Sally was forced to leave her management job in HR at a large company after being turned down for any kind of flexible working while on maternity leave. She asked for reduced hours, a compressed week and a nine-day fortnight. None was acceptable. She was offered a lesser role. She opted instead to leave and take a £20k pay cut in exchange for greater flexibility. Ironically, she has since been asked to do consultancy work for her previous employer because they haven’t been able to find a suitable replacement.
“Career or work-life balance were seen as mutually exclusive. I was told that managers can’t have flexible working. It certainly didn’t make me feel very valued. I felt better entering a new company at a lower level rather than my colleagues seeing me take a step back.”
She is still keen to make it to senior director level but is worried that she may never be able to get back on track.
Sally is one of many women who feel their careers have not progressed or are going backward as a result of the lack of flexible senior jobs. Workingmums.co.uk’s annual survey shows 57% of mums say their career has not progressed since having children.
The survey shows the huge demand for flexible new roles at all stages of the work lifecycle, something worth noting in a labor market marked by growing skills shortages. They also show how the search for flex is becoming central to job searches.
Thirty-four percent of working mums researched employers’ flexible working record before applying for a job and 36% did so before accepting a job. Meanwhile, 28% asked about flexible working at interview and 31% say they would not have accepted their current job if there was no flexible working. The figures are similar for dads.
Over 50s are also looking for flexible new roles, with 32% saying they had researched flexible working before applying for their last role and 46% having done so before accepting a new job. Interestingly, the figures are significantly higher for under 21s. Forty-one percent had researched flexible working before applying for their last job and 41% asked about flexible working at interview.
One HR manager of a construction firm said she had tried many times to make senior managers understand how important flexible working was. They had seen all the surveys in the press and the reports citing the business case, but it was only when she made notes about the number of candidates asking about flexible working at interview that it brought things home.
It’s not just in recruitment that the problem lies. Lack of flexibility, as Sally’s case shows, is having a big impact on retention. Indeed, the annual survey shows that 29% of working mums have had a formal flexible working request turned down, with 42% of these saying they had left their job as a result of flexible working being turned down.
For Gillian Nissim, founder of workingmums.co.uk, the survey results show how significant flexible working is becoming in job decisions.
“Employers need to think more creatively to compete with the start-ups that have been selling themselves on their flexibility. That might mean thinking of job redesigns or agile hiring policies where any manager who puts forward a job advert that lacks flexibility is challenged as to why. Changing an entrenched work culture is harder than starting a new flexible business. It requires constant questioning of working practices, but the benefits of getting it right in terms of recruitment and retention are becoming increasingly clear.”
About the author: Mandy Garner is the editor of Workingmums.co.uk.