Family Lives responds to parental leave to increase from 13 to 18 weeks on Friday

News that parental leave is to increase from 13 to 18 weeks is a step in the right direction.  Many families struggle with the challenge of reconciling work and family life and for some new parents it even means making tough choices about whether to leave work altogether.  While many businesses claim to be both family-friendly and supportive of flexible working, there is a clear disparity between aims and implementation.  Currently the UK workplace culture and management remains fixed on a 9 am-5pm or longer hours model and employers continue to consider flexible working cases on an ad hoc basis rather than implementing a pro-active strategic approach to adapting working practices.  

Family Lives’ ‘Family Friendly or Failing Families?’ recent report makes a series of recommendations to policy makers which include: 

The government should strengthen and more clearly codify the statutory right to request with a view to making the process more adaptable to family needs.   Family Lives encourages the government to allow employees to make a second flexible working request within a year and promote the use of flexible working trial periods.  For a number of our case study examples, confusion remains over the use of informal trials of flexible working, which directs employers to refuse a request in order to comply with statutory time periods.  Using more flexible working trials will allow businesses and employees time to adapt to a new working framework. 

The government should look to support flexible working through proposals in the Modern Workplaces agenda to increase flexibility in taking maternity, paternity and parental leaves.  Allowing some element of a phased return to work can ease the transition between full time leave and returning to work.  For some employees and employers this period could serve as an informal trial of flexible working. 

Workplaces should explore new information technologies which promote mobile and remote working, many of which can be implemented at low or no additional cost.

While flexible working has become near universal in UK workplaces - with over 95% if workplaces purporting to offer at least one flexible working practice - many workplaces are still unable to see the benefits and cost savings to them of this approach and parents are either being refused reasonable requests to change working patterns or are too afraid to ask. Because of rising living and childcare costs, many parents, especially women, are forced to leave the workplace taking vital skills and experience with them. Family Lives would be delighted to help families struggling with this issue through our range of services. We would also love to support any workplace wanting to fully embrace all the benefits of flexible working for all.”