September 17, 2009 / 1:50 PM / 10 years ago

Flexible work tops agenda for crunch mums

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Flexible working hours, homeworking opportunities and cover for emergencies or school holidays are the top concerns for working mothers, according to a British survey on Thursday.

The reflection of a family walking inside a shopping mall is seen on a clear day at Hong Kong's business Central district, July 15, 2009. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

The survey of 1,677 people by specialist employment advice website showed that despite a tougher jobs climate, in which redundancies had risen dramatically during the recession, mothers clamored for a more malleable schedule.

Flexible hours for full-time jobs came top of the list for 85 percent of respondents who were asked what they thought made for a family-friendly employer. That came just ahead of homeworking opportunities.

“Flexibility is really key and being able to achieve an element of work/life balance,” founder Gillian Nissim told Reuters.

She said the recession had not reduced the urgency of this issue for working mums and that employers who want to be prepared for the eventual upturn would do well to listen to them rather than risk losing them to more forward-thinking rivals.

Many women said they had considered setting up their own business as a way around the flexibility problem and nearly half (45 percent) of respondents said they had looked into it.

Nissim said the database alone showed that on average working mums have more than 15 years of work experience and a range of valuable skills picked up in the workplace and from their parenting experiences.

“So the benefits to employers of being able to accommodate a degree of flexibility is significant,” she said.

Part-time work, flexibility around emergency cover or school holidays were the next highest concerns with extended maternity pay a fair distance down the list of concerns.

More than half (54 percent) of respondents said they would accept a less well-paid job in return for flexibility, with 40 percent prepared to consider this option.

Workingmums said the survey appeared to show that women were also reluctant to discuss flexible working arrangements before they went on maternity leave with nearly half (48 percent) saying they hadn’t had a conversation with their employer about returning to work flexibly prior to taking maternity leave.

“What’s really important as well is that for both parties to understand ... that flexible working needs to be a two-way street,” Nissim said.

“Conversation and dialogue is so important.”

Editing by Steve Addison

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