Parental leave and flexible working equality: culture needs to catch up
13 Nov 2012
Mary Mercer, Principal Consultant at IES, comments on Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's announcement of changes to the right to request flexible working:
‘The Government's announcement today that new parents will be able to share parental leave and that the right to request flexible working will be open to all look great on paper. However, you only have to look at the slew of outraged responses citing the impact on businesses to see that this kind of flexibility is widely misunderstood in the UK, and that a lot of good research showing the link between flexibility and business success and profitability has gone by unnoticed.
‘One of the main benefits of the widening of the right to request to all staff is that flexibility stops being the preserve of the working mother. Linking the right to request flexible working to caring responsibilities put flexibility firmly in the domain of women. People, including employers, may then feel that flexible workers have made a choice to be less committed to their work, and their careers suffer as a consequence. It is not a coincidence that, despite anecdotal evidence that managers value the contribution of their flexible workers, those workers are less likely to get the best grades in performance management in many organisations.
‘For this reason, employers need to look at the culture that surrounds flexible working if they really want staff to work in a flexible way that suits their business needs. Chief among those changes is to ensure flexible working is seen as a business tool, and that requests to work flexibly are evaluated against how well they support the business and not against the reason for the request. The Top Employer for Working Families report 2012, produced by Working Families and the Institute for Employment Studies, shows that many employers committed to flexible working still make value judgements about the reason for the request and fail to take adequate account of what pattern of working suits their business need.
‘The situation is similar with sharing parental leave. Even in organisations that offer two weeks paternity leave on full pay, fathers do not always take up this benefit. Again fears of seeming uncommitted to your work or employer stand it the way.
‘Employers need to get to grips with these cultural challenges now otherwise the changes in legislation will count for very little; we will still find ourselves in the situation where one parent has to take parental leave and work flexibly, probably stalling their career and detracting from the real benefits of flexible working.’
Notes to editors
About the Institute for Employment Studies
The Institute for Employment Studies is the UK's leading independent, not-for-profit centre for research and evidence-based consultancy on employment, the labour market, and HR policy and practice.