Young woman at work in conversation with employer

Maternal Mental Health Week – Spotlight on Flexible Working

The 3rd to the 9th May is Maternal Mental Health Week in the UK.

A week-long campaign dedicated to talking about mental health problems during and after pregnancy.

It’s all about raising public and professional awareness of perinatal mental health problems, advocating for women affected by it, changing attitudes and helping families access the information, care and support they need to recover.

According to the Office of National Statistics,  44% of full time accountants in the UK are currently female. And it can be assumed that many of those accountants are either already mothers or may choose to become mothers sometime in the future. (It’s also worth highlighting that, although this article refers to Maternal Mental Health, the considerations should, in 2021, be applied in equal measure to fathers or father to be.)

For many new mothers a deterioration in mental health is caused by a chemical imbalance brought on by pregnancy and childbirth and conditions such as peri or post natal depression or psychosis are unavoidable. But for many there are also external factors that contribute to a decreased state of mental health and an anxiety about returning to work is a big contributor.

The theme for Maternal Mental Health Week in 2021 is Journey to Recovery and at Public Practice Recruitment Ltd we’re keen for accountancy firms, small and large to consider what part they might play in aiding a mental health recovery for their staff who are parents and indeed helping them to avoid suffering from one in the first place.

A firm’s attitude towards flexible working can make the difference to a new parent’s experience of returning to work and in some cases their decision about whether to return to work at all. Modern employers should be following best practice guidelines for all requests for flexible working but we thought we’d take a moment to highlight the benefits to you, the employer of a variety of flexible working options.

Part time working 

The most common type of flexible working and one you’re likely to already offer to some extent within your firm. The government’s definition of a part-time worker is someone who works fewer than 30 hours per week. They receive an equivalent reduction in pay.

The difficulty comes when an employee who had worked full time requests a reduction in hours. How as an employee do you manage their workload?

In this instance we’d encourage you to consider your employee’s request as an opportunity to consider wider change. Perhaps business has increased and the workload of your employee could now be undertaken with one new full time employee and your existing employee working part time? In this instance this request is not creating a problem, it’s solving one!

A part time workforce also offers firms the agility that the pandemic has proven to matter so much. There are many benefits to firms who can make it work.

Flexitime

An absolute no brainer for many firms who have now adopted a policy of home working and one that will make all the difference to stressed out parents with fixed hours of childcare.

Flexitime allows employees to vary their start and finish times around their core work.

The success of flexitime relies on mutual trust and it’s fair for employers to put in some boundaries to make the arrangement work (i.e the hours must be worked Monday to Friday or employees must be present at the weekly team /client meeting) but firms who offer flexitime usually reap the rewards when it comes to staff loyalty and workplace culture.

Jobshare

Job sharing can be another flexible solution when it comes to considering a request for a reduction in hours for new parents. Two people share responsibilities, pay and all the other benefits of a full-time job. It sounds daunting from an organisational perspective but with some great rules and boundaries in place this system has been proven to work across all levels of an organisation – from Partner level to junior accountants and support staff. Don’t be afraid to give it a try but do make sure your recruitment for job share roles is spot on as you’ll need to find people who communicate and work well together.

How and why should we advocate flexible working?

In 2016 it was reported by the Equality and Human Right’s Commission that three quarters of pregnant women and new mothers in the workforce experience some form of discrimination or negative treatment during pregnancy, maternity leave and return to work from leave.  A rise of 45% since 2005!

With these figures there really is no wonder that mothers returning to work face stress and anxiety around the decisions they need to make and how willing their employers will be to support them with their new roles as parents.

“We’re sure that some accountancy employers had been making leaps and bounds towards creating a more flexible way of working after the publication of the 2016 report. But there is still much to be done in our sector and the additional burden placed on mothers by the COVID-19 pandemic won’t have helped matters. We’re always on hand to support new mothers looking for a more flexible way of working with more forward thinking firms and would encourage our clients to work hard to accommodate this group of workers who have so much to give to practice. But the fact remains; if you won’t look to offer those returning to work from maternity leave a degree of flexibility, another practice certainly will!”

Garry Howling, MD

To discuss how to make one full time role into something that offers your valued staff more flexibility, contact the experts today. We’re well versed in supporting clients to split workloads, advertise and recruit job shares and much, much more. Email us today at info@publicpracticerceruitment.co.uk and join us in protecting maternal mental health.

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