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How to promote and support parental leave.



Shared Parental Leave (SPL) allows for a maximum of up to 50 weeks’ leave to be shared between parents and was designed to provide increased flexibility. Giving parents a choice about how they decide to be off work was meant to offer more gender equality and meet the rising desires for both parents to participate in the early stages of parenthood. One would assume that this was great news to new and soon to be parents, especially when you consider that in a recent Deloitte survey of 1,000 white-collar workers, 94% of respondents said they would benefit from one thing: workplace flexibility. However, take-up has been incredibly slow. Research by commercial law firm EMW showed that in 2019 only 2% of eligible couples made use of shared parental leave.

With new research from Aon claiming that 9 per cent of employers believe their employees’ expectations of work experience are changing, and a Microsoft report claims one-fifth of UK workers feel that their company does not care about their work-life balance, SPL would seem to be an excellent opportunity for organisations to address an articulated desire. To do this, businesses need to do more to promote awareness and support uptake of parental leave.

Unfortunately, workplace cultures are still playing catch up. Too many soon to be parents are still unaware of SPL, and those who do, often find themselves faced with old attitudes. According to CIPD: 56% of men currently on extended paternity leave said they felt anxious about returning to the workplace. Only 35% of dad returners felt confident they would get the same level of support from their employer as a female employee returning from maternity leave. Many don’t provide the same help and support to adopting parents or same-sex marriages. Businesses need to normalise taking time off no matter who you are or your situation and manage parental leave and the support they give both and all types of parents equally upon return.

Forward-thinking organisations focus on building an open culture that supports working parents making SPL the norm. Creating this starts with including education on SPL and any additional benefits from the moment someone is onboarded. Or, if this is a new addition to policies and procedures, make sure that everyone knows how they can take advantage of this opportunity to enhance their work-life balance during this exciting time. Beyond just awareness, organisations also need to support managers and team leaders to manage SPL takers appropriately within their teams. 

Putting in plans and structures for parents to make the most of SPL will also help teams manage and support everyone’s participation and return:

  • Using short term blocks or phased returns split between parents allows the parent who has been away longer to boost their confidence and take smaller steps into the new work and home balance. And for those new to taking time off, this balance feels less jarring. The same CPID report found that nearly three-quarters of men (73 per cent) felt a stigma attached to them taking extended paternity leave. Where cultures are slower to change, these smaller sprints might also be beneficial in helping everyone feel successful. 
  • Coaching plays a huge part in helping the process be much more successful. Very few, if anyone, is prepared for the impact a new child or children has on their current life and need help transitioning into new patterns and managing expectations. Offering both parents the chance to create a back-to-work plan and provide a safe place to address self-esteem will boost resilience and support the life/work balance that has been thrown into the air helps staff return with confidence. 
  • Outside of coaching, providing structure for managers and their team members participating in SPL to conduct regular review and objective setting meetings will also help with career plans enabling both sides to understand what is best and what is needed. The more open, the less risk and surprises for everyone.
  • And finally, creating networking or support groups that provide the space and time for people to talk about the challenges they are facing and how they feel about the process without judgement. If people are worried about feeling judged or seen as weak by their colleagues who are not in the same process, it can be unsettling. Having a safe space to talk with those going through or who have gone through the process with advice and a friendly understanding ear can be game changing for those feeling isolated or alone.

Despite the potential benefits that extended paternity leave could provide to fathers, children and businesses, including improvements to employee engagement, retention and productivity, SPL has had limited adoption. As our needs for flexibility have, in many cases, forever changed post-pandemic, it’s time for organisations to revisit this as an opportunity to provide flexibility and support for all parents.

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Over one in four men (27%) think flirting at work is appropriate: 93% of women disagree



44% of women take the phrase “bless your heart” to mean “you’re dumb”, compared to 77% of men who would think they were being told “you’re sweet”, a new study has found. The survey, by telecommunications provider, asked 1,000 American workers about communications at work, to identify differences in gender. 

The survey revealed the differences between men and women when it comes to communication and what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace. The majority of women (93%) said flirting at work is always inappropriate, compared to well over one in four (27%) men who think flirting in the workplace is acceptable. Similarly, one in five (20%) men see no issues with discussing sex in a professional workplace – something most women (94%) disagree with.  

