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Best in family friendly working

The Workingmums Top Employer Awards and Best Practice

 Guest aticle by Mandy Garner, Workingmums.co.uk

The term "family friendly" perhaps doesn’t suggest dynamic, cutting edge innovation, but what is the biggest driver of an organisation’s fortunes if not its employees?

Given most of them will have families at some point in their working lives, keeping them happy is surely the smart way to increase productivity.

Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Awards aims to highlight best practice in family friendly working for organisations of all sizes, including innovation in flexible working, family support, career progression for women and talent attraction. The awards have been going for six years now, making it possible to spot trends in what works and where the gaps are.

Key issues in best practice

The key issues are:

  • Engagement with staff. Employers who know what their employees want and include them in any process of change will have greater success
  • A proactive, long-term approach. Many employers adopt a short term view. This can result, for instance, in an ad hoc approach to flexible working, leading to potential problems later down the line. The most successful organisations take a step back and look at changing trends and demographics, such as attitudes to work life balance among younger workers, the rising pension age and an increasingly flexible, global marketplace
  • Good leadership - senior managers need to not only recognise why these issues are important for their business, but take ownership of them, for instance, by attending dedicated events
  • Strong role models - it’s not enough to have policies on smart working; the best employers realise they have to communicate why and how it works on an individual, everyday basis
  • Line manager training - just as important as focusing on leadership and engaging people from the grassroots up is the need for managers to be given support in how to manage smart working teams or how to support employees with caring responsibilities
  • Support for remote working employees in recognition of the challenges they may face, such as isolation
  • Promoting family friendly working as something that is not only offered to, but encouraged for both male and female employees.

Good family friendly working is not just about having the right policies in place. Many organisations have great policies on paper, but the reality is very different on the ground. Moreover, what sways the judges is not just statistics which show take-up or impact, although these are important, but also hearing about the difference the policies have made to individual employees.

The business case

Even if the hard business case for family friendly working has been notoriously hard to measure beyond retention and recruitment statistics, support for policies that promote work life balance is clear from employee surveys. As technology enables more detailed analysis of data, it is likely that so-called soft measures such as a greater sense of loyalty and a happier and more motivated workforce will eventually be measurable in terms of their impact on the bottom line too.

A study out last year from Investors in the People, for instance, claimed to be the first to calculate the financial benefits of effective people management and found that companies who prioritised people management could boost their profits by up to 11 per cent.

The importance of creating a supportive culture

Many of the award winners spoke about the importance of creating a supportive culture and how that linked to better overall performance. The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service [Cafcass] won the Overall Top Employer Award for the way it had transformed its work culture and management structure through engagement with staff and a well thought-through use of technology.

In 2010 the Public Accounts Committee declared the organisation ‘not fit for purpose’, citing unacceptably high sickness levels; low compliance by staff; and poor management information system. In 2014, after a complete overhaul, including a move to smart working, it was assessed as good with outstanding leadership by Ofsted and had doubled its productivity rate, reduced sickness rates and increased staff health and well being.

Cafcass is an interesting example of the dangers of ad hoc flexible working. Before the overhaul, many members of staff had been working remotely, but felt isolated from the organisation and had lost any sense of the organisation’s expectations, culture and performance levels. In order to address this, Cafcass initially had to rein in that flexible working so that managers could communicate expectations and standards effectively through regular face to face meetings with managers.

Staff were also encouraged to work from the office to develop a strong team culture based on quality of service and supporting people to work in a different way. Once that was established, however, Cafcass started to put in place a more flexible, but better managed flexible culture, backed by a monthly team meeting in the office and using technology to connect people who are working remotely.

All social workers have a smartphone and tablet meaning that they can not only save time because they can access and upload key documents, but they can use them to interact with their clients. Social workers have been using apps on their tablets to improve their communication with the children they work with. These include interactive tools which help them to understand children’s wishes and feelings. There is a sliding scale on one app which they can use to quantify their feelings about a situation.

One of the challenges of moving to more remote working was maintaining a sense of a team identity so Cafcass uses a variety of tools including virtual team rooms. There is also a tool which gives managers a snapshot of staff performance at any given time and helps them to understand individuals’ workloads and capacity so cases can be fairly allocated.

Best for Dads Award

In the year Shared Parental Leave was introduced, another award winner was the London School of Economics and Political Science which won the Best for Dads Award for the fourth year in succession. The award recognised the way LSE supports the whole family unit.

That includes offering Shared Parental Leave on full pay for 16 weeks and an innovative research leave policy which allows any academic who has been absent for 18 weeks or more, a teaching-free term on full pay to catch up on research. This recognises that having a break can have an impact on career progression. LSE also offers a series of workshops for parents and carers and their partners, whether or not they work for LSE. 

“The initiative recognises that by opening up the workshops to partners of employees, support is given to both parents and in turn, it is hoped that this will have a positive impact on our employees,” says Natalie Pancheri, HR Policy Adviser. In addition it offers many other workshops for people with caring responsibilities.

Great practice amongst for smaller employers too

The Awards recognise smaller employers too. Cariad Marketing won for its commitment to flexible working, training and development and community engagement; digital marketing company iCrossing won the larger SME award for a range of policies supporting families, from iParent - a mentoring scheme for new parents - to Together Time, additional paid leave for things like settling children at school or visiting a sick relative in hospital.

Supporting flexible careers

Other awards were for Career Progression won by Bank of America Merrill Lynch with its pioneering Returning Talent programme for those who have taken a career break being highlighted.

Barclays was recognised for its work on Talent Attraction, in particular for its work on promoting job shares in all roles, and Centrica for its Family Support package, which recognises the growing number of staff who are looking after elderly relatives.  Its innovative carer’s leave policy provides up to one month of matched leave to staff.

The aim of the Top Employer Awards is to spread best practice and provide ideas for other organisations wishing to see how they can best support their employees. Of course, each organisation will have a different demographic and different needs.

The best organisations offer policies that take account of the various pinchpoints in people’s lives embedded in a work culture that understands that staff work best when they feel that there is some understanding of the challenges they may face when they are not at work.

*Workingmums.co.uk’s Best Practice Report, a detailed study of its Top Employer Award winners, will be published in March.


Winners of Workingmums Top Employes Award 2016 - Cafcass

Overall Top Eployer 2015 - Cafcass (see below left)

March 2016



Enter in 2016

If your organisation is has great practices in these areas or is making huge improvements, why not apply to enter in 2016?

The Awards are a great event and a chance to meet with other employers moving in the same progressive direction.

Find out more about how to enter here:

Top Employer Awards 2016

If you require more information on the 2016 Workingmums.co.uk Top Employer Awards contact:

 Mandy Garner  mandy.garner@workingmums.co.uk
or call 07789 106435

or Arline Wilkins at awards@workingmums.co.uk
or call 020 8432 6094.












Workingmums Awards 2013 - speech and panel




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