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what was learned at our flexible working roundtable?

What more can employers do to help parents balance work and family life?

Businesses are only as good as their people and there is an ongoing debate about whether employers are doing enough to make best use of available talent. Particularly when it comes to working parents.

The CBI has long been active in this area, from helping to shape the right to request flexible working, to backing shared parental leave. The recent CBI report, A better off Britain continued this trend, with key recommendations around making childcare more affordable and cutting employee National Insurance.

So working with Mumsnet, we used The Great Business Debate to bring together parents, business leaders and family organisations to debate flexible working and family friendly business on 26 November 2014.

“A third of people are reticent to ask for flexible working”

Recruitment was a key theme from the discussion. A third of people are reticent to ask for flexible working and to challenge that, more firms need to presume in favour of flexibility from job advert onwards.

Flexibility can be a recruitment advantage for firms – family friendly policies are high on many people’s agendas and good policies can help firms edge out the competition and hire the best talent.

Participants were clear that flexible working is not just about mums. Those around the table – including dads themselves – suggested that too many men are reluctant and less likely to ask for flexible working. And as a result, young fathers were often the most unhappy with their work life balance.

“Bigger firms have a responsibility to lead by example, share best practice and even lend support to smaller firms in supply chains.”

Some felt that the term flexible working itself was conjured up ideas of young mums working part time – and there’s still much to do to challenge those outdated assumptions. Managers need to make sure they are having open, honest and individual conversations with their employees.

In fact, it’s not even just about parents. Members of Generation Y don’t want to work in the same way as the baby boomers did. And many employees now have caring responsibilities, for example towards elderly or disabled relatives. Flexible working is the future of work for everyone.

Participants were keen to highlight the importance of leadership in bringing about change. In one sense – this is senior business leaders, who have to take a lead and set the tone in their organisations. The progress that the 30% Club has made around women on boards was given as an example of what senior business leaders can achieve when they set their minds to it.

In another sense, leadership was also put forward as one way that big firms could help smaller ones, who may feel less able to implement family friendly policies. Bigger firms have a responsibility to lead by example, share best practice and even lend support to smaller firms in supply chains.

Check out how the roundtable unfolded on social media here and join the conversation @bizdebate #flexibleworking

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