Kathy Halliday: How a family-friendly approach can help charities keep staff

22 Oct 2018 Expert insight

With unemployment low, a family-friendly approach is one way charities can distinguish themselves as employers, says Kathy Halliday

With unemployment at 4 per cent of the working population, its lowest since early 1975, it is becoming increasingly difficult for charities, along with other employers,  to recruit and retain staff and  funding constraints often make it impossible for charities to "buy in" expertise in a competitive market. Charities therefore need to be more creative in attracting high quality staff. A number of recent surveys, such as this and this, show that millennials rate value-driven employers highly and are looking for evidence of values being embedded in organisations and a positive approach to maternity and other family friendly rights could be one area where it is possible for charities to differentiate themselves from other employers. 

The shocking findings of a recent research programme reveal that around one in nine mothers were either dismissed or made redundant during or after maternity leave; one in five experienced harassment or negative comments related to their pregnancy or flexible working arrangements; and perhaps even more shockingly 10 per cent reported that their employer discouraged them from attending antenatal appointments.  While the majority of employers who took part in the research programme indicated that they felt it was in their interests to support pregnant women and those on maternity leave, there is an obvious gap between employer intentions and the lived experience of new mothers. 

An employer which embeds positive support for parents into its culture would stand out in a market place where it seems to many employers, family leave, and maternity leave in particular, is perceived as and presented to the employee as an inconvenience to the organisation. 

So what can charities do?

It goes without saying that the minimum statutory obligations of up to a year's maternity leave and 39 weeks statutory maternity pay must be met and this is the one leave entitlement which is universally used. However, other statutory schemes are not; the perception amongst both female and male staff is that to take extended paternity, paid shared parental leave or unpaid parental leave is disruptive and unwelcome to the employer. A positive and supportive approach to exercising these statutory rights or indeed to promoting them to staff would be a refreshing change to the attitude displayed by many employees and a positive way of differentiation in the market place.

Enhancing maternity benefits may seem a bold step with the relentless pressure on funding, but the cost (and disruption) of recruitment is considerable, so a modest enhancement, for example by providing six weeks half pay after the initial six week full pay period (inclusive of statutory maternity pay) may be affordable and off-set further recruitment costs, and any enhancement can be conditional on a successful return to work.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission also notes that treatment by line managers can have a significant impact on the experiences of mothers. Embedding good practice by providing  guidelines, training and support for line managers specifically aimed at managing pregnancy, maternity-related issues and flexible working requests would evidence commitment to support new parents.

Support for working parents is still to a large extent focussed on maternity rights and benefits and many working fathers are still reluctant to take family leave as evidenced by the fact that only 2 per cent of fathers have taken shared parental leave. Whether it is reminding parents of their right to take unpaid parental leave, or more radically considering enhancing pay for shared parental leave, a positive approach to family leave could attract and retain both men and women.

Finally, when advertising roles, consider pro-actively stating that flexible working requests would be considered. Working Families have developed a the strapline 'happy to talk flexible working' for employers to use in recruiting new members of staff after their research showed that by not advertising jobs as flexible, employers are seriously limiting the talent pool from which they are recruiting. In fact, a key recommendation made in the Gender Pay Gap Report published by the Women and Equalities Select Committee is that all jobs should be available to work flexibly unless an employer has an immediate and continuing case against doing so. 

This recommendation may well not be adopted as official guidance, but by following this approach pro-actively, charities may have access to a wider pool of talented staff and differentiate themselves as an employer of choice.

Kathy Halliday is a partner and employment specialist at Veale Wasbrough Vizards

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