The truth about family friendly working by Ben Black

Ben Black is Director of My Family Care, which provides childcare support to employers and businesses such as P&G, Barclays, KPMG, Deloitte, and IBM. He is also one of the founding members of Tinies Childcare which has 20 nurseries and crèches under management and 30 childcare agencies, and founded the Good Care Guide – the Trip Advisor type site for the childcare industry.

We asked Ben what family friendly working really means, and why it’s just as beneficial and important for businesses, as it is the parents they employ.

What does ‘family friendly’ working mean?

It’s not really family-friendly working. It’s more family-friendly employers. And what we mean is simply that there are some employers who genuinely understand that work and family are not mutually exclusive.

What it means in practice will vary across industries. For example, in a magic circle law firm the hours are always going to be demanding. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t lots of practical and developmental support the firm can make available to help meet the challenge.

In the call centre industry, family-friendly means recruiting around parents’ availability rather than dictating strict working patterns. That has been obvious to the best operators such as SKY and Centrica for some time.

Being seen as a family-friendly employer, irrespective of what actually goes on inside, is just sensible business practice. For proof look no further than the Work and Family Show. Organised by the UK’s largest events organiser, it aims to give working parents and career break women access to practical advice, inspiration and ideas to help you create a happy and healthy work/life balance.

Driving confidence and helping women get back into work, the event is packed with inspirational experts and employers on the lookout for motivated staff – and if you’re considering starting up your own business venture, you can chat through your ideas with industry experts and gain valuable career advice.

Why is family friendly working important for parents?

Family-friendly is important to working parents for three fundamental reasons. Firstly, and at a very practical level, the family-friendly employer will have better benefits and more practical support in place to help manage what can be a difficult juggling act.

Secondly the culture will be better – more empathetic and more supportive. Typically that means having a boss who understands that people should be judged on performance rather than presentee-ism, and that flexible working is not the root of all evil.

And thirdly the family-friendly employer will allow, and even encourage, talented mothers to pursue their career ambitions, notwithstanding the sacrifices that will need making for family.

And why is it important for businesses?

Business is increasingly about a war for talent. And as flexible working, instant communications and fluent job markets have developed, people have become an employers’ most important asset.

Put simply, you can’t win the war for talent if you don’t look after the large number of people who either have young children or elderly parents to worry about. You won’t retain them; you won’t attract them; you’ll never get gender diversity right throughout your business; and you’ll lose some of your most talented brains (who happen to be female) to more enlightened competitors.

How can companies become more family friendly?

For companies there are three parts to the mix. Firstly, they need to concentrate on culture. They need a chief exec on message, and then they need to concentrate on the management level. Make sure to showcase a couple of senior men who are happy to hold up their hands as dads – we promise this will work wonders.

Secondly, they should look at the maternity transition and see what support they can provide – emotionally and developmentally – to make the transition successful.

And thirdly, they should look at practical support. There are probably about 20 different ‘services’ they can provide. We always say, choose a couple and then push them as aggressively as possible.

Who does family friendly working well?

The large accountancy practices, employers such as Deloitte and KPMG, have done some great work and are seen as bastions of good practice as a result.

Somewhere like Procter & Gamble is renowned as being an employer where career and children can both be pursued.

And in the legal environment Baker & McKenzie was one of the first large firms to really have an honest conversation about how much flexibility was possible and what kind of support parents might need. It’s flourished as a result. 

What’s emergency childcare and why is it important?

Emergency Childcare allows employers to book last minute childcare anywhere across the UK on as little as 30 minutes’ notice. It’s probably the best practical support that employers can provide – childcare does break down and when it does, it’s stressful all round.

Importantly the business case is very easy to make. Set up the scheme right and you will only pay when the service is used. That creates a very good link between productivity and cost. People are genuinely working and producing when otherwise they wouldn’t be.

How can you help?

Family-friendly is what we do! We help about 100 of the UK’s best known employers with everything that involves family-friendly. We consult; we provide some brilliant maternity coaching programmes; we have a range of excellent childcare and eldercare solutions; and we’re the leading providers of emergency childcare.

You can find out more about My Family Care on their website