By Julie Sexton, Group Account Director, Initials CX
Many parents will look back on the COVID-19 pandemic with horror – not just because of the threat posed by the illness itself, but the days spent trying to juggle work, homeschooling children and general household chores all from the kitchen table.
Some commentators feared that the domestic burden would force women out of work, but thankfully, stats show the opposite – ONS figures show that 75.6% of mothers with dependent children are in work, the highest level for 20 years.
It is also true, though, that the lion’s share of domestic tasks are done by women in heterosexual relationships. This imbalance is cultural and societal, but the workplace can also be a breeding ground for inequality. That’s why a flexible employee value proposition (EVP) that recognises the ways becoming a parent changes people’s lives and priorities, is so important.
At Initials our EVP is a manifestation of the company’s values. I’m also a mum, and these values have helped me continue my career around my responsibilities as a parent. I don’t like to talk only about mothers when it comes to workplace adjustments, as to promote true equality, those things need to be available to fathers, too. Here’s how any business can ensure it’s accommodating for working parents, while also recognising the needs of employees at every stage of life.
Encourage open discussion
Openness is a core value, and my personal favourite. It means you can freely discuss any topic at work. It allows you to bring your whole self to work, and encourages discussions on anything that might challenge our work habits. I have two kids, and being able to discuss how to adapt my work to accommodate my responsibilities as a parent is crucial. Can I adjust my hours? Can I work from home on certain days?
Lead by example
I believe that company values should be led from the top down. When senior team members embrace and embody these values, it encourages junior team members to follow suit. Values should not only be words on paper; they must be ingrained in the actions of everyone within the agency.
One of the most crucial places we need people leading by example is paternity leave. We find that very few men take the full leave they are entitled to. Only a third of eligible fathers in the UK took the full leave they were entitled to in 2021. Compare that to Norway – the Nordic countries are often seen as trailblazers for policies fostering gender equality – where three quarters of fathers take their full quota of leave, and one in five take even longer. The reluctance of many dads to take paternity leave here often stems from a lack of senior role models who have taken it themselves.
Encourage balance and creativity
What people do outside of work has as much of an impact on their wellbeing and creativity as what they do in it. We have an initiative called Culture Vulture, which allows employees to take a few hours off each month to do cultural activities like visiting museums or galleries. Stepping away from our desk is good for us, and finding inspiration in culture is really important for those of us in creative roles.
Be true to your word
Our values should not be empty words; we must demonstrate them through our behaviour and workplace culture. It’s not enough to talk about the importance of work-life balance, if the workload you’re assigning results in people doing 12-hour days. A culture of overwork isn’t good for anyone, least of all parents.
Staff appraisals should also be done with company values in mind. We use a tool called Open Blend for appraisals, which takes a holistic approach. It allows employees to discuss various aspects of their wellbeing, not just work-related goals. We give staff an opportunity to talk about personal challenges so we can provide appropriate support. Sometimes, employees may prioritise personal wellbeing over career advancement, and that’s perfectly fine. It’s all about understanding and accommodating the needs of our team members.
Flex the schedule
Working parents often find themselves time-constrained. It’s important to maintain flexibility, even within a relatively small and busy setting. We understand the value of having people in the office for cultural reasons, but we also offer alternatives like working 10am-7pm instead of the standard nine to five, or shorter, focused hours to accommodate individual needs.
We know it isn’t only parents who need flexibility. Life can throw curveballs, such as other family members needing assistance, or someone needing altered hours for mental health reasons. To ensure the flexibility we offer doesn’t impact our work obligations, businesses should consider having processes in place and appropriately trained staff to keep everything running smoothly if someone else has to step back. This is vital on two levels – to make sure any absences don’t affect your workflow, and to guarantee you can offer the flexibility you promise, in the knowledge that all bases are covered.
My hope is that UK workplaces can continue to offer the benefits we gained in the COVID-19 pandemic, like remote and hybrid working, and not let the drawbacks push us back to where we were before. I’ve noticed that mindsets are beginning to change in relation to efficiency on working from home or maintaining culture compared to pre-pandemic.
There are new and better ways of working than the traditional model, and tech can help us facilitate the office culture we want. We need to keep experimenting with the possibilities and remain open-minded about the future of work. Above all, all businesses need to treat employees as individuals with their own unique needs – when it comes to an attractive EVP, there is no one-size-fits-all, even for mums and dads. That leads me back to my first point about openness; encouraging honesty and two-way discussions in your workplace is the starting point to embodying values that ensure happy, supported, and balanced staff.
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