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what happened in our online mumsnet working life debates?

Earlier this month, over 300 members of the website Mumsnet took part in a Great Business Debate online discussion.

We asked the question “What more can employers do to make it easier for parents to balance work and family life?”.

The volume of responses was fantastic and the answers enlightening for businesses and the working life debate. The key messages and top comments taken from this are summarised here:


1. There’s a lot of good practice out there

Many participants shared positive experiences of employers taking flexible approaches to working hours, offering working from home, and cooperating to build an approach that works for both parties. After maternity, the transition back to work is key with many placing emphasis on the importance of a staged return and keeping in touch schemes. After returning to work, parents need to feel they can get on in work too. In addition. many reported that they were more productive and loyal towards their employers as a result of positive treatment.

  • My employer has been great at adopting flexible working across the entire department including equipping everyone for home working. This has made a massive difference to all parents, not just mothers.”
  • We all understand that employers have a company to run but if they are flexible the employee becomes more loyal and more inclined to be flexible back.”


2. Outdated assumptions must be tackled

Some participants shared experiences of outdated assumptions about working life – from perceived presenteeism cultures in some workplaces, to feeling judged by colleagues for working flexibly. Many feel there still needa to be more openness about welcoming flexible approaches. Respondents suggested more training for managers and role modelling behaviour from the top of companies to help spread good practice.

  • There is still too much of an office culture or view that if someone is working from home then they are not pulling their weight”


3. It shouldn’t be just about mums

The perception was clear that both parents have to juggle childcare responsibilities, but often felt that the expectation was unequally on mothers. Some shared their experiences of fathers feeling uncomfortable asking to change the way they worked in order to manage childcare responsibilities.

Many respondents agreed that flexible working is in the interests of the wider workforce. It was pointed out that an increasingly global business context, changes in technology and attitudes towards studying or caring responsibilities mean that not everyone wants or needs to work a traditional 9–5, but the perception is that attitudes won’t change until flexible working is seen as the norm for everyone.

  • Stop making everything a Mum issue”
  • This is not just about parents in the workplace, everyone needs a work-life balance”
  • There is still a culture where men feel they can’t ask”


4. The cost of childcare is prohibitive

The skyrocketing costs of childcare were highlighted — even with childcare vouchers some felt the cost was prohibitive to returning to work, and commenting that their talents and experience were going to waste. Where parents had childcare arrangements in place, many feel uncomfortable asking for last-minute flexibility when the unexpected occurred.

  • The most important thing is help with childcare costs”
  • There is a huge untapped skilled workforce of mothers, who are experienced, professional women unable to work”


At The Great Business Debate we will continue promoting discussion between organisations and individuals on this issue.

Let us know what you think by sharing your views with us on twitter @bizdebate and don’t miss out on regular updates straight to your inbox — sign up to receive our newsletter here.


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