Category Archives: 2 career families

When to ask for flexible working in the hiring process

There is much confusion about when to ask for flexible working in the hiring process. Karen Mattison MBE Joint CEO of Timewise writing about requests for flexible hours in the Guardian complains about the lack of transparency in recruitment processes and how asking for flex conditions as a candidate is “like playing poker.” She maintains that frequently the only jobs open for flexible or part-time working are more junior ones.

“Because there is a fundamental problem with how jobs are designed and how modern businesses recruit and retain talent. This growing mismatch between what candidates want and need and how businesses recruit is leaving skilled people trapped in roles they are overqualified for and navigating a jobs market where they don’t know the rules.”

She then goes on to say:

“Nine out of 10 managers say they would consider offering flexible working to hire the best person, yet none of them say that at the recruitment stage. Why?”

Can you afford not to?

Need vs want 

I am someone who genuinely believes that with today’s advanced  technology there is no reason why flexible conditions can’t be offered more widely.  Richard Branson tweeted:

“Give people the freedom of where to work & they will excel.”

Although flexible working conditions are on the increase, many companies don’t offer flexible conditions openly, but do give consideration to flex requests from successful candidates. This is challenging for the job seeker. When they are applying for a job they have to make a clear distinction between “needing” to ask for flexible working and “wanting” those conditions. Very often the way this works is a function of the individual, not the function of the role.

Flex business models

An increasing number of companies are shifting to different business models to accommodate the demands of a 21st century workforce. These companies will state clearly that flexible working, part-time working, and job sharing are possibilities and are part of their company culture. This could be in the ad itself or on the web site. Lists of such companies are being widely collated particularly in the press. There are also social proofing sites such as Glassdoor, Fairy Godboss and InherSight which give employee evaluations of working conditions, including flexible conditions.

So it makes sense if a job seeker “needs” flexible working, then they should target companies which meet that specific requirement. This has to be distinguished from candidates who “want” flexible working as a life style choice.

 

flexible working

Jobs are usually created to be full-time and if they are not, then they  will be clearly assigned a part-time status. They will often be stand alone or project type roles and rarely senior ones vital to the bottom line of any organisation.  Very often these are offered to freelancers which minimises the exposure for the employer. Long term part-time working at reduced rates can have a negative long-term financial impact on the worker. Women who make up the majority of this demographic are hardest hit. Many would advise women to negotiate flexible working before a part-time contract, me included.

Understanding how to process a request for flexible working, requires some insight into the system. It is very often more nuanced than it seems. Trying to shoe horn a full-time job into 80% time isn’t always feasible. If it was, it would be advertised as such and reduce the salary bill by 20%. Some organisations maybe willing for someone to work 4 x 10 hour days, but they may not always agree to that before the hiring process is completed.

Flexible working can depend on the individual not the role

# Flex and organisational structure

In the U.K. 73% of flexible working is by informal arrangement. In large organisations flexible conditions usually require a well oiled and functioning structure. This could involve remote server access, sophisticated IT systems and intranet, call forward systems, best practise guidelines, home office support, core hour commitments, hot desk facilities and so on. It is a  lot more than simply working with your lap top from home. If companies are well set up for flexible working, they will advertise that. It is a great benefit to attract top talent. I work for a number of companies with a presence culture, which is stated early in the hiring process to avoid wasting anyone’s time.  There is no doubt that this reduces the number of potential candidates, although so far is not at issue for my clients.

# The nature of the role

Some roles do not support part-time, reduced or flexible working on a wide scale. These are mainly operational roles (manufacturing, engineering come to mind) which involve a hands-on physical presence, perhaps involving leading teams. There could be elements of those jobs which are not directly involved in delivery (admin, report writing for example) and most organisations are flexible with people they know and trust. In customer facing roles, service could be impacted unless there is a sophisticated scheduling system.

# They don’t know you (yet)

Trust

Most companies set up an onboarding process during which the new hire is evaluated. For this to be effective the person usually has to experience a full role life-cycle.  During this time the new hire will be assessed, relationships will have developed and the level of discretionary effort observed. Flex requests are almost always granted to people who are valued and trusted. Much will depend on the skills they bring to the team and how that entity gels with the new hire. This takes time to evaluate.

