What Working Women Want

Boosting retention by giving working mums what they want

Forward thinking employers are well aware of the benefits to be derived from offering a range of employment policies designed to make it easy for women to transition back to work after the birth or adoption of a child. Interesting new research from the States has shown that above all women value opportunities to work flexibly.

The survey, conducted by American recruitment consultancy TheLadders, has shown that working mothers care more about having access to flexible hours after returning to work than they do about having more time at home on leave.

In fact when asked to prioritise six working situations as a working mother the majority (44 per cent) chose flexibility as the most important as compared to only five per cent who said they would opt for longer maternity leave.

In addition to opportunities to work flexibly and maternity leave provisions, working mums ranked the scenarios as follows: ability to work from home (29 per cent), convenient working hours (20 per cent), on-site child care (two per cent) and generous paternity leave (zero per cent). Women from a variety of professions including construction, education, engineering, finance, HR, law, marketing, medical/science, real estate, sales and technology were surveyed.

Despite the research which shows time and time again that women want access to flexible work opportunities a survey by Workingmums.co.uk shows that 90 per cent of working mothers struggled to find flexible work and 83 per cent felt it was hard to find flexible jobs which used their skills.

Chief Operating Office of TheLadders Alex Douzet says the research proves that women are eager to return to work after having a baby but that they want to return to an environment that understands and supports their personal values and priorities.

“Employer sensitivity for the unique needs of working mothers will help drive their employee satisfaction and retention,” he said.

TheLadders research revealed a range of learnings which offer a helpful insight for employers wanting greater insight into employee motivations:

    • The number one reason respondents returned to work was for ‘financial reasons’ although resuming employment because they ‘enjoy their career’ was a close second.
    • When asked about how having a child impacts the way that working mothers feel they are regarded by coworkers almost half (42 per cent) felt their colleagues were ‘supportive and understanding’ while 18 per cent believed that others ‘behaved the same’. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) said their co workers were ‘supportive but don’t understand my situation’ and a frustrated 16 per cent said their colleagues were ‘resentful of my competing priorities or schedule.’
    • Some 87 per cent of respondents admitted that balancing career and family is a huge struggle with 55 per cent admitting that ‘excelling at both is overwhelming.’ 13 per cent of women returning to work said they ‘struggled at first, but now it’s under control’ many working women said they still hadn’t yet figured out the balance with 16 per cent always putting family first and feeling as though work suffered for it and three per cent always putting work first and feeling as though family suffered as a result.

The business case for flexible work

We know new mums want to work flexibly and advances in technology and people’s changing perceptions of the working day it should be something your organisation is seriously considering.

Britain’s leading work life balance organisation Working Families says there is a strong business case for enabling employees to work flexibly and that it enables employers to:

    1. Keep skills and experience
    1. Boost morale by giving people more choice and control over their hours
    1. Keep a successful team intact
    1. Have staff you know and can trust to delegate to
    1. Save time and money recruiting and developing a replacement
    1. Align work time with individual peak-productivity time
    1. Keep people on board once they start a family or take on other caring responsibilities
    1. Increase diversity to reflect customer/client base
    1. Strengthen the business by having a mixture of talent and leadership styles
    1. Roster staff to cover a wider span of hours to meet 24/7 demand
    1. Lower stress and/or the impact of personal issues on productivity
    1. Reduce travel expenses, office space costs and impact on the environment
    1. Improve employee wellbeing as a result of a good balance between work and home life, which can positively impact on absenteeism rates, discretionary effort, loyalty, motivation and morale.

Supporting mums who want to work flexibly

As employers know there are many different types of flexible work and under the National Employment Standards working parents have the right to request to work flexibly. The most effective way to support women in their desire to work flexibly is to start the conversation before they go on parental leave.

Although your employee might not have a clear idea of how she would like it the flexible arrangements to work and despite the fact things could change after the baby is born, starting the conversation early means your employee will have all the information she needs to plan and prepare for any changes which are agreed on.

Flexible work can take many forms and many women are not aware of the options available before falling pregnant. Ensure you have a clear policy on flexible work opportunities and provide your employee with a copy before she goes on parental leave. Each type of flexible work has its own advantages and limitations and the type you and your employee negotiate may be determined to some extent of the nature of work the employee performed before going on leave.

Many managers worry that women returning from parental leave will have reduced levels of commitment, require more time off work and that the work simply won’t get done. There is no evidence to show that this actually happens and many women return to work with renewed levels of commitment and enthusiasm and when they work in a supportive environment there is likely to be improvements in productivity, loyalty and retention rates.

One of the most effective ways to support women returning to work after parental leave is to stay in touch with them while they are out of the workplace. The Care Corporate Stay in Touch Program has been designed to help forward thinking employers hold onto their employees through a program which offer new parents a wealth of information about parenting, returning to work, child care etc. For more information click here.

1. Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This Better Workplace Bulletin was First Published in November 2012