The study also found that women are more likely than men to perceive casual communication in the workplace as negative, with over half of women (51%) taking “with all due respect” as a negative communication, compared to only 32% of men. Further still, one in four (26%) men said they took the phrase “with all due respect” as a ‘very positive’ communication at work – that’s double the number of women (13%) who said the same.  

However, women may also be missing subtle hints when it comes to their work quality. Almost half of men (44%) would mean “this is awful and needs redoing” when they say they have a “few amends”. Only one in four women (26%) agreed with this meaning, with most perceiving this communication as “there are just a couple of typos”. 

Shouting, too, was an area in which the genders disagreed. Men are four times as likely to shout in a professional workplace, with one in five men (19%) saying they find shouting at work acceptable compared to only 5% of women who said the same. 

Clinical psychologist, Robin Rosenberg, spoke of the results, explaining why women may be more cautious with actions such as flirting and shouting at work, as well as why they may tend towards negative perceptions in communication: 

“Historically and currently, women have been the recipients of bias and discrimination in the workplace. One possible explanation for this gender difference is that women are more likely than men to be on the “alert” for possible negative actions toward them. Being more likely to see a negative subtext (an “obstacle”) may help women better navigate around such obstacles. To use a different metaphor, it’s important to know where the landmines are so that you can step around or over them, but not on them.” 

Jason O’Brien, COO of said of the findings:  

“With this study, we set out to find out if there are any clear differences in how we communicate between genders. It’s obvious there are differences between men and women with how we communicate at work and how we perceive communications, with men more likely to engage in behaviours such as flirting, shouting and discussing sex, women more likely to see negative subtext in casual statements, and men more likely to miss subtle insults. 

“It is important in any workplace to be able to communicate effectively with a variety of different people. This study just highlights the importance of clear, professional communication at work, so that what we say is taken the way in which it is intended.”  

You can find more data from’s research on their blog.  

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Preparing for Freedom Day and managing a hybrid workforce



As the UK counts down to the delayed ‘Freedom Day’ on 19th July 2021 many employers are concerned about what the workplace will look like after Covid-19 restrictions lift, with many anticipating hybrid working will become the new norm says Adrian Lewis, Commercial Director at Activ Absence.

A recent report from Envoy revealed that 70% of UK workers believe a hybrid model—involving the flexibility to choose when and where to work—would result in personal benefits, with 34% saying it would improve their mental health, and 41% stating it would benefit their work-life balance.

Other research from Instant Offices[i] found that nearly two-thirds (59%) of respondents wanted flexible hours to cope with the mental health impact of working remotely, and nearly half (45%) wanted a four-day week.

Firms such as Nationwide[ii] have said they will allow 13,000 office staff to choose where they work under a new flexibility scheme, whereas Goldman Sachs told its bankers to be ready to return to the office in June, when the government was meant to lift legal limits on social contact in England[iii].

Adrian says, “There is a lot of uncertainty about what the workplace will look like once restrictions have ended and employees in theory could all return to the office. Hybrid working seems to be getting a lot of attention, especially since many employees recognise the benefits it can have.

“But some firms are also considering a four-day week, flexible working and even working from home permanently. With the Government also proposing legal changes preventing employers forcing staff back to the office unless they can prove it is essential – there are likely to be challenges ahead for employers.

“Employers need manage people’s different needs and expectations – some will be anxious about returning to the office, whereas others can’t wait, and ensure it’s business as usual no matter where an employee is working, with no dip in productivity.

“Keeping on top of where staff are working, monitoring who is in the office and who is at home and getting teams working effectively together will be more challenging than if everyone was in the office.  It will also potentially add a whole layer of administration to the daily lives of HR as it may fall to them to monitor this.

“Culturally there are major risks too. There is a danger that a company will become split between those in the office and those at home and if it isn’t managed carefully, resentments between colleagues could creep in.

“Companies will have to rethink how they communicate and bring teams together and how to maintain a sense of camaraderie, as well as other issues such as looking after employee health and wellbeing. Mental health is also a concern, with the pandemic exacerbating many issues such as stress, anxiety and depression.”

