Balancing work and life: Why flexibility is a two-way street

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Even fast-growing companies need to keep an eye on retaining talented employees as their work and home responsibilities change. This goes beyond flexible working policies, argues Prezi’s global head of HR, Emoke Starr.

For many parents, this week marked the first week back of school, and a reminder that the way we work is changing. But for many that may mean varied working hours, logging on at the weekend and, potentially, a struggle to achieve a good work-life balance.

It’s true that fresh graduates may have the level of flexibility that means they’re comfortable with working unusual hours or sacrificing the occasional evening. But as we get older, other considerations come into focus, and responsibilities naturally extend beyond the office walls.

New mothers in particular can feel at risk of losing a sense of balance, and by not addressing this issue, companies are making themselves vulnerable to losing important talent.

There have been attempts to remedy this. There is a growing awareness of the importance of bringing women back into the workplace following extended career breaks – the Government recently announced it was launching a number of formal returnship schemes, for example.

In addition to helping women return to work, though, employers need to do more to help currently employed parents. In turn, they will see their business thrive.

Addressing concerns

Returning to work as a new parent can be particularly daunting task, and I speak from personal experience.

I worried about my child, as all new parents do, and I had concerns about how I was going to balance work and family. Making sure there are clear policies in place, and that all team members are aware of them, will go a long way to reassuring employees at the outset.

Balance can be particularly hard to strike when it comes to travelling for work, and this was one of my biggest concerns as a parent. My company Prezi is now based in the San Francisco Bay Area, but retains strong ties with Hungary.

With key offices in Budapest and Riga, I find myself crossing the Atlantic on a regular basis on behalf of the company. The chance to return home is a huge perk, but when I became a mother, leaving my child on the other side of the world was wholly unappealing.

Thankfully, our Budapest office has a bring-your-children-to-work policy that has enabled me to bring my son along on those trips. Without that flexibility to bring him with me, I simply would not have been able to continue working.

It’s a win-win-win situation: I get to keep working, the business doesn’t have to train someone new, and my son gets to immerse himself in the culture of Budapest, meet other children ‘in the company’, and practise his Hungarian.

Beyond policy

While some may expect this to be disruptive or distracting, that’s actually far from the truth.

We’ve had C-Level meetings with toddlers hopping on and off their parents’ knee, without the rest of the team batting an eyelid. Of course, the kids aren’t just running wild – there’s a set supervised play area and activities to keep them occupied during the day. If they do join the adults, though, it’s never seen as an issue.

Flexibility is offered to our team in various ways beyond a policy that only benefits new parents. We encourage our team to take a flexible approach to the hours they work and provide feedback on what they need from us. We even have a bring your pets to work policy.

The benefits of workplace flexibility extend well beyond peace of mind for parents. Retaining talent is hugely important for any business, and perhaps even more so for start-ups and technology companies.

With young teams brimming with creative talent, technology companies can expand at speed, but without the policies to retain talent long-term, those same businesses can easily see an exodus of talent as they get older and begin to start families. The risks created by this demographic shift can be neutralised by scaling up your working policies alongside your business.

Growth and retention

As a company grows, providing benefits becomes more and more affordable, while the potential impact of talent and experience leaving becomes greater and greater. It’s not only about protecting the business, though.

This is also about creating workplace policies that will empower employees, allow them to continue careers they have worked hard to build, and maintain a diverse workforce across age groups and throughout the hierarchy.

Advances in technology mean that we can work from just about anywhere, at any time. That level of access may mean we are asked to give occasional ‘out-of-hours’ time, like joining a call in the evening due to time differences, for example.

Offering that flexibility to our employers must be respected and returned. A diverse and stable workforce, particularly for international companies, is key to success.

Attracting and maintaining a variety of talent from across the globe begins with ensuring the right approaches to working culture.

There are other people in the workforce now who may be worrying about how they can maintain a family, considering their roles.

Others may have commitments of care with unwell relatives or parents that need them. These commitments must be considered by employers. This consideration is not costly, but ignoring it could be.

Policies that empower those most at risk of abandoning a career stand to benefit the individual, the business, and our wider working culture.

Emoke Starr

About Emoke Starr

Emoke Starr is global head of HR at presentation software specialist Prezi.

One Response to Balancing work and life: Why flexibility is a two-way street

  1. BenHR 11 Sep 2017 at 4:24 pm #

    Great article on creating a flexible win-win-win environment!

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