The plight of the working parent...

The plight of the working parent...

over 2 years ago by Josh Stirrett


I recently posted a status update on LinkedIn about an immediately available, ACA qualified accountant who is looking for a flexible working arrangement but has been somewhat overlooked by the recruitment and Finance community due to their needs around work/life balance. The individual in question needs to collect their children from school two days a week.   


That is it.


They are not requesting to work from home 5 days a week or making unrealistic or selfish demands. They do not demand part-time hours or wish to start at 10.30am and finish at 2pm and, as a conscientious and diligent qualified accountant, they are quite willing to take work home with them and log on ‘after hours’ if such a phrase is still applicable in 2017.  


The reason for this: after school club has been cancelled and they have no cover 2 days a week.  


I didn’t realise until I made the post just what a highly emotive subject this is. Looking at the results from my LinkedIn post got me thinking about just how many people could empathise with the plight of my candidate and how frequent a story this is. I posted a job on LinkedIn last week and received a couple of thousand ‘views’ and a few ‘likes’. I posted a status update about a working parent looking for a new role and their current plight and almost 10,000 people viewed it with 40 plus ‘likes’ at the time of writing. 


This matters to people. 


In recent years businesses have invested heavily in people and HR functions and looked to engage much more with existing staff. A good thing I think you’ll agree. Recognising the importance of engagement on productivity, profitability and retention it has become a buzz word along with diversity and inclusion and as a society we are much better for this awareness and refocus. However, a lot of energy and focus has and is spent on existing employees (and rightfully so) aimed at talent retention, but not future employees aimed at diverse talent attraction. But what happens if you are a working parent looking for a new role and need flexibility from day one instead of ‘earning’ it over a period of time? 


Your current business may have afforded you the opportunity to work flexible hours, reduced hours or even the Golden Fleece, part-time hours. But in all likelihood, it will have taken months if not years of consistent performance and value creation to ‘earn’ the trust of the business and gain the flexibility you need. But as an active job seeker, needing a new job, how many companies can offer you that flexibility from Day 1?


In over a decade doing this role, I can tell you the answer: very few.


The challenge I have always found with candidates who are working parents and looking for flexibility around working hours in a new role is that attitudes have not changed in 20 years since I started my professional career back in the late 1990s. If you are a current employee: maybe. As a new starter: not a chance.


The world has move on. Business has moved on. Technology is moving on.


Attitudes sadly haven’t. I was recruiting for a client earlier in the year and asked if they could afford a candidate some flexibility around working hours. Whilst the recognition existed that they were excellent on paper, as soon as I raised the question I was challenged with the blinkered response, “they mustn’t be that serious about coming to work for us”. 


Really? This is 2017.


Don’t get me wrong. I fully understand that some roles demand a full-time presence on site and that some businesses are just not geared up or capable of offering such flexibility due to size, complexity, immaturity, balance sheet constraints. But others are geared up and capable of offering flexibility to new hires who are working parents.


They just choose not to.


In an age where we are bombarded from all sides by a cornucopia of communication forms from the grand old dame, ‘The Telephone’, to text messaging, email, social media, instant messaging and a whole host of other new-fangled forms of engaging with people which I barely understand (Skype, WhatsApp, Snapchat etc). Why is it that many employers require their workforce to be tied to a physical location 5 days of the week? Relationships can be built anywhere.


Admittedly some Finance roles require it more than others. As a function, Finance is increasingly seeing the impact of digitalisation, progressively sophisticated systems, complex algorithms, the evolution of AI and Business Intelligence and the automation of production-oriented roles. All are allowing greater flexibility over how we work and the demands placed on Finance staff as there is a diminishing need to be sat at a desk banging out reports. The types of roles I am asked to recruit for reflect this – gone are the Chief Accountants of yesteryear and here are the Commercial Finance Business Partners in their place.


The days of the ‘typical accountant’ (a phrase I loathe as much as anyone) are gone as businesses demand that Finance has a real impact on performance not simply reporting it. Commercially astute and operationally aware accountants capable of leveraging relationships to drive real change are in high demand. What has become instantly more valued is Emotional Intelligence/self-awareness and the ability to add real value through relationships, cross-functionally. The ability to take the findings from Finance and communicate these across a business, driving change and delivering enhanced organisation performance. Finance is more about people and relationship management than ever before.


So why the rigid approach to working practices?


We know that people are highly resilient and adaptive. We know that technology has revolutionised the way we work and think and will continue to do so. Allowing us to communicate in real time in a multitude of ways. We can now interact and build relationships with a global network on a global basis remotely. We no longer need to be in the same room as someone to communicate effectively. Verbal and non-verbal communication is perfectly possible without being tied to a desk or physical location. And yet, ask a client to be flexible when they recruit and the answer is still, more often than not, a resounding ‘no’.

In an ironic twist of fate, many of the people who design and enforce such rigid practices are themselves working parents and they too crave more flexibility. Due to the limitations of the job market many simply give up and accept a full-time role on the someone else’s terms. Little seems to have changed in all my years in recruitment and advising job seekers.


Why is it that so many businesses offer such limited flexibility to new hires? 


I honestly cannot give you a truly objective answer, but my best guess would be fear. Fear that they will lose control and sight of what those new employees are doing, thus exposing themselves as line managers to admonishment. I may be wrong. I am sure you will let me know if you disagree!


For me it is a question of trust and loyalty.


Both are a two-way street. If you don't afford your people either then why should they show you either? Engaged employees are those that feel trusted and empowered. Loyal employees are those that feel engaged and valued. The more engaged you are, the happier you are. The happier you are the more productive. The more productive, the better rewarded (in theory), the more loyal. 


It is a virtuous circle. So perhaps we need to learn to trust each other a little more?


Almost 10,000 ‘views’ and over 40 ‘likes’ tells me this is a topic close to people’s hearts. The thousands of clients and candidates I have spoken to over the past 12 years tells me that this isn’t going to go away and isn’t going to change overnight. And yet, whilst many (if not most) of us at some point in our lives will be a working parent I scratch my head and wonder why so few people have contacted me to ask about the candidate in my post. 


Ten thousand. 10,000.


How many working parents in that 10,000? How many have faced a similar challenge? How many would value the chance to work flexibly? How many do? How many would value the opportunity to employ an exceptional ACA qualified candidate that can work around our business needs and add real value? 


How many are willing to do something about it?


How many will get in touch…….



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