With all the furore surrounding zero hours contracts of late, it is sometimes worth remembering that flexible working is often a good fit for certain employees, most notably women returning from maternity leave. Of course, far from us trying to defend some of the more questionable ‘flexible working’ solutions reportedly being offered to – or forced upon – a section of the population, there is little doubt that flexibility is key when it comes to female employees who want to maintain a balance between their career and childcare.
This is ultimately reflected in a piece of research published today by recruitment consultancy Robert Half, based on a survey of 200 HR directors in the UK. The research reveals that the majority (83%) of female employees move into part-time and/or flexible working roles on their return from maternity leave. However, this statistic doesn’t quite tell the whole story, as it is generally those women in management roles who are more willing to return to employment after childbirth. Over half (51%) of the respondents said that more than 50% of female managers return to work after maternity leave, with only 40% saying the same is true of staff level employees.
Nevertheless, it seems that our country’s HR directors are fully aware of the needs of returning mothers when it comes to flexible working, with 71% admitting that already have arrangements in place to provide this benefit, and a further 13% planning to put them in place. Obviously, we can’t vouch for the remaining 16% but one would assume that circumstances don’t currently dictate the need for such an arrangement being offered. In addition to flexible working, other measures being adopted to help support new mothers include part-time or job share opportunities – with 58% of respondents saying they have this in place – as well as childcare vouchers (32%), on-site childcare (18%), telecommuting (17%) and family health and dental plans (16%).
And with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg suggesting this week that new fathers should be obliged to take a month’s paid paternity leave, he may wish to take note of Robert Half’s finding that 66% of men fail to take their current quota of paternity leave, usually a non-obligatory one or two weeks. Of those fathers who do take the full allowance, 37% live in London and the south east, compared to 30% in the Midlands or the north. The research goes on to show that the main reason for new fathers not taking the maximum allocation of leave is ‘financial considerations’. But again there is north-south divide here, as only 49% of fathers in London and the south east regard finances as a key consideration, compared to 68% in the south west and Wales, 69% in the Midlands and 72% in the north and Scotland. Other reasons for not taking the maximum leave were societal pressures (41%), excessive workload (34%) and perception in the workplace (25%). The latter of these was cited by 31% of HR directors in the North and Scotland.
Indeed, such a geographical split applies to returning female workers too, with 92% of new mothers in London and the South East returning to work on a flexible/part-time arrangement, with that percentage falling to 78% in the Midlands, and 70% in the North and Scotland.
“It bodes well for businesses that such a high proportion of new mums now want to return to work, particularly those in a management role,” said Estelle James, director of Robert Half UK. “The majority of HR directors in our survey understand that female returners want to come back to work in a flexible, part-time or job sharing capacity, so it’s good to see that they have already put measures in place to provide these opportunities – or plan to in the future. Hopefully this will support women in business as we look to get more female representation in executive and board-level roles.”
Whilst inescapable that the figures paint a positive picture for increased female representation in the upper echelons of companies, one could argue that there is still more to be done when it comes to incentivising lower level female employees to return to work following a period of leave.