With LinkedIn currently running its #ParentsAtWork campaign to highlight the challenges many parents at work, I thought this the perfect opportunity to share why I think providing flexible working, and being flexible, are a huge benefit to both employer and employee.

I speak as a father, as an employer and owner of a business, and as someone that has worked for over 20 years in talent acquisition. Yes, for a living I help companies to recruit and retain key talent, and I do so in very niche markets with small talent pools.

The working world, fortunately, is very different now than it was when I had my first two children, now 19 and 15 years old. At that time, as an ambitious and career focused young man I was forced to make sacrifices that I wouldn’t now make. I had a long commute, rigid and long office hours, and much time working away. It was tough. I justified the sacrifices by the money I earned and the house and comforts I was able to provide my family. I’m now the father of a 5-year-old, and this time, despite having greater responsibility, and starting my company as my daughter was born, I’ve not had to make anywhere near as many sacrifices. You may say, ‘that’s fine if you run your own business, you can do what you want’. Anyone that is the founder of a start-up will tell you the demands are as great, if not greater than any ‘job’ or career role. I’d say the difference is in technology, mentality and enlightenment, also (let’s be honest, we all operate as people and as businesses) in enlightened self-interest.

In my own business I’m not the only father with young children. Two of our Liverpool based team have children under 3 years of age. Both men. They are important to the team and to the success of the business. So, for both moral reasons, and for the good of the business, they are allowed to be flexible with their working hours. Not only can they never miss a school assembly, sports day or parents evening, they can also flex their hours to support their partners and childcare providers. Of course, children are often unwell. Giving them the flexibility to alter their hours, take time off, and work from home means they can be there for their children and partners when needed. It’s not just some hippy idealism though, it means they are happier, less stressed and more productive as employees (not less as old school thinking might have you think). So as a business owner I win. I have more loyal, productive, committed and happy employees. I benefit, our customers benefit, they benefit, their family benefit.  By providing laptops rather than desktop PC’s there is no reason for this flexibility not to work. It does work.

Trust is important in the employer/employee relationship, as it is in any relationship. If you don’t trust your employees to do what is needed to be done, and to not take advantage of this flexibility, you either have the wrong attitude, or the wrong employee. Whichever it is you need to deal with it for the benefit of your business or team.

Staff attraction and staff retention

As I specialise in talent acquisition, I see and hear daily what attracts an employee to a company, but also what leads to them to leave a company. There are of course many factors, but flexibility is very important, regardless of parenting requirements. Great people want to be trusted and given the tools to get the job done, they don’t want to be tied to a desk 8 or more hours a day, they don’t want to spend 2 hours commuting every day, and they don’t want to sacrifice their family life for their job. They DO want to make a big impact for their employer, they DO want to demonstrate their skills and abilities, and they DO want to be successful.

Companies that recognise that this is not binary, that being ever present and working long hours doesn’t by itself make someone a good employee, and needing flexibility and time out doesn’t make someone a bad or unproductive employee. I would argue that very often the exact opposite is true.

The huge untapped talent pool of mothers returning to work

Let’s be honest, the vast majority of early months and years parenting is carried out by mothers. It’s women that more often than not put their jobs and careers on hold for the benefit of their child and their partner, if they have one.  Not only is it grossly unfair then that as a society and as businesses we make it difficult for mothers to return to work at the level of their competence, it’s also a huge wasted opportunity. If someone is a bright, talented, career minded person prior to having a child, what makes us think they won’t be those things after having a child? Childcare arrangements can be difficult, and expensive, but it seems that childcare is an easier problem to solve than our perception, as a society, that a mother returning to work is only an option for less interesting, less challenging, or even menial tasks. What a waste of talent, and what a pathetic, unjustified and undeserved way of rewarding the mothers of our children for the efforts and commitments they have made to care for our children.

We live in a time of unprecedented connectivity. Technology gives us the ability to connect, communicate, work and perform without the constraints of location and fixed office hours.

Companies would benefit enormously by being flexible in how they treat their employees, not just parents, through better recruitment, retention and productivity. They also open up a new talent pool, by finding ways to utilise, support and welcome returning mothers (and fathers), or those that need childcare flexibility, or have other caring responsibilities, to their company.

I’d love to hear your views on this topic. Have you implemented flexible working practices at your business? Do you consider this as a staff retention or talent attraction tool?