# It depends on your value

If you have a specifically unique and valuable skill set, then employers will usually go to great lengths to attract and hire you. An extreme example is when Megyn Kelly left Fox News for NBC, they asked her what it would take to make her change. She wanted a day time show and a later start.  She got it. I have known companies accommodate all kinds of flexible working benefits for their top pick candidates. If they are not responsive to your flex request, then sadly it means they can find someone like you easily, elsewhere, who will fit into their system.

# Negative Impact on Communication

Scheduling meetings, and getting prompt answers to calls and emails can suffer when employees are on varying work hours. This can slow down the progress on important projects. It can also lengthen the communication and decision-making process of having to mail or call someone who could be on a different schedule.

# Damages Company Culture

Company culture can take a hit if leaders are perceived to be absent or unavailable.The problems is accentuated if the senior manager travels as part of the job. Face time with staff is reduced with the risk of missing collision points or moments of creativity, which can come from informal exchanges commonly found in any workplace.

mindfulness in recruitment

Morgan, a Strategy and Innovation Director at an international NGO said

“Our CEO works between 1000-1600 and two days a week from home. Combined with her travel and off-site commitments we struggled to see her. It makes life difficult and slows down the decision-making as she still wants to be consulted even though she isn’t widely available”

# System abuse

There are always bad apples in any barrel who game the system. They do so deliberately, or they get distracted and are not as productive.

# Poor time managers

Many employees are not great time managers and find that working outside a structured environment impacts their personal productivity.

# Increases isolation

In functions where team interaction is important having employees working remotely or on different schedule can increase a sense of isolation which impacts team motivation. Frequently employees prefer to be office based;

So when to pitch? 

For a job in an organisation which has no official flex policy, any job seekers who want flexible conditions would be best advised to make their flex requests after they have received the job offer. Then it can be part of  any negotiation process, although I have known companies withdraw offers from candidates who have asked for flex conditions at this point.  If it is turned down, depending if it is a deal breaker, try to get it incorporated after successfully onboarding when the company knows you and the value you can add. Stepping up with a well-thought out proposal within an organisation that trusts you, will carry more weight than a petulant candidate stating a requirement with no inside knowledge of the company, its structure or the people involved.

The alternatives are to become a freelance, self-employed contractor which is not without downsides. Or target companies with a published flex policy. When companies start missing out on the level talent they need, market-forces will kick in and they will be obliged to respond to flex requests more generously. That is already happening, but possibly not fast enough for some candidates.

If your organisation wants to attract and retain the right talent contact me now! 

 

Maternity leave – then what?

Maternity leave:  then what?
Maternity leave: then what?

Making decisions about going back to work after maternity leave is always challenging.  D-day looms large and is unavoidable. Decisions have to be made eventually. The period leading  up to the return to work can be one of great stress.

What goes on for the new mother?

  • Guilt and angst : this plays a massive and understandable role. The arrival is a bundle of joy who has become the centre of your new-found universe. You love being with your new-born and are fearful of missing major moments in your baby’s life. You worry about his/her well-being, developmental needs and even safety if you make other childcare arrangements. Only you can make that call. It might be helpful to put this phenomenon of a full-time stay at home Mum into historical perspective.

The notion of a stay at home mum whose sole activity was to focus on children and home is rooted  in the post World War II  demand to keep jobs open for soldiers returning from the war and a need to increase a decimated population. At the same time we saw a distinct separation of work and home and the development of a child centred culture.  However, throughout history children have been raised by many people other than their mothers,  or by their mothers who took on  economically related tasks. In lower income groups women always worked and the upper classes farmed their offspring out to wet nurses and nannies.

