The IOD’s February newsletter reacted negatively to Nick Clegg’s policy on giving more paternity leave to workers over a prolonged period of time. To paraphrase Miles Templeman, the IOD’s Director General, paternity leave was acceptable only if there was no impact on costs, shareholder dividends and it didn’t add extra administrative activity to the HR function. With these constraints my sense is that the IOD are saying ‘no’ to the policy without coming out directly, although the article was strongly worded enough.
My sense was that Mr Templeman is coming at the issue from an ideologically free market stance without accounting for the paradoxical nature in the IOD’s own policymaking. For example, there is a later article in the same newsletter bemoaning the difficulty of getting high calibre women into boardroom positions. The paradox here is that apart for gender inequality in the boardroom, there is often a forced choice between having a family or a career due the inflexibility of our current working practices. Our nations current ways of working hark back to the industrial revolution rather than an age of technological achievement and flexibility. Surely, if couples can choose which parent goes back to work and which takes leave there is an opportunity for women, who have there eye on high office, to continue their climb?
I’m unsure as to whether the IOD spends a great deal of time looking for best practice, but if the argument against paternity leave is around reduced shareholder dividends, company profits and thus productivity, Mr Templeman should look to the most productive countries for a model. Alas, for the IOD’s capitalist credentials those countries with the highest levels of social welfare and shortest working hours have the most productive workers. France and Switzerland are two European examples of highly productive workers enjoying the fruits of their labour by spending time with family. The USA (8th) and Great Britain (10th +) lag far behind the productivity ratings both of which follow a similar free market doctrine with long working hours and in the case of America limited social welfare support.
The reason behind such strong productivity ratings in countries such as France I can only reflect on. As a Dad myself, I took time to understand the dynamics of becoming a parent and working in the UK.
Firstly, post birth support for new mothers is very patchy. This is partly due to the dispersed nature of modern families. Grandparents now do not necessarily live in the same city or even region, so ‘popping next door’ in an emergency to get help is not an option. There are support groups such as the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and various local authorities groups who attempt to fill the void left by absent families. These support networks are all aimed primarily at first time parents. Much less is available if it is your second child. The other options for support are employing a nanny or a childminder, unfortunately, this has an impact on the family both personally and financially.
We joined the NCT for our first child and noticed the Dads went back to work almost immediately. Bonding between baby and Father was quite difficult as most of the ‘breadwinner’ roles demanded long hours, especially in the South East where a long commute adds 2 hours plus onto a working day. Stress levels for both parents were high as sharing the childcare role was difficult when the child is more attached to one parent than the other.
We chose a different route. I took 6 weeks off work and have been working flexibly to balance my work with our childcare needs ever since. Whilst this arrangement obviously has financial implications, the rewards outweigh the financial sacrifice. We share the childcare equally, an activity that has brought unplanned rewards. Our son is happy, content and secure to be without his mother for a week at a time whilst she updates her skills and I work from home.
Modernising our current governmental policy around the relationship between work and families may well have the kind of beneficial effects that I have experienced. The short-term benefits have certainly not been financial, as I have paid for my own leave directly. The medium term will be different, as both of us will continue our businesses. For our children, (the next is due in 6 weeks) they will benefit from a happy and secure home environment.
My own view is that such a newsletter article worded in such a way has unpleasant overtones. I was left feeling that the way the senior managerial strata, represented by the IOD, think about their own position and the position of those they manage has not changed over the last 100 years. Would it not be deeply disappointing if all of the co-created change energy expelled over the last 20 + years was wasted, because senior management were just playing lip service to it?
Therefore, as a member of the IOD myself, I am in favour of Nick Clegg’s plans to make paternity leave available to all families. I would like to suggest that because of the benefits in the long term to our commercial productivity and thus prosperity, that the IOD should take the lead by commissioning research and developing best practice around how flexible leave for families can work for commercial business.
Andrew Woodward – Executive Director at Faculty Partnership CIC Ltd