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When Tania Jones was on maternity leave from her job in HR, she kept bumping into parents who asked her how they could get back to work after a career break. Should they freelance or go down the employment route? they asked. What were their employment rights? “I was being bombarded with questions,” she says.
At the time she was looking to turn her HR business, Frankwater HR, around. “I realised there was an opportunity to be really open with the public and let them know what their rights were and guide them in the right direction,” she says.
So she set up a series of free workshops in Bristol, where her firm is based, to give parents the advice they need and is also working with SMEs to help them understand what makes their employees more engaged and motivated.
She admits that one of her motives was to find out from parents which employers might be open to providing more benefits – such as childcare vouchers – to their employees, but she says that was not her main reason for running the workshops.
She was struck by the fact that many people did not appear to know about rights such as how to request flexible working or that they have a right to Keeping in Touch days while they are on maternity leave.
Many also didn’t seem to know about employment rights helplines run by the likes of Acas either and she believes that in any event a significant number prefer face to face advice.
Lack of communication
In her work in HR she says a lot of the problems are due to employers and employees not communicating effectively. She feels that if employees know their rights better and employers have a better understanding of what makes their employees happy a lot of those problems could be avoided.
In the workshops, she says the main questions are about flexible working and about how employees can sell the concept to their employer so they can see that it will work for them. “It’s important to present it from a business perspective. If there are additional costs applicants should admit and justify them,” she says. They should also do their research, she says, for instance, if they want to propose a job share they should look if there are other people around to share the job with them and use examples of others doing a job share to make a business case. She helps parents put the letter requesting flexible working together and advises on the timeframe they have for the process. The whole process should be finished in three months.
Tania says she sees quite a lot of dads who are full-time carers because their partners are the main earners. They have taken career breaks and want to know if the best way back into work is through freelancing or employment. Tania looks at their cvs to see where their skills lie. “If they are driven and self motivated and have the right skills freelancing may be for them. If they would make the perfect employee then I suggest that they go down the employment route,” she says. She helps them write their cv in a format that is easy to read. “A large part of my job is giving individuals the confidence to do what they want to do. I put them in touch with business coaches or web designers or whatever. I am part of a lot of networks,” says Tania.
She started her career in HR in 2001 and has worked for a number of businesses, including Royal Bank of Scotland. She decided to leave her last employed job at an underfloor heating manufacturer in 2012 because she was tired of her long commute. She set up a company to offer her services as an interim HR manager.
She loved doing that, but there were challenges – travel and not having the chance to get to know the people she was working with well because she was only there for a short time. Then she became pregnant. “It changed my whole life,” she says. “I decided I wanted to go in a different direction and help individuals and SMEs as well as big companies. There is a lack of understanding between employers and employees and I want to help bridge that. I don’t want to do firefighting when relationships have broken down and are deteriorating.”
With her daughter now six months old, she does regular workshops for parents at a play cafe during the day and also offers free evening workshops to SMEs to help them understand things from the employee perspective and how they can improve what they are offering them. That might include things like childcare vouchers or pensions. She also tries to give them insights into what other employers are doing and into what the cost might be of a tribunal if they don’t treat their employees well. She says many SMEs, like their employees, don’t know about KIT days and don’t think to talk about flexible working to pregnant employees. “They don’t see it as part of their job, but it is about managing people effectively. Employees rely on what their employer tells them so both lack the information they need,” she says.
Her next workshop is on 25th November at the Hungry Caterpillar play cafe in Cannon Street, Bristol. For more information, click here.