  • Too much work: it is a lot of work. There is no other way to say this. But with good organisational skills and outsourcing low value work then there are ways  to prioritise. Many couples now use workplace practises in their homes.
  • Cost of childcare: there is a real need to be strategic and think long-term. Childcare costs are indeed high and women should campaign for tax breaks to defray expenses. If governments are serious about encouraging women to return to the workplace, they will make sure that happens and also cap childcare costs. But the short-term burden of childcare expenses should be benchmarked against the longer term impact of lost salary, career gaps and reduced future pensionable earnings caused by opting to work at a lower level or part-time to accommodate childcare responsibilities.
  • Lack of support network: women express concern about managing the responsibilities of career and family. The workload does increase exponentially with children. But very often the toughest negotiations are needed within the woman’s own home and relationships. In most developed economies where women make up 50% of the work force and are the most qualified, they are still carrying out 80% of household chores. There is something wrong with that picture.
  • The partner will have an affair with the nanny:  Any number of high-profile husbands have had dalliances with their nannies: Ethan Hawke, Jude Law and Tiger Woods to name but three. But if the thought of finding the father of your baby in flagrante in the playroom is a real deterrent to returning to work, then that might suggest serious reflection is required.    Although it’s normal for any new Mum to feel a little insecure after giving birth, there are lots of hormones whizzing round.  Retaining your professional self  and financial independence is even more important long-term with divorce rate impacting as many as 50% of marriages.
  • Paternity leave: there is a growing movement to encourage men to take parenting leave to share the load.  In Sweden studies by the Institute of Labour Market Policy Evaluation suggests that higher levels of involvement by both men and women in childcare result in stronger earnings potential for women and a reduced divorce rate. What we are seeing is the pendulum swing and the emergence of the ” daddy factor” where men are acknowledged  for soft skills related to  parenting. Women of course are not generally afforded the same recognition.
  • Exploring new options: for many women, motherhood is a catalyst for other career transitions to find that elusive work life balance with as many as 33% leaving the corporate workforce never to return.

But after all the soul-searching,  the only people who can make those choices are the individual parents. For those that stay together they must also deal with the future consequences of those decisions. For those that don’t,  it is quite often the  single mother who faces those challenges alone.

Is couple’s career coaching the new way forward?

Family planningI recently had a call asking me if I did couples coaching and family planning.  I told the gentlemen he had the wrong number.  The phone rang again.  It was the same chap.  No he insisted. Are you the Dorothy Dalton who does career  transition coaching and wrote Children: A  Corporate inconvenience and The Great Divide: Planned Parenthood and Corporate Planning? 

Why ..? I asked somewhat cautiously.

“Because  I would like some professional input on how to create a strategy for my career, knowing that my partner and I intend to have children and want to be involved with our families, but we are both ambitious professionally.  Neither of us want the pressure of being the sole income earner. What advice would you give?  Is  it possible do you think to have a couple’s career strategy?”

This was actually a first for me!

Background

Nathan is just 30.  He has have been with his partner Holly (28),  for 8 years and they are intending to  marry in 2015. They both have successful early career track records in their chosen fields – Law and Consulting. Although neither consider themselves to be high-fliers,  both aim for senior management  positions by their early 40s. Holly stated early on that she is not a “bra burner”!  Both are well paid and it was clear that salary is important to them both, in terms of status and the opportunities a high dual income can offer.  They have a comfortable  life style but generally work 50+ hours per week. They are hoping to buy a flat in desirable post code in Central London, without parental help, Nathan was quick to point out.  Both would like private education for their kids and second home ownership, somewhere warm, is part of  a mid-term dream.  Neither want to be the sole main wage earners or child carer.  With the cost of raising a child to 18 rising almost annually, they anticipated they would need two healthy salaries throughout their working lives to meet their goals.

Here we have the archetypal  career couple challenge, but with a modern approach of joint forward planning,  rather than leaving anything to chance. Previous generations simply suggested that women strive “to have it all” and we know how well that worked don’t we?  Is this the  new way forward for today’s young couples?

I suggested they could factor in the following:

