisation’s own flexible working policies would be hugely constructive in restoring the work-life balance for the parents involved, in building the line managers’ own credibility and improving engagement across the whole workforce by demonstrating the integrity of the organisation.
I just hope I won’t have to wait another thirty years to see it happen.

Want to explore the impact of family friendly policies on employee engagement further?

Join Katie Mc Sweeney, Head of Mumsnet Work, at our 2018 conference ‘People at the Heart of Business’ on 22 March. Mumsnet Work seeks to inspire and empower women (and men!) who want to work and achieve a work-life balance around a family. Katie’s role as Head of Mumsnet Work, provides a huge opportunity to capitalise on this topical movement and provide the information they require around the return to work following maternity leave, flexible working, confidence and skills and ultimately help them find a suitable role. Katie will discuss the Mumsnet Family Friendly programme as a way for companies and employers to demonstrate the importance of being ‘Family Friendly’.

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