By Danielle Asano, managing director, Cherry Professional,

The news that it now costs more to send your kids to nursery or after-school care than it does to pay your mortgage each month is staggering.

Having a family doesn’t come cheap. Parents with two children now have to pay an average of £7,549 a year to use some childcare for the younger child while sending the elder child to an after-school club, the Childcare Costs Report estimates.

That compares with an average UK mortgage cost of £7,207. These are staggering figures, and throw up some serious questions for employers.
Cherry Professional was keen to understand more about how local employers are supporting mothers returning to work and how they genuinely feel about the legislation surrounding this. We carried out a survey of 60 East Midlands businesses. The results were revealing:

80% of managers said that they do have a return to work policy
12% of managers said that they don’t have a return to work policy
8% of managers didn’t know whether they had a policy or not

64% of managers had a positive viewpoint
20% of managers didn’t have an opinion on this matter
16% of managers had a negative viewpoint

Some of the comments we received were interesting. On the whole, employers are fairly positive about the fact that they need to support their staff when returning to work from maternity leave.

However, there remain some genuine concerns. One employer told us they felt they had no choice and that the power was all in the employees’ hands, saying they felt “over a barrel”.

At the other end of the scale, one of the businesses we spoke to had a concern about how the flexibility affected the other members of the team who don’t have families and are expected to work full time hours.

Not surprisingly, the business owners and managers who themselves had taken a career break to start a family were very positive and pro-flexibility. Based on their own experiences, they felt that the more a business gives and supports, the more commitment and reliability they get from these employees.

Of course, there are some women who return to work and really struggle with the transition. Perhaps employers could be offering support in the shape of a maternity coach to help them deal with the emotional aspects returning to work?

Of course there is always a small minority who will create a negative perception. Some won’t adopt the positive attitude and hard working ethic of their peers, some will refuse the help of specialists like maternity coaches and others will keep their concerns to themselves and become disengaged as a result. In these cases, businesses need to have the ability to deal with this commercially so as to protect their other employees. The problem is that there’s so much red tape that employers are often worried about the consequences of such a situation and this can cause a negative feeling around working mothers in general.

We also have to take in to consideration that it’s not only mothers who may require flexible working. It’s all too easy to assume that the woman will stay at home with the children whilst the father goes to work, but fathers are increasingly becoming an integral part of their children’s’ upbringing and as a result, the demand for flexible working is increasing in the male population as well.

I have dedicated a lot of time to placing working parents into part time positions during my career, as well as offering flexible working patterns here at Cherry Professional. This is often harder than filling full time positions because employers aren’t always able to facilitate the shorter hours - and if they are, their requirements often don’t match availability schedules. But, as we’ve found with our own staff here at Cherry Professional, for those who need it, flexible working is a valuable recruitment tool and any employer who can offer it has the potential to attract fantastic people – as well easing the financial burden on an employee, which will often lead to increased loyalty. It’s a win/win situation.