  • Ongoing strategy:   It’s impossible to start a joint career strategy in 2012 and just leave it to take care of itself. It has to be an ongoing part of their joint  long term goal setting process. Sheryl Sandberg said that choice of partner is one of the most significant decisions we make in a lifetime. Yet 50% of modern marriages end in divorce.  I suggested that Nathan and Holly make a conscious decision to invest and check regularly that they remain on the  same page and continue to share the same goals. There can be a tendency for all of us,  especially when busy or stressed to simply drift.
  • Audit of current companies. Can their existing organisations offer what they are looking for or should they move for optimal  longer term career progression in line with their goals? What are their parental leave policies for example? Holly’s manager had been told when she announced her pregnancy that having a baby was not one of her KPIs and was already starting to be side-lined.  Holly believed she would need to move sooner rather than later to build up her career and reputation in a new organisation.
  • Target  future companies. Look for organisations with strong and supportive parenting policies as well as an active commitment to  a balanced work/life culture, which both could optimise,  without being penalised.  This would be especially important to Nathan.  The reality is many companies discourage men from taking paternity leave in practise.  Networking in these organisations to establish if these policies are really implemented, rather than lip-service clauses in the company handbook, would be helpful.
  •  Senior women: Target companies with women already at  a senior level, who have a reputation for being supportive of junior women. Holly does not want to be a trail blazer.
  • Where to live: Is the proposed  property purchase a transition purchase or should they be looking at addresses near to preferred schools, with perhaps accommodation for a nanny and with easy access for family support?
  • Fertility back-up plan: I have known  many couples make a plan to start a family, but nature doesn’t always oblige.  Just because they intend to have their children when they are 36-42,  doesn’t mean to say it will happen. This age range is associated with reduced fertility. Oocyte cryopreservation (egg freezing) and elective sperm freezing would be worth researching.
  • Financial planning : Seek professional financial advice early on. Create financial reserves.
  • Plan for the unexpected. Although it’s great to have a joint life and career strategy, all laid out and agreed  and I do think this type of consultation will become increasingly common, sometimes s?*t  just happens. It’s not on the plan and we can’t do anything about it. People get sick, accidents happen and the unexpected hits us sideways.  The skills to cope  with these off-plan challenges will be paramount and not using them could mean that they become like under utilized muscles, without exercise they are not effective when called on.
  • Drop the plan if it stops working. The plan is not the end in itself  and panic is not the best fall back position. Give advance permission to create contingency plans!

What advice would you give to couples to create a joint career strategy? Is this the new way forward for today’s young couples?

Children: A corporate inconvenience?

In a recent post I suggested that parenting and childcare  seems to have been relegated to the level of  ‘corporate inconvenience’  in many of our current business models, which elicited some comment.

Negative fallout is being reported for both men and women who take or wish to assume responsibility for parenting and childcare. My thoughts were further compounded after reading that women of child-bearing age are considered to be employment risks  and still further, a recent proposal to investigate the extension of the provision of childcare  services in UK schools, by lengthening the school day until 8.00pm

12 hour day care
Now, it could be that outsourcing child care for what could be 12 hours a day for many, is a viable, sustainable solution in societies and economies that have declining populations, aging work forces and skill shortages. I await the research with eager anticipation. But for the future of global economies, it does strike me, that governments and businesses need to examine possibilities to create effective workforces, while allowing children to be raised in healthy environments, physically and emotionally.

Historically, for self-evident, biological reasons, this has been a role assigned to women. As such a high percentage of educated and qualified personnel are now women, it seems crazy to sit back and allow their skills to be under utilised, when they leave the workforce or choose to work below their capabilities so that they can raise their families.

But today in changing times, what happens when men and women alike want (or need) both professional and child-care responsibilities?

In 1977 only 50% of married men were part of dual-career households, which has increased today to 75%.   To achieve work life balance/integration, whatever you want to call it, women in the 21st century are  being constantly urged to re-negotiate the responsibility for household tasks within their own relationships. This is a key benchmark in the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report and partly accounts for why France  for example despite its progressive employment conditions for women, comes in at the lowly position of 48. They are doing most of the work at home.

But for balance at home to become a reality, men have to then negotiate their own roles with their employers.  An increasing number of men are now citing work/life balance as a major factor in career choice, an element which is strongly endorsed by Gen Y starting out on their careers.

Fatherhood  has been perceived by potential employers as a guarantee of corporate drive and career commitment. On a longer term basis,  a wish for workplace flexibility for family reasons is considered to be  the “mummy track” to career suicide. Men are  frequently advised not to pursue those options, even becoming “supernumerary” following such requests. Single parent fathers with custody obligations and sole responsibility for their children at specific times, are also on the increase,  adding to the  numbers for whom flexibility is a need, not a desire.

Skewed odds
So the odds of men achieving  parity in both the home and the workplace are equally skewed. This not just a case of stereotypical macho slothfulness and a desire to watch the World Cup with a beer, or their partners being unwilling to relinquish domestic supremacy, although they can both play a part.

Sweden became the first country to replace maternity leave with parental leave. A study published by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation in March 2010 showed, , that a mother’s future earnings increases on average 7% for every month the father takes leave, with penalties and loss of benefits imposed for men who don’t take this leave. Parents may use their 390 days of paid leave however they want up to the child’s eighth birthday — monthly, weekly, daily and even hourly. There has apparently been a commensurate reduction in the divorce rate.

