Though the United States is one of just a handful of countries around the world that does not require organizations to grant their employees paid parental leave by law, recent years have seen more US states pursue mandates of their own, while a growing number of large, nationwide employers have voluntarily adopted more robust policies for working mothers and, increasingly, fathers and caregivers as well.
These trends have been driven by the public conversation and advocacy around parental leave, by a growing body of research showing the various benefits of parental leave to working families, and also by business considerations, as organizations struggle to attract and retain workers (particularly women) in a tight and competitive labor market. The latest research into what employees and candidates value, including Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor, shows that flexibility and work-life balance are becoming more and more important to the workforce. As millennials grow up and start families, this massive generational cohort is voicing a clear expectation that employers will support them—both moms and dads—in balancing career and family obligations.
Several developments have taken place in this area over the past month that employers should be aware of, as they illustrate the accelerating pace at which paid leave benefits are transforming from nice-to-have features to essential—and in a growing number of jurisdictions, mandatory—components of the employee value proposition.
A new poll from YouGov has found that just 6 percent of employees in the UK are working traditional 9-to-5 hours, while only 14 percent said they would prefer to work those hours, Personnel Today reported on Tuesday:
The survey, commissioned by Blue Rubicon and McDonald’s, asked more than 4,000 adults for their views on working hours and found that most full-time workers preferred to start earlier and leave earlier: 8am to 4pm were the most popular hours for 37% of respondents while 21% chose 7am to 3pm.
Just under four in 10 respondents (42%) were already working according to shift patterns, compressed hours and job shares and many of these people told researchers that they felt more motivated than when in fixed-time work and being able to work flexible hours led them to stay in the job longer.
The desire to work more flexibly in future was expressed by 70% of respondents, with 65% adding it would improve their wellbeing and satisfaction at work. However, a third of people said they didn’t think their employer would allow them to work more flexibly. Just under half (48%) said they would prefer to work a longer day in return for a shorter working week.
Evidence that traditional work schedules are becoming obsolete has been accumulating for a few years now, and not only in the UK: A CareerBuilder survey in the US in 2016, for example, found 59 percent of US workers saying they believed the typical 9-to-5 workday was a thing of the past. Work-life balance is also an increasingly important driver of talent attraction and retention around the world, as our research at Gartner has found.
At People Management, HR experts at the CIPD underscored that the survey’s findings reflect a need for organizations to be more attentive to employees’ needs in managing schedules and designing the workweek:
The high monetary costs of having children are well known to working parents and the employers looking to support them. According to US Census data, child care costs skyrocketed by more than 50 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 1985 and 2011. These costs have been blamed for holding women back in the workforce by making it challenging for couples to start families without scaling back one of their careers: in the case of heterosexual couples, that usually means the woman’s, as she typically earns less money than her male partner.
Yet a study recently highlighted in the Wall Street Journal suggests that the total costs of motherhood are difficult for many working women to anticipate. “The Mommy Effect: Do Women Anticipate the Employment Effects of Motherhood?” by economists Jessica Pan, Ilyana Kuziemko, Jenny Shen, and Ebonya Washington finds that some women in their childbearing years have “misplaced optimism” about their employment prospects after becoming mothers due to other hard-to-quantify costs associated with having children. As the Journal noted, a recent US government survey found that 64 percent of women with bachelor’s degrees and children under the age of six agreed that “being a parent is harder than I thought it would be”; fewer than 40 percent of similarly situated men agreed.
Beyond the financial costs are the time and emotional “costs” associated with having children that are harder to plan for.
Significantly more North American employers are offering “Summer Fridays” to their employees this year, the latest data from Gartner’s Global Talent Monitor shows. A poll conducted in the second quarter of 2018 of more than 144 HR leaders in North America found that 46 percent of organizations were giving employees the option of leaving early, working remotely, or taking the day off on Fridays this summer—a jump of more than 30 percentage points from 2012.
