Returning to work for someone who has been out of their role for a significant duration is undeniably a daunting prospect. In particular, the need for returning mothers to negotiate a working contract that fits around their family life has, in the past, been a difficult subject for returners to broach. And, looking at past data reported by mothers returning to work in particular, it’s no wonder: historically, as many as ‘77% of mums say they have had a negative or discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave, and/or on return from maternity leave’, while ‘54,000 feel that they have to leave their jobs’, and ‘1 in 5 mums said that they experienced negative comments or harassment in relation to flexible working or pregnancy,’ according to data gathered by the Quality and Human Rights Commission study into ‘Pregnancy and Maternity-Related Discrimination and Disadvantage’ back in 2016.
Now, in a post-pandemic world, we have proved that working from home is possible, and so this is a discussion that, instead of being an intimidating and unusual request to make, has now become the norm. The impact of this on those who have caregiving responsibilities, and particularly on working mothers, cannot be understated.
To get further insight into returning to the workplace, the shift to hybrid working, and the subsequent challenges this can present in the HR sector in particular, we spoke to HR Recruitment Consultant Kate Grant for her perspectives.
How have the past few years post-covid and changes to working practices changed people returning to the workplace?
It’s undoubtedly a totally different working world now. I can’t believe the number of people across all sectors- mums particularly- I have encountered who are now doing their job from home. Working from home is seen as common practice these days, and generally speaking, it seems much easier to get flexibility with working patterns too. Essentially, you can get 2 hours of your day back that you would have spent commuting, which is totally invaluable and actually a game-changer for a lot of people who have been considering a return to work. In fact, today was actually my first day working and conducting interviews from home myself. It’s been amazing to see how much has been able to change.
What were your priorities returning to work?
I think a lot of my concerns around returning to work stemmed from ‘mum guilt’. Simple things like not being able to drop them off or pick them up from school and just generally be around for them made me feel like I wouldn’t have a significant enough presence in their lives. I knew that in order to be able to return to work, flexibility and having the option to work part-time would be essential. Naturally, there is always an element of compromise; for me, this means that my kids do go to an after-school club, but I’m able to take them to school in the mornings. But now, I am in a position where I have the flexibility to be a mum and also have a career. Having a job where you’re never able to actually see your children is neither feasible nor desirable; it’s all about balance.
From the perspective of HR managers recruiting into teams, are employers on board with the new remote approach?
Definitely- in my experience, most of them are working from home as well within the HR sector. In some industries, of course, this isn’t possible. But for HR, the hiring managers who are recruiting into teams are also working from home, so it’s natural that they will be happy to recruit for remote roles as well. It’s also become fairly standard, in instances where hiring managers aren’t working from home themselves, for candidates to be requesting this.
Are there any particular challenges to hiring in the HR sector currently that are worth keeping in mind?
The climate at the moment is, generally speaking, pretty unstable. From my conversations with candidates in the HR sector, I know that a lot of people seem to be unhappy in their roles at the moment. There are a number of reasons for this, but a lack of flexibility for working patterns is certainly high on that list: employers who are refusing to accommodate flexible or part-time working requests and are remaining rigid in their need for candidates to come into the office (whether that be full or part-time), are losing their existing employees and equally struggling to recruit.
Another prevalent issue within the HR sector in particular is that, for many HR professionals working within the industry currently, the main focus of the role seems to have shifted to recruitment as a result of the high levels of turnover. We have talked a lot recently about the ‘great resignation’ period, and often these conversations seem to consider this period as already concluded. But, in reality, a lot of people are still job-hopping and unsettled in their roles, and this means that a lot of people working in HR seem to have fully recruitment-based jobs. The knock-on effect is that they wind up having to go to the office more for interviews, as well as absence management due to sickness, which is arguably a consequence of people being unhappy in their roles in and of themselves.
What do you think needs to happen to solve these problems?
It’s a very difficult question to answer with any certainty, as it’s hard to know what the future will hold. With regards to the shifting role of HR, lots of candidates I have been speaking with are saying that they are getting bogged down because they are actually working two separate roles: HR and Talent Acquisition. They’re finding that all they’re actually doing is advertising roles and sourcing, and then someone else winds up leaving, and the cycle continues. But this isn’t really the primary function that HR serves, and it’s not generally what those who are qualified in HR actually want to be doing.
You could argue that a solution would be to hire someone to take on the role of Talent Acquisition, but this brings about its own dilemmas. Do you take someone on temporarily, in the hope that the current situation will level out soon? Businesses generally do not want to commit to hiring someone permanently because it is unclear how long this trend of resignations will continue but shunting this responsibility to HR causes them to feel overworked and become dissatisfied. If they then leave, this causes more uncertainty and instability, so it’s a bit of a vicious cycle. Another solution is to outsource the recruitment process for new candidates with an external agency in order to ease the pressure on existing staff and increase retention.
Equally, it is essential that companies are moving with the times and are continuing to offer flexibility and remote/hybrid options for the roles they are recruiting for, as well as for their existing staff. Times have changed, and it’s unrealistic now to expect workers to compromise on their need for flexibility, particularly when they have caregiving responsibilities outside of work. Regardless of the reasons for needing flexibility, this has become a non-negotiable for many, myself included: if Heat hadn’t been able to offer me the flexibility and options for remote and hybrid working, it wouldn’t have been feasible for me to return to work myself.
For anyone who is considering a return to work after a significant break, my advice would be to ensure you are negotiating a contract of work that works for you. In this day and age, you no longer need to choose between a family and a career: we are in a candidate short market, and it is clear that advances in technology have made it possible to work remotely. There’s no reason you can’t have both anymore!
If you would like to discuss returning to work in more detail, you can reach out to Kate here.
HR Recruitment Consultant