Flexible working? It’s far from ‘Ab Fab’ when you’re forced to leave the perfect job – Oliver Black, Founder of My Family Care

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Oliver Black is one of the UK’s better known childcare entrepreneurs – the founder of My Family Care and a non-executive director at Tinies and Conviviality. My Family Care was founded in 2006 with support from IBM’s work / life balance fund and has established itself as the leading provider of work and family solutions for many of the UK’s best-known employers including IBM, Pfizer, Shell, P&G, Freshfields, UBS, Barclays, Baker & McKenzie, Bank of America, McKinsey, Deloitte, Citi, KPMG, Rolls-Royce and Santander. In his spare time Oliver is a proud father of three young children, which some describe as “living the brand” and is a fan of endurance races and sport.

Oliver Black
Oliver Black

“…There is an army of talented, mature, capable, bright, loyal women out there, desperate to work who will deliver results far beyond your expectations. They just need a little flexibility to make it all hang together. Try it and you’ll see…”

This is probably a bit close to home for a normal blog, but last week my wife resigned from her job.

She is smart, intelligent, and she knows what hard work is. She worked for many years as a publisher at one of the top magazine houses. She stopped working there because the only option was full time, and we’d had three children in 17 months (twins, for those wondering!) and the two things weren’t really conducive to a manageable lifestyle. I could rant on about this, but perhaps more later…

Hopeful for a new, flexible beginning

After a small career break and a few maternity cover positions, she decided to get back into a permanent role. In theory the new job was ideal: 3 days per week in a sector she knew well, a limited commute, and a job that could – and should – be done flexibly. I mean, PR is all about coverage and happy clients; nothing that can’t be achieved without a mobile phone and a big load of tenacity.

Flexible working: Output and results over presenteeism, right? Wrong.

The theory surrounding flexible working is easy enough to get your head around. Business is about results and output. Technology means you can work just about anywhere. Therefore, if you have the right culture, giving people (especially parents) some degree of flexibility so that they can combine work and family should mean that everyone wins.

Parents get to make the school run, a play, bath time, bedtime, but in exchange they will be hugely engaged, will work through lunch breaks and work in the evening so that they still deliver those results. If you allow parents – or given the new legislation, anyone – a degree of flexibility, have the right culture around output and results, then you get employees that are hugely engaged, massively productive and very loyal. Simple.

Retaining talent is tough

So my wife is resigning, mainly because her current boss doesn’t see things that way. Her employer is very much of the ‘old school’ mindset that the hours of 9-6pm, mean 9-6pm at your desk. I do understand that for someone running a business, presenteesim can equal control; if you can see people at their desks, you can ensure productivity and have control, meaning less stress. But with this mentality comes problems.

It’s very difficult to attract (and keep!) talent who have commitments and dependents that are equally important to them outside of work (think families). It’s a business set up for young graduates who don’t necessarily yet have other commitments that they want to combine with work. Expect relatively high turnover and little loyalty.

It all comes down to TRUST

When we first started our business, I can recognise a number of the above traits in what we were doing, but as we grew I realised several things: you need to trust your employees – give them the tools, a boat load of responsibility, measures and support, and they will deliver in spades. And treat people like adults – if you treat them like children, they’ll behave in the same way.

So what next for my wife? She’ll find a role at a company that values her talent and experience, and understands the importance of flexibility enough to offer it to her.

There is an army of talented, mature, capable, bright, loyal women out there, desperate to work who will deliver results far beyond your expectations. They just need a little flexibility to make it all hang together. Try it and you’ll see.




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