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New series of expert essays focusses on policy proposals to improve the world of work and ring fenced ‘use it or lose it’ paternity leave features high up the list
Increased paternity leave, better line managers and a right to disconnect are among the policy proposals in a new series of expert essays on work after Covid.
A number of academics and leaders in the field contributed to the collection looking at how to build back better.
The latest Essays on Equality collection is published by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership. Better paternity leave and giving men a right to disconnect were cited as potential drivers of equality.
Manuela Tomei of the International Labour Organisation called for changes in parental leave in her essay. Particularly she suggested men ought to get ‘use it or lose it’ leave. “Maternity, paternity and parental leave need to be designed in ways that challenge the view that looking after the house and family is a ‘woman’s job’. At present, in most countries, it is mainly women who take up such leave. The right incentives need to be built into these laws, such as making parental leave non-transferable, to increase men’s uptake.”
In the UK the TUC recently called for a ‘right to disconnect’ for workers. That would set out clear hours when employees cannot be contacted by their work. Manuela Tomei has backed those calls. She reckons doing so would allow men to commit more time to their family. “The right of employees to disconnect from their work and to not answer emails outside of normal working hours (or to at least not be rewarded for doing so), needs to be recognised. This is another important means to prevent anxiety and burnout, allow for work-life balance and encourage family co-responsibility.”
Zoe Young, a researcher on the Economic and Social Research Council’s Work after Lockdown project, raised mental health concerns in her essay. She said that parents felt the squeeze on their time and focus most acutely. She wrote, “We found that not only were parents and carers less likely to work from home under conditions conducive to high productivity, they were also more vulnerable to anxiety, stress and burnout.”
This matters because where a workforce, likely to include many parents, is struggling mentally it’ll impact company performance. “Poor workforce health and wellbeing threatens business continuity. Wellbeing – physical, mental and emotional health – should be prioritised for organisational stability and performance. Continued reliance on individuals “coping” is not a sustainable strategy to maintain and improve productivity. Instead, employers must focus on interventions and practical adjustments to workloads and working practices that remove burdens and ease intensity.”
Young pointed to the role of line managers going forward. Her research found many line managers going above and beyond to check in with their teams and make them feel included. However, she found the opposite experience too. Some line managers were exposed by their lack of empathy or interpersonal skills or insight into the needs of a diverse workforce.
But overall Young is upbeat. She says that fundamentally working from home works. Though the conditions have to be right. But where it is managed well most employees said their productivity held up through the pandemic. And she urged managers and employers to consider flexible working more widely going forward. For example time and timing of work is just as important as where people work.