Written by
Leigh Lafever-Ayer

12 Oct 2015

The maternity and paternity talent drain

12 Oct 2015 • by Leigh Lafever-Ayer

Giving families control

The changes to maternity and paternity leave that came into force on 5th April, which allows those eligible for shared parental leave to decide how to split leave and parental pay, is a positive step forward in allowing families to decide how best to apportion early childcare. There are many factors driving which parent should take parental leave and pay in the early days, and the point of the legislation change is that it is gives parents choice in deciding what is right for them. 

It seems as though the changes will be much welcomed too, as Enterprise research of over 2,000 employees found that four in five men, and nine in ten women don’t want to return to work full time after their next child.

Whilst some may baulk at reading this statistic, it’s worthwhile remembering that their desire to not return full-time doesn’t mean they want to work for themselves or duck out of the workforce altogether,  in fact quite the opposite. It means they want flexibility to achieve that elusive ‘work-life balance’. Quite simply, businesses need to make sure their workplaces are accommodating family needs to retain and attract the best talent. 

What does your organisation offer parents?

With nearly seven in 10 employees (67%) saying they look at a company's family policies when they are job hunting, and one-in-five accepting or rejecting an offer based on the outcome, businesses can no longer ignore the importance of a flexible and family friendly workplace.

But it seems as though some organisations still are pretending the call for flexibility is a trend. Research by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and Vodafone found that over half of managers view flexible working as something to be tolerated or ignored - while nearly 20% of them actively discourage it. Our experience with our own workforce suggests that organisations that tackle these attitudes head on will successfully engage with employees who will otherwise vote with their feet and go to an employer that is more accommodating. 

As a top employer of women and graduates in the UK, we offer Alternative Working Arrangements (AWA) at Enterprise. But rather than falling into the trap of focusing just on women, or mothers more specifically, our AWA is designed to give all our employees the flexibility they need to manage their working and personal lives effectively. Offering AWAs has truly given us all the benefits that flexible employers boast about – an engaged workforce with strong retention rates.   
So whilst changes to maternity and paternity legislation is a step in the right direction, in time helping to balance out assumptions, and subsequent workplace discrimination - that it is the mother that will do the caring, we have to do more to ensure our workplaces are truly flexible for everyone.

Doing so will enable parents to work around their children, students to work around their studies, and carers to work around their elderly family members; all the while, businesses will still be getting the best out of their employees. Hopefully attitudes towards flexible working will continue to evolve, as businesses realise they can ill-afford to lose such skills and make their workplaces more accommodating.  With so many employees actively looking for workplaces that are flexible, businesses must be prepared to answer such questions robustly too – or risk losing talent to their competitors.