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Viewpoint: flexibility for working parents – there’s still work to be done

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Viewpoint: flexibility for working parents – there’s still work to be done

The industry must move faster to help families, says David Greenhalgh

The flexible working trend has gained – and is continuing to gain – significant momentum. It’s a movement that has had cross-industry effect, with employers looking to accommodate new ways of working. This change in traditional patterns of work has been particularly welcome for working parents, but there is still much to be done.

This was brought to light when MP Jo Swinson introduced a bill calling on employers of more than 250 people to publish information on their parental leave policies. Swinson’s bill, along with actions taken by large companies, such as Mumsnet, which have taken bold and positive steps in publishing this information of their own accord, are leading the way in making a change and have placed increased pressure on businesses to follow suit.

If Swinson’s bill around parental leave policies is successfully passed into statutory law, it will place additional pressure on employers to consider the approach they take in helping parents return to work. While the law as it currently stands does offer some guidance in this area, employers have the discretion to go ‘above and beyond’ in helping parents returning to work.

Many employers are recognising that they must acknowledge the distinct needs of working parents if they are to reach out to the widest pool of talent possible and retain it. However, as discussed in a recent article ‘Child’s Play: the hospitality operators with a simple solution to get parents back to work’ (The Caterer, 8 March), many industries have a different approach to work-life balance and flexible working may not be part of company culture.

Outside the catering industry, some employers have gone beyond their legal obligations and implemented a range of policies and benefits that support working parents in various ways. PricewaterhouseCoopers is one example and consequently it has a staff turnover rate of 10%, the lowest such rate in professional services firms.

What is clear is that the flexible working trend is showing no sign of slowing down while wider awareness of employee well-being is making headlines. As a result, there is now a stronger case for employers reviewing their policies around flexible working to see whether they can make enhancements that will put them ahead of the game in terms of attracting and retaining working parents.

David Greenhalgh is head of employment at law firm Joelson


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