In June, there were calls on the UK government to give employees a legally binding ‘right to disconnect’, with some employees and trade union, Prospect calling for a ban on out-of-hours emails as the Covid-19 pandemic has already made work more stressful[iv].

Adrian adds, “Technology such as absence management technology gives employers a simple way to overcome many of these challenges. It gives complete visibility over the workforce, so managers know if employees are working at home, off sick or on holiday.

“It can also support mental health – enabling managers to spot patterns in sickness behaviour and ensure back to work interviews are done, which offer a confidential and safe place for people to discuss any issues. The software records annual leave too so if workers fail to take their allocated holidays they can be encouraged to do so, which helps their wellbeing.

“The software is cloud based so easily accessible and it can help employers facilitate hybrid or flexible working, a four-day week or even working at home permanently. As Freedom Day approaches, investing in this technology can ensure employers are prepared for what the new normal way of working may be post pandemic.”

For more information on absence management software visit





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Closing offices could cost some employees up to £300 a month



Research shows major businesses closing offices in the UK could cost some staff up to £300 per month as they seek out hiring their own desk spaces post-pandemic.

With the UK edging out of lockdown and firms like British Airways and Capita announcing a permanent shift to home-based working for most employees, new data shows employees could be forking out up to £3600 a year to hire their own desk working space and escape their home working setup.

The analysis of search data, from employment lawyers at Richard Nelson LLP, found the top cities where employees can expect to pay the most for their own coworking space, with workers in Northampton and Peterborough paying above the average for their desks.

The data, taken from coworker, showed how much employees will be spending on hiring desk spaces per month/year if their employer decides to close its doors to staff and doesn’t offer paid flexible workspaces in place of this.

City Price per month of hiring a desk Price per year of hiring a desk
Northampton £300 £3,600
Peterborough £300 £3,600
London £252 £3,024
Southampton £246 £2,952
Wolverhampton £240 £2,880
Nottingham £219 £2,628
Manchester £184 £2,208
Bangor £175 £2,100
Blackpool £175 £2,100
Reading £172 £2,064
Bristol £166 £1,992
Leicester £159 £1,908
Plymouth £155 £1,860
Edinburgh £149 £1,788
Preston £145 £1,740
Swansea £133 £1,596
Birmingham £129 £1,548
Portsmouth £129 £1,548
Glasgow £123 £1,476
Sheffield £123 £1,476
Liverpool £122 £1,464
Cardiff £119 £1,428
Newcastle £111 £1,332
Birkenhead £109 £1,308
Belfast £102 £1,224
Leeds £102 £1,224
Norwich £100 £1,200
Coventry £87 £1,044
Bradford £86 £1,032
Stoke-on-Trent £18 £216

Commenting on the research, Jayne Harrison, Head of Employment Law at Richard Nelson LLP said:

“As workers start to trickle back into the office, many are happy to be back behind their desk as a year of working from home has taken a toll on their mental health. Working remotely can be lonely for employees, with many feeling isolated from their colleagues and family if they live alone.”

While some predict working life may return to normal once offices reopen, many businesses are now opting to close their offices to save costs and shift towards a new, more local hybrid way of working.

“With some companies closing their headquarters, we are predicting an increase in employees hiring their own coworking space to ensure they can still get a feel for an office environment. As the data shows, this can end up being a significant cost to employees, with prices upwards of £2000 a year for a large number of cities in the UK.”

Employees in Stoke-on-Trent, Bradford, and Coventry benefit from the cheapest costs per year, with the price of hiring a desk for a year amounting to just £216 for workers in Stoke-on-Trent. In Northampton and Peterborough, employees are paying more than this amount per month, as the price of hiring a desk reaches an average of £300 each month.

Julie Lock, Commercial Director at workforce management firm Mitrefinch added:

“We have seen an evolution in the industry as office employees were forced to work from home during the pandemic. Now, many employees are keen to remain working from home three or four days a week as they have adjusted to a hybrid way of working which eliminates the need for commuting and early morning starts. For a lot of employees, remote working has meant a better work-life balance.

