The business case for supporting working parents

When the government said it would extend rights for working mothers, including nine months’ maternity leave, some employers’ bodies said it would be an unbearable burden on some businesses.

However, Lynne Copp, managing director of consultants the Worklife Company, argues this assertion is astonishing and that there is more to worry about if we do not support working parents.

The facts speak for themselves, she says:

  • In 78% of married couples, both partners work outside the home. That figure is higher for same sex couples

  • 72% of married women work outside the home and one in six have children under the age of 16

  • The majority of working women are permanent employees – most of which work full-time.

  • Between 1999 and 2010, the creation of two million additional jobs is predicted – two-thirds of which are expected to be filled by women.

The most recent Labour Force Survey shows a greater gender divide in employee growth, with women employees increasing by 1.5% and male employees by only 0.7%. Finally, it is still the case the 85% of the caring responsibilities in the home still fall to the woman.

In the UK last year, 68% of new businesses that were set up by women were created because they could no longer stand the inflexibility of working for ‘old hat’ management styles. Most of these women were working mothers.

Does the CBI really believe that these businesses would not be supportive of their parents? It is time to think clearly about what businesses are actually losing by not supporting employees.

Take, for example, an employee of 15 years who cannot keep working because she does not have sufficient flexible working practises. The employer will have to find a worker with 15 years’ experience, at cost £15k (at least) to replace her. The employer has also lost 15 years’ of knowledge. How does it cost that? Well, assume that she learned one new thing every day for 15 years and that ‘new things’ were worth £1 each. In 15 years, she learned about 3,150 new things, which is equal to £3,150.

Finally, and most importantly, the employer has lost favour, trust, and positive regard. It is common knowledge that when we have a good experience, we will tell, on average, about four other people. When we have a bad experience, we will tell 17. That 17 will tell 17 others and, in a relatively short space of time, your reputation as a good employer is in tatters.

If your reputation goes, then so does your ability to attract and retain talent and your ability to keep customers. There is a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction.

The biggest threat to business success is not related to supporting working parents but not supporting them. Maybe employers’ bodies should revisit their theory as well as their own practices and reputation before it’s too late.

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