A good business must evolve with its employees. This might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how often the most basic processes are overlooked. There may be a promising employee who began as a young graduate and is now looking to start a family but wants to see that their career can continue to develop. Or a new starter bursting with fresh ideas and experience who needs to leave at 4pm on some days to make the school run.
When it comes to parental leave government policy has already progressed. Shared Parental Leave (SPL) legislation allows parents to divide childcare, and while widespread take-up from fathers is yet to take off it is a promising step forwards and enables mothers to return to work earlier should they wish.
For either parent returning to work after an extended period of time – whether this is six months, the full 12 months or a longer career break to start a family – it’s vital they are supported in slotting back into the work environment. Different projects, different clients, different teams and, in some cases, even a vastly different economic background will be an additional challenge alongside reacclimatising to the work routine. Recognise this is not about making allowances; it’s simply offering enough support and looking at the most effective way to help them back. This will pay dividends when it comes to their overall performance, and retention in the long run.
For a lot of new parents a key concern is how they will juggle commuting with the nursery pick-up, or doctor’s appointments with meetings. A lot of it is about trust – both for the employer and the clients involved. If there is transparency, and upfront negotiation as to when someone will be contactable and when they won’t, it will be a far more productive relationship. If we judge people on their outputs rather than hours spent in the office it will enable us to retain our talent and attract those seeking a good work/life balance.
These issues are part of the reason we recently launched CBRE’s inaugural Diversity Week, which addressed everything from mental wellbeing in the workplace to balancing employment with duties in the Armed Forces. We started the week with a panel debate involving both men and women on ‘The Modern Working Family’, hosted by the Women’s Network and the Family Friendly Group.
During the panel some important points were raised – one of which is the fact that agile working doesn’t necessarily come down to men or women, but individual children and families and their routines. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to when new parents should leave the office every day or how many days a week they should work. Communication is key: regular appraisals allow concerns to be raised as well as for line managers to establish the best route forwards if there are any issues. While it will help to have a framework for line managers to refer back to when addressing these points this has to be equally flexible and evolve over time.
We have upgraded our maternity benefits and revised our flexible working practices to ensure that we retain as many women as possible at every stage of their careers. Today more than a third of CBRE’s UK professional ‘fee-earning’ staff are women, which is two-and-a-half times the property industry average. There have been great strides forward, but there is always more to be done when it comes to ensuring all employees – both men and women – are able to thrive at work regardless of changes in their personal lives.
Sue Clayton is executive director and chair of the UK Women’s Network at commercial property services provider CBRE