Putting family first

Balancing family and work


With the introduction of Shared Parental Leave, HR teams have begun to focus more on dads. One company which has gone one step further than the current SPL legislation is the B2B marketplace Approved Index.

Not only does it enhance SPL, but as part of its unique maternity/paternity scheme, Family First, it invites parents to take part in an open discussion about flexible working and what adjustments they might need to their work patterns after they start a family, allows them to choose job share roles to split their workload, enables homeworking and gives parents the option to flex their start and finish time or work four days a week.

The scheme is one of the main reasons Approved Index and its parent company MVF have won several awards for employee well being, including ranking 10th in the Sunday Times Best 100 Companies list.

Family First is driven by the founders of Approved Index. Four out of five are dads. All of them work flexible hours so they can be around when their families need them.

MVF has over 250 employees in the UK, many of whom work flexibly, whether they are parents or not. Approved Index has 35 employees, evenly divided between men and women. Even if staff don’t have a formal flexible agreement, they can, for instance, work from home if their child is sick.

It’s part of a culture which is supportive of family life. “It’s not only flexibility in your working day, it’s support, understanding and an ingrained belief that a work life balance is vital for our employees. We are dedicated to making family life a priority for parents,” says HR director Jackie Drabble.

That culture has helped the company to grow. Jackie says: “It is really important in staff retention and productivity. Time and again, we see that happy staff perform better. Our rapid growth is owed to the incredible employees we have and keeping them through various life stages is a priority for us. It’s about valuing the people who have helped us achieve such monumental growth and success.”


One employee who has benefited is Michael Wood, head of IT. He has been working at Approved Index for just over a year. His previous experience was in the City so the move to marketing has been a big change for him. “I spent 13 years in the broker belt of the City and it has been a big culture shock,” he says. “There is a male, chauvinistic, bullying culture in the square mile. If you leave work early or come in late people look at you with a frown.”

He worked at one brokers after his daughter, who is nearly three, was born and says he often had to work late, meaning he wouldn’t see her for days. “I didn’t want to be a weekend dad,” he says. “The job itself did not require it, but culture did.” He moved to a different brokers and eventually found the job at Approved Index. He says the decision to move was also about his own career progression. “I wasn’t looking for a company which was more family friendly. I wanted to be head of IT and help the business grow from 100 to 5,000 people,” he says. The fact that the firm is family friendly is a bonus.

When he was interviewed, Michael said he might have to leave at 4.30 every now and again to get to nursery and he was told this was fine. Once he had joined he started talking to his colleagues and soon realised how family friendly the firm was. HR has two co-directors and one of them was on maternity leave. She had asked to come back on three days a week. “It showed me that from the top down the company understood what was required for a happy workforce and that family was important, that time mattered more than money if you have children.”

Michael works full time, but can flex his hours when necessary. “My wife and I both want careers and to care for our daughter. We work as a team. We can share pick-ups and drop-offs at nursery and I can work from home at short notice if my daughter is sick. I don’t feel under pressure all the time,” he says. “I never feel awkward asking anything about my daughter. There’s a general ethos of support. I know the answer will be positive.”

As a result, he feels he works harder and is more committed to Approved Index. For instance, he will get his daughter to sleep and call a colleague in the US or come in early and work longer hours if he can occasionally leave earlier. His team includes a dad of two who does the school run and comes in later in the morning and leaves later so if Michael has to leave early both ends of the day are covered. He says: “It is quite satisfying to work for a company that really wants to make things better for its employees.”

As a manager he says one of the first things he does is tell them his team that they can leave early if there is an emergency at home. “It means they work harder if they don’t have that fear. I’d walk on hot coals rather than have them sit at work worrying,” he says.

Michael says he would definitely consider shared parental leave. “I’m all for equality,” he says, “and I think it could help to reduce the gender pay gap.” He adds that he would also have no qualms about asking to work more flexibly if it were necessary. “There are certain things that are important,” he says.

Michael sometimes thinks about what it would have been like if he had stayed in the City. “You hear about working mums there, but never about working dads,” he says. “Generally it takes two people to make a child. There’s still a stigma about being a dad – it’s the 80s City boy bravado, but we’re in 2015 now.”

Jackie says tech companies, particularly start-ups, can also suffer from a macho long hours culture, but she says companies are slowly becoming more aware of the importance of developing a flexible culture as their workforce ages.

She says: “Habits and attitudes take time to change, but even a positive shift in policy doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality. If the company culture does not encourage the policies, employees could still feel guilty or embarrassed when making use of it. We put an emphasis on making our staff feel comfortable using the policy. It should not be taboo to put your family first, and perhaps this is the biggest challenge companies face.”

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