Requesting Flexible Working
What is a dad to do if his employer does not have a culture that accepts men have families and caring responsibilities outside of the workplace? While times are changing, this is still a major issue. It’s not always an easy one to address because it can involve full-scale cultural change, but I’ve put forward a few ideas that fathers in the workplace may find helpful.
It Starts With The Application Process
Let’s start at the very beginning. Before you even apply for a job, look closely at the job advert. Does it make any mention about flexible working being encouraged? Prior to completing the application form, quiz the recruitment consultant about the company’s family friendly policies or call the HR department and have a quick chat.
Ask if the organsation pays paternity and maternity leave benefits at the same rate. Ask if it has written shared parental leave and paternity leave policies. If the answer to either of these questions is “no” then it’s a big warning sign.
I’ll tell you a story to demonstrate my point. I once went for a job interview and asked what benefits came with the job. I was being sly and testing the culture of the organisation. My eldest daughter was only one year old at the time and I was hoping the manager heading the panel would tell me about childcare vouchers or mention some family-friendly benefit or policy.
Instead he looked at his colleague, turned back to me and said: “You get a salary.”
It was a dreadful, condescending answer. It was immediately clear to me this manager was a dinosaur and that I could expect nothing in terms of balancing work and family. I wasn’t too upset when I didn’t get the job!
Flexible Working And Shared Parental Leave (SPL) Are Your Legal Right.
Do not think your employer is doing you a favour by agreeing to your request for SPL or flexible working. A lot of people, especially men, make this mistake. Remember, SPL is your legal right. Your right to request flexible working is also enshrined in law.
Be polite and put forward a strong business case. Look around your organisation and highlight examples where other people have worked flexibly or taken SPL. If a precedent has been set, it’s hard for your employer to turn you down.
It may also be that you’re merely the first man to ask for SPL or flexible working. You may feel nervous but discover that you’re blazing a trail and knocking at an open door!
Seek Support From Your Trade Union
If you are a trade union member and your workplace recognises your union, speak to your union representative. Managers are usually reluctant to pick fights with unions, especially over issues like SPL or flexible working which have a legal framework behind them.
Approaching things this way also means you are not on your own. You’ll have support from an organisation used to dealing with employee / employer disputes and successfully mediating between them.
Engage With Any Women’s Groups
If you are stuck with a management team that isn’t interested in your flexible working request or is doing all it can to put you off applying for SPL; seek help from any women’s groups within the workplace.
If there isn’t a women’s interest group (they are more common among big employers) try and find someone on the Staff Council or staff consultative body with an interest in issues affecting women in the workplace.
This may not sound like an obvious thing to do, but these groups can be incredibly powerful allies. They are in a strong position to point out to management that failing to provide male employees the same benefits and rights as women has a negative impact on both genders.
I’ll give you an example. I know of a FTSE 100 company that introduced equal paternity leave and pay because its women’s group campaigned for it. The group members recognised it was unfair men didn’t have the same rights and spoke up for their male colleagues. The result was a huge uptake in men taking SPL.
Be Clear About What You Are Requesting
Be clear about what you are requesting. If you are requesting to work from home two days a week, say so. If you plan to take four months SPL starting in March, make that clear. Your employer is much more likely to agree to a clear request as it’s easier form them to plan accordingly.
If you simply request to work flexibly or say you want to take SPL but you’re not sure what date you wish to take it from or for how long for, you can’t be too surprised if the answer comes back as a “no.” After all, how is an employer supposed to plan for such circumstances?
One other piece of advice is be flexible. You might want to work from home two days a week. But, what if your employer looks at your request and offers you three days home working every fortnight? Could you make that work? Be prepared to compromise as both you and your employer have different agendas.
Fathers In The Workplace Toolkit
Finally, if you think your employer might be receptive to the idea, introduce them to the Fathers in the Workplace Toolkit. This free resource is put together by researchers from the University of Birmingham.
It’s aim was to give employers and HR professionals easy-to-implement ideas that could make a workplace more father-friendly. You can read about it yourself – Fathers In The Workplace Toolkit. It suggests every employer should have a Fatherhood Champion. This would be someone who works flexibly and can be consulted about their experiences and explain its importance. It also says workplace parenting groups should be inclusive of fathers and suggests employees with children should have a ‘parenting passport.’ This is a document outlining a staff member’s home situation, shared privately between managers. It will help managers understand the needs of staff as they progress through an organisation.
We’ve all been in the position of asking for something from a boss, knowing the answer might not be the one we want. Employers have years of experience dealing with mums who work flexibly or go on extended leave following the birth of a child.
It’s a relatively new thing for both employers and employees when a man asks for SPL or to work flexibly. The only way it can be normalised is if men ask for SPL or flexi-working. The culture of your organisation may not have caught up with the times. The onus is on us men to bring about that change so be brave and speak to your boss. Oh, one final thing, very best of luck!
Interested in how covid is changing our working culture then you may want to read – Changes To Working Culture During Lockdown
Maybe you’d like to hear more about our DaddyJobs author John Adams.