I can’t help but wonder if the very same “think tanks”, with their notable lack of women,  when yobs in hoodies go on the rampage and youth crime soars,  will be the very same ones wringing their hands in horror asking ” where are the parents?”

What do you think?

The phrase “having it all” rears its ugly head again

Having it all  – a blast from the past

The phrase ‘having it all’, the famous tagline coined by the original Superwoman Shirley Conran, has plagued us since 1975 which truthfully started all this nonsense. I had hoped it had disappeared for ever. It conned women into believing that we could ‘have it all’ when it actually means ‘doing  it all’ or ‘managing it all’. It has now reared its ugly head to probably do the same level of disservice to women everywhere, as it did first time round.

Another high-profile writer has  caused a storm. Anne-Marie Slaughter was the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department and in “a foreign-policy dream job that traces its origins back to George Kennan.” She has stepped down for family reasons which has precipitated a flow of unprecedented angst on behalf of ” women”.  In the Atlantic July/August “Women  still can’t have it all”   Ms Slaughter basically reiterates the many truisms that most talent management specialists, as well as both women and men everywhere, have been saying for years when dealing with the challenges of the 21st century workplace.

Important issues

There is no doubt that a highly visible woman publically targeting the key issues both men and women face in their careers today is beneficial. But sweeping, emotive, headline- grabbing generalisations from women of privilege, do other women everywhere a disservice, not just in the upper echelons of  U.S. government administration. This headline is being picked up and syndicated globally to become a stand- alone #trending news item. 

What is “having it all” anyway? Should Ms Slaughter’s headline become a defining slogan for all women? I don’t think so. But sadly, it probably will be applied to all women,  all over the world, just as Conran’s did before her.

Out dated business models

Corporate business models are currently generally based on two factors:  a fully functional  nuclear family which in many societies today, is significantly reduced. This brings a distinct divide between domestic (usually childcare) and revenue generating responsibilities, with one partner today tending to assume point roles on each side of that divide, women focusing on childcare and men on revenue generating. This model which exists to various degrees in different parts of the world, is outmoded and impacts both men and women equally:

  •  Global economies are dealing with skill set shortages, declining birth rates and aging populations. We have essentially created a cultural conundrum. Economically we need women to have children. We cannot support an aging population with an insufficient economically productive base. 60% of graduates are now female,  those skills are under utilised with developed economies filling key gaps with migrant men.
  • A presence  rather than result focused business culture in today’s hi-tech, super- communication age is also out dated.  Organisations can be effectively managed without all personnel being in the same place, 24/7/52
  • A macho work culture where “pulling all-nighters“, working 15 hour days and not taking time off at weekends and vacations is glorified and seen as a “badge of honour”,  rather than acknowledged as increasing the incidence of risk for error and being potentially damaging to both physical and mental health.
  • Men and women are both refusing to relocate for family reasons and have been for some time, as any search specialist will tell you: spousal professions, housing costs,  education, single parent status and child and elder care are the 5 reasons most often quoted to me.

Extreme commuting

The extreme weekly commute from Trenton to Washington Ms Slaughter was undertaking, seemed to be at the root of the issues and anxiety she was facing. She makes no mention of why her husband and family didn’t move with her.  Many families relocate with children aged 12 and 14.  I would imagine the job of her husband  Andrew Moravcsik,  who “supports ” her career as a Princeton Professor, was a criterion. Perhaps it wasn’t feasible that he move to Washington. Perhhaving it allaps he didn’t want to. But an increasing number of men are re-locating to support their wives career progression.

Nor do we know what emergencies caused her to rush home mid-week and why her husband was unable to handle them. As Conran famously quipped  “you don’t need  a pair of breasts to take a child to the dentist

Children –  a corporate inconvenience

Fathers in the workplace tend to be viewed more highly,  not just  above women, but also above men without children. So although we hear about the “Daddy Factor” where men are perceived positively for family involvement, most say that if this manifests itself in a substantial time commitment, then that perception would rapidly shift to become career suicide.  For our businesses to survive and to maximise the potential of both men and women in the work place, we cannot continue to relegate child care to the level of corporate inconvenience.