Though some companies worry that summer schedules can have a negative impact on productivity, but as Gartner’s own Brian Kropp notes, “most companies have told us that with this benefit in place, they’ve found employees work harder earlier in the week because they know they have to complete their work before Friday,”
Summer Fridays won’t work for every organization, of course, or for every workforce, but Kropp outlines an alternative option too:
Short-term assignments are becoming more popular among skilled professionals in India, the Economic Times reported this week, with an emerging “white-collar gig economy” in IT implementation, marketing, design, and other fields reflecting these professionals’ desire for more flexibility and control over their careers:
It’s early days, but as more Indians opt for new work arrangements, interest is growing across age and experience brackets. Leading the charge are young employees with five-plus years of experience, confident in their abilities to do well even without the cushion of a permanent job, and mid-career people who have built up a nest egg and now want more flexibility and a work-life balance. …
Three months ago, EY launched GigNow, a tech platform that connects people seeking short-term employment options or flexibility with EY in India. Sandeep Kohli, national director for HR at EY, told ET that over 70 such jobs are on offer on the platform and almost 700 people have applied. Initially, it started with consulting and now it has added finance and HR gigs. The next step is to launch a GigNow for women.
While Indian professional culture has historically put a premium on strong ties between employees and their employers, times are changing. Indian Millennials, like young professionals around the world, are putting greater emphasis on autonomy and work-life balance. Greater flexibility is also seen as a key tool for encouraging Indian women to remain in the workforce after having children. To that end, Indian entrepreneurs are establishing online recruiting platforms and coworking spaces specifically geared toward connecting women with flexible work or facilitating the launch of their own businesses.
As HR leaders know all too well, it’s one thing to give employees a benefit, and quite another to actually get them to use it. This problem often arises around paid leave and flexibility: An organization will offer ample paid vacation, parental leave, and flexible work options, only to find that employees don’t take full advantage of these options, often because their managers, their peers, or the company culture discourages them. Even if the organization’s policy is generous, employees may fear that using their leave entitlement or working flexibly will make them look less dedicated, cause them to miss out on prestigious assignments, or otherwise hold them back in their careers.
Sociologists Lindsey Trimble O’Connor and Erin Cech examined this phenomenon, which they call “flexibility bias,” in two new studies, the findings of which they detailed at the Harvard Business Review last week:
We show that when employees see workplace flexibility bias in their organizations, they are less happy professionally and are more likely to say they will quit their jobs in the near future. Importantly, the effects of this bias aren’t limited to working mothers. Even men who don’t have kids and who have never taken family leave or worked flexibly are harmed when they see flexibility bias in their workplaces.
We also find that perceiving bias against people who work flexibly not only impacts work attitudes but also follows employees home. It increases their experiences with work-life spillover, minor health problems, and depressive symptoms, as well as leads to more absenteeism at work and worse self-rated health and sleep. These effects occur for working moms, dads, and childless women and men alike. The effect holds across age groups and racial and ethnic categories as well. …
A recent survey by Glassdoor finds that very few employees in the UK are using all of their paid leave entitlement, while 40 percent of them are using less than half of it, Personnel Today’s Adam McCulloch observes:
The average figure of holiday taken by UK employees was 62%, while 91-100% of holiday entitlement was taken by 43%, the study found. A remarkable 13% reported only taking 20% of their allowance. The online survey carried out in April garnered responses from 2,000 full and part-time employed adults and also gauged the amount of work people said they did while taking time off. The results revealed that 23% of those on holiday regularly checked emails and 15% continued doing some work out of fear of being behind on their return and of missing targets.
Young workers were the least likely to take their full holiday entitlement, with only 35% of 18-24 year olds and 40% of 25-34 year olds taking all of their allowance. Half of employees (50%) said they could completely relax on holiday and that there was no expectation from their employers that they should be contactable. However, 20% reported that they were expected to be reachable and available to carry out some work if needed.
The underuse of vacation time may be a factor in the high levels of overwork and overload UK employees report, which cause stress and contribute to mental and physical health problems. Nearly one third of workers said in the latest edition of the CIPD’s UK Working Lives report that they suffered to some extent from “unmanageable” workloads, while 22 percent said they often felt “under excessive pressure,” another 22 percent said they felt “exhausted,” and 11 percent reported feeling “miserable” at work.