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April 24, 2015

The great balancing act: family versus business

The Children and Families Act 2014 came into effect this month introducing a number of family-friendly policies aimed at helping working parents balance their work and home life better.

Top of the bill is the long-awaited new system of shared parental leave giving parents the flexibility to share the care of their child in its first year. Mums and Dads, including adoptive parents, can opt to take up to a year of parental leave or choose to take several months off at the same time.

Adopters now have the same leave and pay entitlements as birth parents – with no qualifying period for leave; enhanced pay to 90% of salary for the first six weeks and time off to attend introductory appointments.

These new policies represent a huge step forward allowing staff to combine work and career with their responsibilities as parents. It makes good business sense too – research shows flexible working practices and a better work-life balance leads to increased productivity, lower absenteeism and a happier, less stressed workforce.

A delicate balance

However, some business owners and managers may feel as though they are stuck between a rock and a hard place at times, struggling to balance the demands of business with employees’ right to flexible working.

On the one hand, there is a clear business rationale for a more flexible, motivated workforce but on the other, there may be genuine concerns that extended parental leave and the right to request flexible working may incur additional costs, impact on quality or cause a shortfall when trying to meet customer demand.

Clearly, there are pros and cons on both sides of the table. It is welcome news the Government is working to ensure businesses, no matter how large or small, adopt more family-friendly policies. However, business owners and managers may find themselves scratching their heads trying to find a way to make it work for everyone concerned.

One solution could be to devise new ways of working to incorporate additional flexibility to make it work both for employees and the business. This may not be straightforward at first and may require introducing different way of working using technology, such as: holding team meetings via Skype, saving files to the cloud or keeping staff informed via an intranet.

Whatever the solution, businesses need to embrace the changes, ensure they are fully compliant with the new family-friendly regulations and work to ensure it drives an increase in productivity and competitiveness for all in the longer term. Of course, managing the great balancing act between work and family life is never going to be easy – ask any busy working parent! But if that delicate equilibrium can be achieved, both families and businesses stand to benefit.

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