flexible working parents
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Rebecca Hourston, Managing Director, Working Parent & Executive, Talking Talent highlights seven ways that businesses and human resources can support flexible working parents

 The working day has undergone a massive transformation in recent years, heralding the rise of ‘flexible’ or ‘agile’ hours – breaking the traditional norm of the 9-to-5, five-day week structure. Today, the companies that take the time to support employees working flexibly stand to experience huge benefits as a result.

Having working patterns that enable people to be the best version of themselves positively impacts their productivity at work and dedication to a firm – backed up by stats showing that for those who do work flexibly, three quarters (77%) agree it helps them work more productively. These workers are also more likely to be engaged and yield significant advantages for employers – potentially generating 43% more revenue and improving performance by 20%, compared to disengaged employees.

This way of working is also crucial for talent attraction and retention – given that research has shown that for 84% of working parents, work flexibility is the number-one factor when looking for a job. Here are seven ways businesses and HR departments can help change their working culture, and better understand and engage with flexible working parents:

  1. Recognise flexible working as a positive choice

Far too many people still judge the decision to work flexibly as just a way of fitting work around a child, or children. This represents a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of working part-time. Professionals who want to work flexibly are often driven by a desire to apply their fierce work ethic to all areas of their lives. These people use the same talents and drive to fulfil their potential at work, as they do in making the most out of time with their children. So, it’s not time with children ‘instead of’ work, it’s ‘as well as’ work.

  1. Respect parents’ time-management skills

It’s important to recognise the strengths and skills that working parents can develop in either full-time or flexible work – and what they can bring to the table. Research shows that flexible workers have a higher level of job satisfaction, commitment, and are more likely to increase discretionary effort compared to those who do not work flexibly.

However, it’s important to remember that working parents are spinning an extra plate. Every hour of the day, they balance the practicalities of having children with all their work commitments.

  1. Communicate: Give credit when credit is due

There’s still some stigma attached to part-time work, and even those colleagues who feel neutrally or positive towards it may not think to give praise where it’s due. Organisations should let parents know what’s working, how they’re making a difference, and that their contribution is valued. Giving positive recognition will boost their confidence and they’ll generally respond by giving even more energy to the business. 

  1. Be sensitive to the challenges

The decision to work flexibly entails a hundred other tiny choices, and each comes with its own benefits, challenges and responsibilities. If a parent is working four days a week, they can get away with being viewed as full-time by colleagues and clients – and some people may never realise that they’re not.

As there are only so many hours in the day, if a working parent is cramming five days’ work into four, they will be scrambling to get everything done, and their focus and engagement may suffer. Organisations have an important role to play in encouraging these workers in what they’re doing, rather than pointing out what they’re not.

  1. Encourage setting boundaries

If a flexible working parent is being paid to work three days, but feels like they’re working five, they won’t stick around for long. Working flexibly, as a mother or father, means constantly switching roles between ‘parent’ and ‘professional.’ Initially, this may mean that they seem slightly less present. Giving them time to work out and negotiate their needs, and remembering that in the long run, them saying ‘no’ when something isn’t possible, will be more efficient than saying ‘yes’ and burning out. 

  1. Explore new ways for them to network

Consider the situations in which workers normally network and socialise. The evenings? At lunch? Over conversations in the staffroom? Then, consider how often the parents in the office who work less than full-time are present for these opportunities – and suggest ways that they can get involved with other members of the company at convenient times for them.

In addition, businesses should generate alternative ways for flexible workers to become more visible, like using social media and getting involved in in-house initiatives. That way, everyone will feel fully involved and ingratiated in the company, even if they aren’t there five days a week.

  1. Encourage mentorship

When businesses support parents working flexible hours, they also create a new resource within their organisations. Working parents make fantastic mentors: they’re equipped to support the next employees set to face the unique set of challenges that comes with working parenthood.

Many parents are overwhelmed by a staggering range of emotions (confusion, sorrow, guilt, anger, frustration), as well as excitement when they return to the workplace. By cultivating an environment in which providing support is expected, managers will be setting up working parents, full-time and part-time alike, to thrive.

Supporting flexible working parents is good for business. When talented workers leave their jobs because the terms make it impossible to be the parents they want to be, businesses waste money and time in re-recruitment and re-training. Focusing energy on making flexible working work is a win-win, for businesses and employees alike.

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