Chris Randall: ACAS report calls for more flexibility for new parents returning to work

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The report, Flexible Working for Parents Returning to Work – Maintaining career development, by the Institute of Employment Studies, is a very useful study for employers to consider the benefits of a workforce working flexibly.

It specifically offers a range of recommendations for organisations to improve their management of flexible working and in turn act to reduce the gender pay gap.

The report finds that while women may be encouraged to take parental leave and be informed about all flexible working options upon their return, fathers may be treated differently. This can in turn reinforce gender stereotypes, hinder female career progression and impact negatively on equal pay.

“There is a risk that organisations that have an enhanced maternity package but that have not enhanced shared parental leave pay will be seen to be signalling some form of status quo bias.”

It is recommended that organisations ensure equality around the taking of leave by, for example, matching pay for shared parental leave to enhanced maternity pay to encourage fathers to take leave.

There lies a logical connection between an engaged worker and a productive worker and the possible benefits of flexible working. Employers need to look beyond the ‘old chestnuts’ of the worker who can be seen to work the longest hours in the office being the most productive and valuable.

“Employers who implement flexible working successfully, so that it matches the business need as well as the individual’s request have, however, reported bottom line benefits in terms of: reduced levels and costs associated with sickness absence; more returners from maternity leave; greater productivity and engagement, and; an ability to retain the employees they want to retain without necessarily having to increase financial incentives or rewards, coupled with; the agility required to better respond to customer needs.”

The report considers examples of best practice to be:

  • Train managers in developing the skills they need to have in challenging conversations and to manage flexible teams;
  • Equalised opportunities for paid leave for mothers and fathers and which actively encourage fathers to take leave;
  • Consistency in approach to people requesting flexible working;
  • Assessing requests on the basis of whether it can be accommodated by the business and not on the reason for the request;
  • Consideration of how to manage performance and fairness in the system;
  • Specific schemes to support and encourage returners.

The benefits

There are business benefits to be achieved through the implementation of flexible working arrangements which can create agile and responsive workforces, as opposed to seeing flexible working as a reactive response to caring responsibilities.