Any re-location specialist would have suggested that this arrangement whether for a man or woman, was potentially fraught with difficulties for all  involved, without significant workplace concessions.  Astonishingly, this seemed not to be part of any sign-on package. Although men who work away from their homes and families putting in punishing hours, might appear to do so more willingly, they are not unscathed. They report significant damage to their relationships and health and many are afterwards filled with regret.

Wanting too much

Ms Slaughter’s regular job is as University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University where she  says “I teach a full course load; write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book”

By most people’s standards male or female, she already had it all. The suggestion  that she didn’t, creates a benchmark for inadequacy.  Did she simply want too much and have unrealistic expectations?

But above all, letting the mantras and experience of  famous, well placed, individual women, whether Conran or Slaughter, become global catch phrases for all women is high risk.  This is damaging to the men and women who would, and do, make  entirely different choices. They will inevitably be tarred as flight risks by that same stereotyping brush when applying for senior positions.

What does ” having it all ”  mean for you?

Mad Men poll from the Economist : Women and MBAs

Mad Men meets Stepford Wives in outdated Economist poll

Named Editor of the Year in 2012, Mr John Micklethwait is Editor-in Chief of the Economist. Given his background, as a leading figure in global intellectual and business media, one would assume that he is a pretty smart and savvy gentleman.

The Economist is normally associated with balanced,  neutral, informative reporting on the issues of women in the workplace and business. I am a regular reader. So,  I was astonished  this weekend by a departure from their usual high level,  objective content,  into the tabloid style enforcement of gender stereotypes.

Loss of balance
Why on earth would his publication send out such a thoughtless, sexist poll asking if women with young children should consider waiting before starting an MBA?  Here is the text which reads like something from Mad Men meets The Stepford Wives:

Juggling the twin demands of an MBA programme and young children is bound to be tough. But it is not impossible. According to one student, interviewed here, it means devoting days to classes, afternoons to her daughters, and evenings and Sundays to school work. Still, multi-tasking can be a mistake. Children demand your full attention and trying to concentrate on it and your assignment at the same time inevitably means you do both poorly. One answer is to hire a babysitter. But this can be costly….”

Out of date
Notwithstanding it came out the morning after the major office party night of the year, and a few brain cells might have been lost. Perhaps  Mr. Micklethwait was having a day off. Or maybe the The Economist is short of  readers and needs something a little contentious. Perhaps the 21st century notion of dual career families has completely passed them by. The expectations of women, especially Gen Yers in the area of  the roles their partners play in household and childcare responsibilities, are very different from their mothers’  generations.  Not only that there are actually  significant numbers of  men who want to be actively involved in their children’s upbringing.  My own questions would be:

  • Why don’t they pose the same questions to men?
  • Where are the fathers in the childcare process? Why are they coming home when the children are asleep?

Only one-third of MBA students are women. Surely the poll  and business schools should be trying to establish  how to attract high calibre women without imposing the ” Mummy penalty”, rather than going into the family planning advisory business which serves to re-enforce out dated thinking. As one MBA candidate in a career workshop in Paris told me last week, as a married man with children  he felt he was perceived as offering employers stability, echoing Curt Rice’s fatherhood bonus theory.

This is perpetuating any number of outmoded stereotypes:

  • That childcare is the exclusive role and responsibility of the mother.
  • MBAs are for men
  • Women who are both mothers and professionals will “inevitably” do both roles poorly.
  • Women who focus on the achievement of their own goals will feel guilty.

Here is the story of one woman, Lynn Barbour  who broke the curve.  I suggest that J.L.H.D of The Economist, Atlanta  interview her as well,   to show how it can all be achieved successfully. Lynn says “While formal strategies of employers and business schools need to be strengthened to increase the percentage of women in MBAs, I believe most of the change required starts with individuals” There must be a multitude of other women who have done the same and would not be OK with their partner coming home when the kids are in bed!

There are many reasons why women don’t make it to the top,  but I suspect fitting in a nappy/diaper change around an MBA assignment will not be one of them. Gender stereotypes reenforced by an influential, global press publication are far more likely to strengthen any barriers, than make dents in them.

Perhaps what we need is a female editor for the Economist.

What do you think?

How divorce impacts executive search strategies

Does the traditional nuclear family facilitate our talent management strategies?

One of the areas that anyone involved in the hiring process is not allowed to explore is the marital /relationship status of  any potential candidates. I am completely supportive of this, but with the caveat that it is impossible to separate a significant part of someone’s life and assume it doesn’t exist. It does, and in most cases, any difficulties will usually surface somewhere in the career transition process. Life issues do eventually become workplace issues.

