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Why employers really need to listen to what working parents want

Emir Allen, Managing Partner - Phoenix

Over the last several weeks, parents across the UK have been relieved as their children return to the classroom following the annual summer break. However, for many other parents, the start of the school year causes huge stress, with those working trying to now find balance between work schedules and school runs, extra-curricular activities and all else that comes with caring for school kids.

One of the most positive impacts of the pandemic for the workforce has been the shift in conversations regarding the struggles many employees face, and what management can do to relieve these pain points. Topics that may have previously been shushed and avoided are now at the forefront of public and private discourse, such as the importance of striking a work/life balance, mental well-being, and flexibility for employees.

The four-day work week has been a prominent point of discussion, with numerous companies trialing this throughout the country and worldwide. However, for many employees there is an argument to be made that flexible work incentives may be more or as valuable. Recent survey results showed that flexible working hours is the second most valued ‘work perk’ for employees in the UK at 77%, closely behind overtime pay (79%).

Flexible working refers to a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, i.e. flexible start and finish times, or remote working from home. In the UK, this is not strictly limited to parents and carers, and all employees have the legal right to request flexible working. Once an employee has made a request for flexible working, it is up to the employer to review the request fairly – however they can make the decision to deny any requests made, if they have good business reason for doing so.

The demand for more flexible work options has existed for the last decade, with COVID-19 serving as a catalyst for this demand – as well as proving that flexibility is possible, with technology playing a key role. For working parents with a packed day, the option to now work from home, sign off at 3pm to collect the kids and return to their laptop at a more suitable later time, is exceptionally valuable.

The workforce has changed, people expect more flexibility in how they work and even when they work. Workplaces need to evolve quickly to accommodate this or they will lose out on the best talent. People value more than just a salary in exchange for labour, they want to feel empowered to structure their work life and home life in a way that suits them best.

This is a global demand, and many countries are enforcing legislation to support it. In recent weeks the UAE granted flexible work hours for working parents for the new academic year, with the desired aim of improving the quality of life of employees, and raising levels of job satisfaction and happiness. With a deadline of the 2nd of August this year, all EU member states must implement the 2019 regulations that were adopted at the EU level to enhance work-life balance for parents and careers, which includes the right to request flexible work.

In addition to retaining staff by offering flexible working hours, this work perk will also attract talent and increase the pool of prospective clients. Those seeking jobs are following the trends that the workforce are seeing internally – candidates are looking for a place of employment that offers more than a salary, and flexible hours are a massive draw.

The impact of flexible working goes beyond employers and employees. The previous assumption  that it is women who must stay home and care for the children while men work has become redundant. While the rapid normalisation of remote work in recent years has ultimately worked in favour of women with children or career responsibilities, the pandemic has made flexible working less stigmatised, thus more men than before are willing to make use of it.

It is crucial that employers trust their workers to work efficiently while being flexible, ensuring that the job will get done even if not in the structured 9-5 workday, which is becoming increasingly outdated. There must be an understanding that the request for flexible hours is not to slack off, but to work in a more efficient way that suits them and as a result will produce better results.

The companies that will succeed in the long run will be those who understand their employees, and that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to work is no longer appropriate or beneficial to the business. The past 5+ years has conditioned the majority of employees to expect a lot more from their prospective or current employers – most of which revolve around benefits and perks. Leaders who understand this will be at less risk of high staff turnover and lack of talent.

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