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Crèche landing - family friendly not business friendly

Angie Robinson, Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and Industry starts a monthly column

Published on September 18th 2007.

Crèche landing - family friendly not business friendly

The major political parties seem to be slugging it out to see who can offer the most family friendly policies. It’s great to see that the top of the national agenda is getting it right with families – no surprise really when we hear of shootings, stabbings and anti- social behaviour amongst some young people. And for parents generally these days, there is a compelling need to go to work.

Although government and others want to support this agenda, who is picking up the fall out and the cost? Well, the burden is placed fairly and squarely on the shoulders of business.

You can ask maternity leave mums to come in to work for up to 10 days to keep up to speed or undertake training, for example. But they don’t have to agree. They can ask to come in – but you don’t have to agree. The notion of keeping the working relationship going is really important – especially if some are serious about returning to work.

Now don’t run away with the idea that I whinge for a living, or that I am not a supporter of working parents. I have two grown up kids and worked throughout their babyhood and childhood until they left home, so I know what the world of the working parent is like. And I want to live in a balanced, fair and safe society where kids and families matter. So developments in maternity leave, paternity, childcare and help for families, matters a lot to me.

I also know that people whose domestic lives are settled and content are also more easily able to put a great day’s work in.

New mums now have an entitlement to 9 months paid maternity leave (it’s gone up from 6 months) and a further 3 months unpaid. Whilst some of this can be claimed back, the costs of covering the absence have to be covered by the company. New mums now have to give 8 weeks notice of their return to work – that’s gone up from 4 weeks and that helps a company a little.

You can ask maternity leave mums to come in to work for up to 10 days to keep up to speed or undertake training, for example. But they don’t have to agree. They can ask to come in – but you don’t have to agree. The notion of keeping the working relationship going is really important – especially if some are serious about returning to work. I know from my own experience that having staff missing for 8 or 12 months is a really long time. They have often changed (their priorities usually have) and the work place has nearly always changed. Someone else may have been doing their job and may not have been doing it the way they did and that can cause problems in the settling back process. If they’ve kept close, it’s much less of an issue.

And the return to work idea now gives the right to ask for part time. It doesn’t give the right to have that – but it can be highly traumatic when you have to say “no”. Especially, when the returner and their family have made plans on the basis of you saying “yes”. Some of the interesting questions are “who is going to cover your full time job on the days you don’t work?” It can all add pressure to the people above and/or below you.

Working mums can be ace employees and often the UK’s unsung heroes – especially when you consider the logistics, the additional roles they undertake in the domestic environment and their sheer stamina. But once upon a time, flexibility was a more informal thing – based on a balanced need and mutual understanding. The minute you introduce legislation, the heat is turned up. Companies are fearful of falling foul and getting into hot water (and even more expense!). Employees start talking about rights and focussing on their own needs. Is it irreconcilable? And working families (the norm now) need consideration and help. But who has to pay for all this? Business (and employers in the public sector) are saddled with the cost.

Final thought: is parenthood a female issue? Clearly not, and with the prospect of fathers taking some of their partner’s maternity leave entitlement, the problems for companies are set to escalate. The paper trail and information exchange between companies to sort out the entitlements and so on could be fun – but it’s more likely to be just costly.

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Ann DaviesSeptember 18th 2007.

I run the Working Mothers in Business networking group in Manchester. We meet bi-monthly and consist of a lunchtime event. I would be happy to discuss with Angie the possibility of her speaking at one of our lunches on this very interesting and thought provoking subject. Our events are attended by professional business women from the North West. Looking forward to hearing from you.Ann DaviesBusiness Development Director - Kintish

annieeSeptember 18th 2007.

When a women gives birth their responsibilities have to change,both in terms of practicalities and psychological. It is well known that most women are paid low wages when this happens as they see their place as being with the child. The only alternative is P/T. If you have an employee that is valued why cant they be offered job sharing that way the employer does not have to find a F/T replacement and does not have to pay out more to get a temp in. It works Two of my colleague's do it within the dept i work in. . Both are satisfied and employed. I had a lot of problems/trouble as I do not have family nearby and had to elect to leave my employment until my children were able to go to school on their own. No money, No chance of furthering my career what a waste it was. Had to start again at age over 40yrs. still not caught up. As for Flexi working patterns this is only good when the employer says so, as it is not a given right though you do have the right to 'ask'

New MamaSeptember 18th 2007.

While I agree with Angie's sentiment (my parents ran their own business for 20 years and it can be a huge strain for a small business to support employees), I disagree with her argument that flexible working rights shouldn't be enshrined in law. Britain has a terrible track record when it comes to 'presenteeism' and most companies really don't try to ensure a good work-life balance for their staff. This doesn't make Britain's workplaces better - it actually makes us extremely unproductive. I worked for a (female) employer who, not having kids of her own and having no social life at all, just couldn't fathom why her staff would want to leave on time, get time off in lieu for working long hours, take their full holiday entitlement.. and when someone asked to begin work an hour early and thus leave an hour early (to be able to collect their kids from school), she refused. Note that there was no need for us to be in the office at set times. So, sorry, we DO need legislation to ensure that the 'bad' companies finally understand that flexible working doesn't equal slacking off. I am now self-employed, work harder than ever - and at least don't have to go on bended knee to my employer every time I need to go to the dentist, go to an antenatal appointment, sort out family issues. The work gets done, I get paid and I still have a healthy life. It is possible - it's just a shame that most of my clients really can't see it...

AnnieSeptember 18th 2007.

This is very interesting - I am the marketing and PR manager for an online job board http://www.justparttime.co.uk that specialises and champions marketing jobs for workers looking for part time, flexi hours, mum returnees, the older/retired workforce wishing to prolong their active work lives, students and those in self start up businesses. We are currently running a campaign to raise awareness on the issue of part time/flexi working for all - and we are grateful that John Bird, Founder of The Big Issue has added his weight to our campaign. If you want more details please contact me at the email address below. JPT is organising a Flexi Job Fair in London next March if anyone wants more details of attending, or if businesses wish to exhibit or indeed sponsor/part sponsor this event get in touch - annie@justparttime.co..uk. I too would like to issue an invite to the writer of this feature to speak at the event. Interested Angie? I would also like to know more about Ann's Working Mothers in Business Group. Annie Hart Annie Hart

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