Rise in divorce rates
I have noticed recently how the rise in divorce rates is impacting executive search. Last week alone, a significant number of potential candidates expressly cited divorce as a reason for not engaging in the search process.

Life events
This information is based on candidates willingly and voluntarily sharing very private and sensitive information with a total stranger. There are possibly others who just have just cited location, travel requirements, timing and all the other reasons candidates give for not being interested in a position. I have no idea if they are the real reasons. Given that (depending on the stats you read) roughly 50% of marriages end in divorce,  it’s perhaps possible that divorce underlies many candidates reluctance to engage.

Changing jobs is also one of life’s major challenges, especially to a new company, in possibly a new location.  Having these two major life events occurring simultaneously is too much for many. Even if the opportunity is a perfect fit, they have to turn it down.

Psychological impact
As anyone who has been through the process will tell you, the effects of divorce can change virtually every aspect of a person’s life including where they live and with whom , their standard of living, their emotional well-being, their financial situation and liabilities and time spent with children. For many their social group will change and perhaps the needs of new partners and their children will also have to be factored in, as modern family life becomes ever more complex. Almost all would describe it as a challenging and stressful time.

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Time issues
The divorce process saps enormous amounts of both time and energy. It involves meetings with possibly lawyers, counsellors or therapists, real estate agents and financial advisors. Stress can lead to health issues requiring medical treatment. James, an ideal candidate for one particular search told me ” There is no way I could focus on changing jobs right now. I am struggling to keep all my balls in the air currently as it is. I have been depressed. Looking for somewhere new to live, dealing with lawyers and seeing my children at weekends, as well as my job, is all I can cope with at the moment. My manager is cutting me a lot of slack”

Childcare
For one or both parties it will mean moving house, itself a life challenge. Child care arrangements will need to be set up as more and more children (50%) split their time between two households. This places a greater reliance for any professional person on local support networks,  which might include grandparents, day care or help at home, if it can be afforded. Quite often the current employer has been sympathetic which fosters additional and strong employee loyalty. Sometimes those same flexible arrangements cannot be replicated with a new company, especially at the start of a new job.

Joint custody
I talked to Annick in France whose employer had agreed to her travelling only during the weeks her ex husband was responsible for the care of their two children. This time was fixed by the court and was not flexible. But additionally, professional input suggests that fixed routines for children under these circumstances are best for their well-being and have to be strictly observed. Annick felt that her hands were tied at least for the next 10 years, until the children (ages 6 and 8 ) became more independent. Her future career she believed  would now be limited to local opportunities with limited travel.

Remote working
Many potential candidates in these circumstances ask about remote working. Most companies are reluctant to afford that facility to new employees at the beginning of their careers with their organisation, except possibly those in the sales force. There will usually be a certain period of onboarding, where it’s important for the new employee to be physically located with the people he or she is working with or managing.

Re-locating
Relocating as part of a family unit has its own stresses (I’ve done it), but relocating as a single person, or even a single parent, is not straightforward. Pieter in Holland, in his early 50s with 2 adult children told me ” I’ve just gone through a divorce and chosen a house to be within easy distance of my kids. It has taken me time to rebuild my life and a social network. I just don’t want to start over in a new place. I am happy to travel so if the company would agree to some element of home office working – I could be open”

Travel
Saskia, is a senior executive I contacted for a position based outside her native country, with a reasonably high level of travel. With the ink barely dry on her divorce papers she felt that she may not even be allowed to take her children out of the country on a permanent basis by her ex husband or the courts. With the high level of travel, she would have to hire support to cover any extended absence in addition to daycare. She didn’t want to do that, not just for financial reasons, but she simply didn’t want to put her children in on what would be at times 24 hour care, in a foreign country. In her current job and location their grandparents stepped in to fill the gap.

Trend
This significant trend is already having an impact on workplace dynamics. In the talent management sector we have become reliant on the existence of the traditional nuclear family, as a way of facilitating the movement of talent and supporting career transition. But it seems that is changing, so we have to find ways to adjust our strategies to make sure we are not losing the best talent because of circumstances which now a high percentage of the population are experiencing .

So what do we need to do to adapt to those changes? Ideas anyone?