‘If you stick with people through difficult times they will do the same for you’

workingmums.co.uk’s 10th anniversary Top Employer Awards ceremony took a life cycle approach to work and looked back at the main changes in the last decade and forward to future trends.

Top Employer Awards 2019


Employers who take a life cycle approach to working and embrace multigenerational teams were at the centre of workingmums.co.uk’s 10th anniversary Top Employer Awards which took place in London on Tuesday.

Gillian Nissim, founder of workingmums.co.uk, spoke of the need to address different pinch points in people’s lives and of the launch of new site www.workingwise.co.uk, which is aimed at workers over 50. She said: “For us it is about the whole work life cycle, about joining the dots and highlighting best practice in the kind of work that we need to ensure jobs work for everyone.”

Outlining the workingmums.co.uk’s annual survey, which took a life cycle approach, questioning employees across all age brackets about issues such as flexible working and family support, Nissim highlighted how it was young people who were significantly more likely to research flexible working, to ask for it at interview and to turn down a job unless it was flexible.

She looked back at the progress made over the last 10 years of the Awards and to the future, asking “so what’s next?”. She said: “There is a greater interest in the more challenging areas for flexible working – frontline, location-specific jobs and larger SMEs; in broader diversity issues, including neurodiversity; in career progression for flexible workers; in wider family issues and a lifecycle approach to working, taking in younger people’s demands for greater flexibility as well as older people’s need for a gradual reduction of hours in the lead-up to and beyond retirement.”

The multigenerational workforce

Nissim’s speech was followed by keynote speaker Caroline Waters, Deputy Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Vice President of Carers UK and Founder and CEO of CW Consulting Box.

She spoke about how BT – where she was previously director of people and policy – had pioneered a life cycle approach 20 years ago, driven in part by the increased need to support a more diverse, multigenerational workforce and by demographic and other social changes. She said there was no point having the best talent in your organisation if people were not connecting with each other. “That’s when the magic happens,” she said, “when people connect and share experiences.”

Sharing common life experiences and stories are what unite us, she said. Employers should not hide from the realities of human life, said Waters, adding that every life experience made people more of an asset to their organisation. “Life experiences give you a different perspective. We need to be able to give people the choice to continue to work, whatever life throws at them,” she stated.

Waters added that if employers commit to diversity they need to allow themselves to be challenged and enable change. They have to listen to people, rather than make assumptions about what they need, and be flexible “in the broadest sense” to help people of all ages progress. That brings better engagement and better collaboration, she said.

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Waters mentioned carers in particular, who may be old or young. Employers could help by preparing people for caring and helping managers have the tools necessary to support people when they needed it, she said. That included help with bereavement as the outcome of caring for elderly relatives was often death and employees would then need help picking up their life after caring.

She spoke about the need for employers to demonstrate “the courage and determination to do the right thing for people who choose to do the right thing for their loved ones”. The result was increased loyalty and high retention rates. “If you stick with people through difficult times they will do the same for you,” said Waters.

Life is unpredictable, she added and employers needed to plan ahead, anticipate the changing needs of their workforce and allow people to come up with their own solutions. Little things mattered, such as the tone of voice you used if people needed time off for family issues.

There were multiple business benefits to a life cycle approach, said Waters, but it was about more than business; it was about business’ wider social role; it was about doing good by doing business, about doing the right thing by people. “Raising children and caring for people is essential for the future of our society and economy,” she concluded.

Awards and Q & A

Waters’ speech was followed by the awards ceremony and by a Q & A, expertly chaired by judge Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Coaching, Consultancy and Thought Leadership at Bright Horizons Work + Family Solutions and sponsored by Roche. The panel consisted of award judges, Andy Lake, editor of Flexibility.co.uk, Dave Dunbar, Head of Digital Workspace at the Department of Work and Pensions and Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work and Organisation at Cranfield School of Management. and Sheena Mistry-Patel, Talent Acquisition Partner at Roche.

Each was asked to choose an area which they thought had changed the most over the last 10 years. Waters chose carer policy – the change from no-one knowing what a carer was to the passing of legislation for working carers was “monumental”, she said. Mistry-Patel spoke of the increase in dads wanting to work flexibly; and Professor Kelliher and Andy Lake highlighted the mainstreaming of flexible working for all employees, Lake singling out the rise of SMEs with flexibility at the core.

Dave Dunbar said technology had made a huge impact and was now very much consumer-led and much more social; and Jennifer Liston-Smith mentioned the fact that family friendly packages, including maternity coaching, were becoming the norm in corporates as well as the impact of the gender pay gap legislation and greater transparency generally. However, there were still a lot of challenges. The panel mentioned the difficulty of ensuring flexible working was consistent across organisations, the tendency of many organisations to be reactive with regard to flexible working and the frequent disconnect between policy and practice.

Other discussions revolved around the availability of senior part-time jobs, concerns that the four-day week, however popular, might result in a more intense week or be very inflexible and the problem of the ‘always on’ workforce and the need for employees to have a sense of control over their working hours. Caroline Waters spoke of the need for employers to be able to take a step back and think about how they get things right for the future instead of making incremental changes to existing structures. She said: “You cannot have a revolution in one place and evolution in another. We need to sit back and think about how we get it right.”

Future trends

The panel were also asked about trends to watch for the future. Andy Lake spoke about more immersive ways of communicating which would make virtuality more normal and about sensory workplaces which were more natural and responded to the rise of Artificial Intelligence and concerns about well being. Dave Dunbar mentioned tensions between team working cultures and the move against presenteeism. Professor Kelliher spoke about the rise of different forms of working relationships, such as gig working, which meant employers would need to think more broadly about extending their policies beyond their employees. Caroline Waters said she envisaged demand for a new category of professional who understood the psychology of collaboration and how to build an environment that increases productivity. Finally, Jennifer Liston-Smith spoke of an increasing need for human connectivity through networks and buddies to share the human experience.

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