Part-time parents penalised when vying for promotion

06 February 2019

Parents who expect flexibility to help them balance work and life commitments are being penalised by many employers, according to a new report. Parents are over 20% less likely to win a promotion in the next three years of their career having taken the option of flexible working, while 90% of parents have called on the Government to help address the conflict between their home lives and work.

Flexibility in working hours can be great for both employees and employers, according to a growing body of research. At the same time, stressed, over-worked employees are more likely to take time off sick and more likely to quit. There is also a stack of evidence to show that over-worked employees are less engaged and productive. One study, conducted by HR consultancy Mercer, found that in the US, employee stress is costing employers over $250 billion in lost time alone. 

Despite the mounting evidence in support of flexible working – coupled with a need to better accommodate marginalised groups in the workplace due to a shrinking labour pool – British firms remain steadfastly inflexible. Bending to the needs of employees has historically never sat well with executives, who have grown accustomed to driving growth at all costs in the past 30 years in particular, and that dog-eat-dog attitude does not lend itself well to the issue of flexible working. As a result, one recent study found that Britain’s working mothers are presently losing out on £1.3 trillion in earnings, as a result of inflexible business culture.

Parents working part-time are half as likely to have been promoted within the last three years

Now, another report from charity Working Families and childcare provider Bright Horizons has come to the conclusion that parents who work part-time are penalised when it comes to their future job prospects, too. According to analysis of the Working Families’ 2019 Modern Families Index, part-time parents have a meagre 21% chance of being promoted within the next three years, in stark contrast to their full-time colleagues, who have a 45% chance.

Working Families also found that because most part-timers are women, this has a major negative impact on their career progression. Because more women will spend time away from work than men on average, the average mother will wait two years longer for a promotion than the average father.

Cultural clash

The research found that more than three-quarters of parents are working beyond their contracted hours, with 60% of these doing so in order to manage their workload and 52% doing so because it’s considered part of their organisation’s ‘culture’. Due to a long-hours culture which continues to pervade UK workplaces – which in 2015 the Office for National Statistics suggested was a contributing factor to the UK exhibiting some of the worst mental wellbeing in Europe – far fewer parents surveyed worked flexibly than those who desired to. 86% of those surveyed by Working Families would like to work flexibly but only 49% do. 

Of course, while there are likely to be cultural standards which make it harder for employees to work flexibly, however, it is much more common for there simply to be no workplace accommodation for such needs. More than a third told researchers that flexible working is ‘not available’ in their workplace, despite employees having a statutory right to request these arrangements. At the same time, the pervasive nature of mobile technology has seen work even creep into the home, with 44% noting “always-on” expectations had caused them to dip into work at home, while 28% said it caused arguments with their family.

% of parents dip into work at home and for 73% this wasn’t a positive choice

With parents at a loss for how to tackle this issue, and employers seemingly happy to play fast and loose with their statutory obligations on the off-chance they can intimidate their staff into overlooking their rights, more than nine in 10 respondents told Working Families the Government has a responsibility to address this conflict between work culture and family life. As part of its Industrial Strategy, the Government is consulting over whether there should be a duty on employers to look at whether a job can be done flexibly, and for them to make that clear when advertising, though what progress this will yield remains to be seen. 

Commenting on the findings, Jane van Zyl, the charity’s Chief Executive, said, “We have found that among Working Families member companies – which generally have excellent policies and practice around flexible working – part-time and flexible workers perform significantly higher than the average employee. However, this year’s Index shows the sad reality that very often, part-timers aren’t able to progress at work because a higher value is placed on full-time work – and there is simply more of it. Compounding this problem is the fact that parents are often saddled with jobs that require them to work well beyond their contracted hours.” 

On the matter of how jobs are conceptualised by bosses, Van Zyl added, “At the same time, employers need to start properly considering job design – evaluating what tasks the role requires and how these tasks can be completed in the allocated hours – before determining what kind of flexible working is possible.”


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Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.