Public warned against turning to ‘law on the cheap’

From children falling unexpectedly sick, to work projects that need out-of-hours attention, the pressure on Mum’s to perform around the clock has never been greater.

They’re highly organised, able to perform under pressure, and often come with a wealth of experience in their chosen sector; but their need to accommodate family as well as work means that mothers are often undervalued in the workplace.

Lindsey Knowles, Head of Employment Law at Kirwans law firm said:

“Despite more Mum’s being in the workplace than ever before, many employers are still failing to understand their worth, often viewing them as a problem they have to accommodate rather than a valuable asset to their business.

“In fact, towards the end of 2017 ACAS published guidance to help employers create supportive workplaces for women during pregnancy and maternity leave after receiving 14,000 calls in the previous year about pregnancy and maternity issues.

“However, there are clear business benefits of supporting workers in the workplace, with a 2016 Deloitte study reporting that 77% of employees said the amount of paid parental leave had some influence on their choice of employer, and 50% saying they would rather have more parental leave than a pay rise.”

As families prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday, Lindsey looks at the best ways businesses can help Mum’s in the workplace – and potentially see a boost to their business in the process.

1)    Think flexibly

Many employers are missing out on experienced and talented professional women who are unable to work full-time hours because they also happen to be mums too, by failing to think outside the box. By advertising roles as potential job shares rather than just full-time positions, you’ll be making them accessible to mums who aren’t at a stage where they can work full-time – which could give you an advantage over less creative competitors when it comes to finding the best talent available. In addition, think about how you could offer Mum’s remote or flexible working arrangements in order to help them to combine home and work life more easily, and make sure you’re operating in line with the law on flexible working too.

2)    Develop policies that go above the statutory requirements

There are statutory policies in place for unpaid leave, parental leave, compassionate leave and emergency time off for dependents, but employers who pride themselves on being family friendly will have their own versions. Consider the key moments that might arise in a parent’s year; settling their child into nursery, settling in days at school, nativity performances, Easter services, sports days . . . you don’t have  to accommodate these moments, but by doing so you’ll be making parents’ lives easier – and generating a lot of goodwill in return.

3)    Make contingency arrangements for emergency time off

There will come a time, probably on the busiest day of your business’s year, when a working parent is hit with an unexpected emergency. Whether it’s because the childminder develops a bug, or a child had an accident at school, it’s highly likely that at some point a parent – usually mum – will receive a call that means she has to drop everything and race off. Be prepared for the fact that this will happen and have processes in place to deal with it so that the sudden disappearance of a key employee doesn’t throw your whole business into disarray.

4)    Avoid contacting parents on their days off

There few things designed to send Mum’s into a panic more than being contacted whether it’s by phone, text or email – on a day when they’re trying to mentally devote themselves to their child. In fact, unless it is stated in employees’ contracts that they must be contactable outside of normal working hours, then they should be left alone when not in the workplace, with contact only being made if it is absolutely necessary, and only in cases where the employees have agreed scenarios in which it is acceptable. Doing otherwise can put employers at risk of claims of invading employees’ privacy.

5)    Provide a private room for breastfeeding Mum’s

Mum’s returning to work who are trying to breastfeed often find they have to retreat to the toilets with their breast pump, while their valuable breast milk has to be dumped through lack of storage.

Employers are legally required to provide a room where breastfeeding Mum’s can lie down and rest if they are tired, but forward-thinking bosses will set aside a space for them to express milk too.

By providing a private, clean room with a lockable door – although definitely not a toilet – and a fridge for breastfeeding Mum’s to pump and store their breast milk until home time, you’ll not only be helping to ease some of the guilt they feel for working in the first place, you’ll also be helping reduce health risks such as mastitis as she continues to try and breast feed from afar.

6)    Talk to your employees

A lot of companies fall down in their employees’ eyes by assuming a ‘one size fits all’ approach to working parents, when often the opposite is true. Some parents will be offended if they’re not asked to attend dinners with clients out of hours, for example, while for others it would be a huge relief. The key for any employer is to ask the employee how they can support them as they try and navigate their way through working and parenthood. This way, you’ll be letting them know that you’re keen to make the situation work for them, which will help you to retain valuable staff members, while also going some way towards preventing misunderstandings in the future.

7)   Support dads too

Another way of supporting working Mum’s is by supporting the dads in your workplace. Interestingly, the Modern Families Index 2017 found that, when asked whether they would assess their childcare needs before taking a new job of promotion, 76% of younger fathers said they would, so it’s clearly an issue that matters to them. By letting dads know you understand their need to take time off to share parenting responsibilities with their child’s mum, you’ll be demonstrating a real commitment to supporting parents, helping to ease the burden on working Mum’s, and potentially retaining male employees too.

For more information on Kirwans, please click here.

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