Tackling the pinchpoints in the working life cycle

A panel at this year’s Top Employer Awards looked at how employers can tackle the major transitions in their workforce’s working lives.

Multigenerational Team


How should employers tackle the major transitions in an employee’s life cycle, from getting their first job to parenthood to midlife changes and later life? A Top Employer Awards* panel this week, sponsored by Roche and chaired by Jennifer Liston-Smith from Bright Horizons UK, heard from a range of experts.

David Allison, Co-Founder and CEO of The Talent People & Get My First Job Ltd, talked about the need to help young people make better decisions about the employers they apply to and help employers communicate more effectively with them. The aim is for young people to make better informed decisions about the skills particular employers are looking for, what on-the-job training is offered and what a role involves and for employers to use data to see where the blockages are in their engagement with young people.

Nebel Crowhurst, People & Culture Director at Roche, said Covid had forced employers to think quite differently about how they do things to accommodate people across the employee life cycle. Roche’s How we roll programme, rolled out during the pandemic, is location agnostic, for instance. She also spoke about how the company is using data to tackle pinchpoints in the career life cycle. For instance, its gender pay gap data has shown widening when people are in their 30s and 40s, a time when many are starting families. That has led to Roche revisiting its parental leave policies in the last year, particularly its maternity leave policy, with a view to ensuring women are able to obtain a balance between work and family commitments so they don’t have to return to work too soon after maternity leave due to financial issues and are able to continue on their career trajectory rather than dropping out because of ongoing conflict between work and home.

Siran Cao and Mel Faxon from family financial planning tool Mirza said tackling the gender pay gap linked to caring responsibilities is their focus. Mirza builds employer-supported products that enable employees to work out the potential long-term financial impact of decisions around reducing hours and taking time out of work due to caring responsibilities. “The long term ramifications can be really significant,” said Faxon, citing the impact of caring breaks on a woman’s pension and adding that decisions about caring should be seen as a household cost rather than solely relating to the cost of childcare to a woman’s earnings.

Bridget Workman, CEO of The Changing Work Company, spoke of her work to change the cultural side of work and help employers to understand and plan an integrated approach to smart working. Engagement with the workforce and empathy is at the centre of the company’s work, as evidenced by its partnering with workingmums.co.uk’s on its recent survey on remote workers. Workman said involving people in the process of change and giving them a voice in that is the key to building a better future.

Covid acceleration

Each expert was asked how Covid had impacted their work.

Allison said the pandemic had challenged, changed and accelerated everything his company does and has been “liberating” in that it had removed a lot of barriers, particularly geographical barriers to work including commuting costs. While it is important to get back to face to face contact with school students, Allison said many employers were glad that they no longer have to go round the country visiting groups of disinterested students at different university campuses. They can now connect more directly with those who are interested in the opportunities they are offering and are able to be more inclusive, reaching people they would not have done in the past by using technology better, although they need to keep an eye on issues around the digital divide.

On flexible working, Allison said people want more clarity on remote working in the longer term. If they joined an employer because they can work remotely, they want to know that this will not be taken away. When it comes to on-boarding young people remotely, Allison admitted that it is hard to underestimate the informal communication about values and organisational culture that comes through face to face interaction. However, he said Covid had shown the importance of employers building relationships before the on-boarding stage, which he called pre-boarding, so they feel they belong and develop a sense of loyalty before they start. In an employees’ labour market, many people are dropping out and reneging on job offers before they get to the on-boarding process. “It’s very competitive and needs a lot more work from employers,” said Allison.

On the impact of Covid on women’s career progression, Faxon and Cao talked about the importance of challenging the idea that mums are the default parent and carry the invisible mental load of looking out for the family. Senior male leaders need to role model that they are taking parental leave so that it is normalised and so that not taking it makes them look like they are uncommitted to progress towards gender equality.

Workman spoke about how Covid had shown how a trusting culture and engagement are key to coping with the pressure points every individual faces at some point in their career.  With greater autonomy and voice and mutual understanding people are more likely to feel they belong. She said it is important that smart working is ‘part of the furniture’ and part of the way organisations work from top to bottom. This includes offering training so people have the skills to implement it in practice through discussions with individuals and teams about what is right for them and what they actually do as a team. “It is about understanding rather than assumptions,” she said.

Crowhurst said employee voice is much stronger as a result of Covid and skills shortages and employers who don’t listen to it will struggle to attract people. “There has been a seismic shift,” she said, adding that there will be a lot of experimentation and some failure, but that that is better than doing nothing at all. “Businesses need to evolve and change,” she said.

*NHS Professionals was the headline sponsor of the Awards.

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