Stop saying becoming a parent is a ‘bad career move’

Busy father working on computer while holding sleeping baby

The charity, Working Families, has recently published a new survey which confirmed that parents are being pushed to ‘breaking point’ and are feeling ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘burnt out’ within their careers. It was reported that out of 2,700 mums and dads who took part in the study, one in five said that they had deliberately stalled their careers and more than one in ten said that they had rejected a promotion to try and regain some balance in the home.The findings also found that only 44% of the study felt that flexible working was a genuine option in their place of work. Of those who were working flexibly, 31% stated that they had restrictions from their employer about where they had to work and one fifth said they had no control over their start and finish times.

Why is it the norm for society to keep on saying becoming a parent is a ‘bad career move’?

An enormous amount of pressure is put on parents in the workplace. Parents are often left to juggle the balance of work and home life, having to consider earning money for their family and finding child care arrangements. Parents returning from maternity and paternity often look for a more flexible arrangement. Having children should not be a bad career move; employers should be considering all flexible working requests in good faith to reduce pressures on working parents and carers where possible.

Parents should be aware that employees have a statutory right to request flexible working if they have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks. Flexible working is any pattern which is not your normal pattern of work. It can include putting forward options such as; part time working, working from home, flexitime, compressed hours, term-time working and job sharing.

Submitting a flexible working request should be a relatively simple process.  The employee should write to their employer setting out specifically what flexible working arrangement they are looking for.  The prescribed format requires that the employee identifies the likely effect of their request being granted on their work colleagues and their employer’s business, with the employee making suggestions of how the effect might be minimised or overcome.  Employees should make their request in good time and should be aware that employers have a duty to make a decision within 3 months from the date of the request and report back to the employee.

Employers then have a obligation to deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’ which could include; assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application, holding a meeting to discuss the request, allowing the employee to be accompanied at the meeting by a colleague or trade union representative, and offering an appeal process. If the Employer refuses the flexible working arrangement, they should state exactly why they are rejecting it.  The law allows an employer to reject a request on any of seven main grounds, most of which reflect genuine business needs.

While parents do have the right to complain to an employment tribunal about a decision to refuse flexible working, the wide scope of the reasons on which employers are able to refuse a request makes it much harder for employees to successfully bring claims.  Employees may also not be in a financial position to pursue a claim or may feel, often with some justification, that claiming against their employer will ultimately lead to the employer ousting them through one means or another.

Charles Millett, Head of Employment at Morecrofts Solicitors, states

“As a working parent of two young children myself whose spouse works lengthy shifts, including many evenings and nights, I know only too well the pressures of trying to combine a demanding career with bringing up a family.  If something unexpected occurs, there can be times when you have to decide which parent can attend work and which one has to take emergency time off, which simply adds to the pressures on families.  For some single parent families, there isn’t even that choice.  While the law does give employees the statutory right to take unpaid time off to care for a dependant in an emergency, parents are still left with a stark choice of either letting down their child or letting down their employer or client.”

It is a constant challenge to strike the right balance between protecting the needs of working parents and protecting the legitimate needs of businesses.  What is very sad is the fact that many talented workers do not progress to the levels they could at the speed they could because their family has to come first and their career comes second.

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