If the response to our item on asset manager Baillie Gifford’s new parental leave policy is any sort of guide, it looks employers are keen to raise the stakes in recruiting and retaining talented staff.
The company’s decision to offer 52-weeks of leave for all new parents has been among the top reads on the Daily Business website for the past two days and follows interest generated when drinks firm Diageo introduced a similar policy earlier this month.
Employee benefits, along with labour availability are hot topics, thrown into sharp focus by the Brexit debate, and the evidence suggests an unsatisfied demand for greater maternity and paternity leave. It can only be a matter of time before other firms turn this trickle into a flood and extended time off becomes the norm.
There are, of course, two sides to such a shift. For recruiters, especially those in the young executive search business, it means the issue has to be considered a rising priority as candidates increasingly factor childcare into their career plans.
For employers in the SME market it might ring a few alarm bells. Surveys regularly indicate that young people would prefer to join a small firm over a large one, attracted by the opportunity to stand-out, experience a wider range of tasks and take early responsibility.
But this can also mean working longer hours, often for no extra pay and in many cases without the security provided by a bigger firm which can afford to ‘carry’ staff during downturns. Small firms depend on their staff being on the job and more junior employees tend to be more vital to the smooth running of the business. They would struggle, therefore, to match a bigger firm’s offer to allow their employees to take a lengthy leave of absence.
Large employers clearly see such benefits as a way of countering the attractions attached to working for small firms which already face a challenge in matching the remuneration packages that larger firms can offer.
In a week of entrepreneurial activity in Scotland it is a little disappointing that practical advice around basic issues such as recruitment and benefits are given less attention than pitching for funds or pursuing grand and somewhat fanciful ideas about becoming a global business.
We will hear a lot this week at events such as EIE, Impact Summit, and the Entrepreneurial Scotland conference, from entrepreneurs who have made their millions (usually by selling their business) and they’ll be encouraging others to follow the government-backed ‘can do’ initiative. Ana Stewart, who sold her company for £8.5m, told the Investing Women conference in Edinburgh that many of us ‘can’, but too few ‘do’. Without elaborating too much she may have been hinting at the obstacles that lie in wait for those wanting to start a business. Children, perhaps?
As the only media representative at the EIE conference I managed to catch some important talks on team and confidence building but the parent issue wasn’t raised during any of the sessions I attended. Apologies if it came up during my absence, but it strikes me that how to look after the kids while you’re trying to launch or sustain a small business is a pretty big deal. Without wishing to fall for stereotyping, this has always been a particularly important issue for women.
Baillie Gifford and Diageo have acknowledged that both sexes require more family time. It is an issue that must surely become a greater feature of the ‘can do’ agenda.
Government support for working parents is patchy. Tony Blair famously made pledges that were never kept. Young parents in particular face enormous challenges juggling children with a salaried job, let alone running their own business. Maybe it is something Scotland’s self-supporting ‘eco-system’ can begin to address.