“With a large number of corporations announcing the closure of their offices, employers will be looking to facilitate their employees’ needs with the necessary tools and processes for a more flexible working environment. For employees, they may be seeking support in securing a remote working space and in setting up their equipment for a longer-term and more practical way of working. ”

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1 in 4 UK businesses considering adopting ‘right to disconnect’ policies



Research carried out by Owl Labs in their annual State of Hybrid Work study which polled 500 business leaders* based in the UK suggests that the majority (84%) of UK businesses plan on having a hybrid, flexible or remote workforce post-pandemic. What’s more, only 16% of companies expect employees to return to the office full-time. Nearly two-thirds (59%) of business leaders believe that hybrid working makes companies more profitable with 73% of enterprise businesses (1000 plus employees) stating that hybrid working positively impacts company profits. As a result, a staggering 88% of UK business leaders are keen to explore progressive policies aimed at the future of work post-pandemic such as working from anywhere, unlimited holidays and four-day working weeks. 

As the UK continues to open up, business leaders expect a partial return to the office as only 9% of business leaders plan on getting rid of their office space permanently. Nearly one-third (32%) plan to keep their footprint the same but with lower capacity and desk space due to social distancing measures, whilst a further 18% are keeping their footprint the same due to the provision of increased collaborative spaces rather than individual desk space. UK business leaders are cautiously optimistic with just 16% believing that the pandemic will disrupt business activity for another year. To support the return to the office, over one-third (35%) of business leaders are considering providing onsite COVID-19 testing facilities to encourage employees to return to work. Surprisingly, close to a quarter (23%) of UK organisations are planning to enforce ‘vaccine passports’ and only allow those who have been vaccinated into the office. Compared with Germany, France and the Nordics, the UK was the second most likely to consider enforcing ‘vaccine passports’. 

A more permanent shift to hybrid working comes as close to half (41%) of business leaders believe that remote and hybrid working has impacted their business positively. The three business areas that were impacted most positively include: employee wellbeing (46%), overall employee morale (46%), and business costs (49%). As a result, over one-third (34%) of business leaders are planning on hiring employees who can work remotely, based on their skill, rather than their proximity to the office. What’s more, the majority (73%) of business leaders believe hybrid work improves overall profitability with 55% citing that it led them to hiring better talent and increased productivity due to wider talent pools, while 47% stated that it boosts employee retention (with employee turnover being costly), and 30% stated that it reduced employee illness and absenteeism. 

Following the success of business policies adopted during the pandemic, a staggering 88% of UK business leaders are keen to explore progressive policies aimed at the future of work post-pandemic, including introducing a WFA (work from anywhere) policy (37%), a 4-day working week (42%), core hours (43%) and unlimited holiday policy (18%). Consequently, just under one -hird (32%) of UK organisations are developing new HR policies that will aim to keep all employees engaged and treated fairly for all in-office, hybrid and remote workers. There’s also a significant appetite among business leaders to introduce the ‘right to disconnect’ with 27% considering policies that would aim to ensure home life and work life doesn’t bleed into each other for remote employees. 

A robust tech stack will continue to help companies successfully fuel a hybrid working model post-pandemic. As office spaces change so will the tech we use to power them. Consequently, nearly all (94%) of UK organisations are putting policies in place to prepare for a post-pandemic workplace, with the UK leading the way in tech investment with nearly half (46%) of business leaders investing in new tech and solutions to support a hybrid workforce. More specifically, 43% of organisations plan to adopt communications tools (such as Slack, Zoom, and Meeting Owl conference cameras) compared to just 28% in the Nordics, 36% in France and 38% in Germany. Over one-third (37%) are providing at-home and in-office equipment for employees so they can easily work from both locations (37%). 

Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs says, “It’s encouraging to see the majority of UK business leaders embrace hybrid work post-pandemic and start adopting more progressive policies such as working from anywhere. As organisations have adapted to working remotely, they’ve seen how profitability and productivity remain positive. The UK is leading the way in investing in new technology which will continue to play a key role in supporting this permanent shift to hybrid work. Businesses that successfully make the long term transition to hybrid working will be the ones who adopt the infrastructure and workplace policies that enable their employees to maintain high levels of creativity and collaboration, wherever they dial-in from.”    

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