Now more than ever the case needs to be made for flexible working, argues Mandy Garner.
Working Mums’ poll, which we published last week, showed 79% of women were seeking to return to work or work longer hours because of the credit crunch. What is perhaps more interesting and worrying is the kind of comments that have been posted alongside the votes: women talking about being worried about repossession and in one case worrying about the price even of necessities such as bread. All this when we are only a few months into the big crash and less than a week into the official recession.
Pundits are predicting the next year and possibly more will be very difficult, with unemployment, already fast rising, likely to get much worse. In the middle of all this families are trying to get by and being creative about the ways they do this, for instance, taking second or third jobs if need be. It is a time where it is going to become increasingly competitive to get jobs and where employers are going to be on the look-out for any savings they can make. Women who are going back into the workplace will need to be confident about their right to be there and the skills they can offer – not just in terms of work experience, but also in terms of life experience – the organisation, diplomacy and sheer determination needed to run the business called family because it is still mainly women who shoulder most of the family responsibilities.
It is also a time for being positive about the benefits for employers of flexible working and of hiring these women. Now more than ever the case needs to be made to policymakers and employers that flexible working is a win win situation for everyone – it cuts overheads, reduces sickness leave, retains skilled staff, motivates staff and means that employers can offer a more flexible service to their customers. Surely it makes economic sense, for instance, for an employer to have someone with years of experience doing a job four days a week than getting in someone without that experience who takes five days to get the job done?
What is more, in policy terms, flexible working means that children get the parental input they need and parents are not run ragged trying to cover the multiple illnesses, etc, that are part and parcel of childhood. This is without even mentioning the environmental gains of reduced commuting to work if more people work from home for at least a part of the week. Yes, it is a worrying time, but it is precisely at this juncture that those employers who plan ahead and look at creative ways of tackling the recession will be best placed to survive it.