Maximising Talent – Getting Mums Back to Work


By Elynn Liew, Founder of Careermums

Kailee is a young mother who has successfully transitioned back to the workforce on a part-time basis after being a stay-at-home mum for several years. With a tertiary education and having clocked a few years as a professional in the marketplace prior to starting her family, her return to the marketplace seems inevitable.

However, she appears to be in the minority of back-to-work mothers here who find a suitable job with flexi-work options after taking an extended career break.

MOM’s Labour Force Survey released in 2012 hints at this trend; of an estimated 418,000 economically inactive residents aged 25 to 64, an overwhelming majority were women, and only a small proportion intended to find work in the next two years.

Many reports have also pointed out that the labour participation of Singaporean women tends to fall much earlier in the course of their lifespan, when compared to their counterparts in other developed countries.

This trend of women getting out of the workforce prematurely has grave socio-economic implications; the issue needs to be explored fully and transformative strategies put in place to encourage and facilitate their return to work.

Staying out of the workforce

Commonly cited reasons by mothers who stay out of the workforce include a lack of adequate childcare and family support. Often, affordable childcare centres are oversubscribed and may have a waiting time of up to one year. The lack of family support is another crucial yet ‘hidden’ issue that needs to be addressed.

Many working mothers remain the primary caregivers at home despite holding down full-time jobs. The government has recognised this and has stepped up its measures to create a more conducive environment for mums to return to work. There are plans to raise the quality of childcare options as well as get fathers more involved on the home front with paternity leave and other education and incentive measures.

For many stay-at-home mothers, there are psychological barriers that hinder their return to work. Personal apprehensions about not being able to catch up with current technology and work pace, workplace culture, meeting the expectations of the employer and colleagues are very real concerns for this group. This is particularly so when the individual has stayed out of the workforce for a significant period of time.

Easing back into the workforce

There are expected challenges when back-to-work mums decide to come back to the workforce. Here are practical steps for them to take as well as for employers:

* Technology 

Mothers who are planning their return to work should proactively upgrade themselves by going for classes to educate themselves on the current software and IT instruments used by companies. Employers should also provide sufficient time for these employees to orientate themselves with the tech devices and programmes in the office.

* Office environment

Often, the cultural assimilation into the company can be overwhelming, especially for full-time employees who need to manage work deadlines, meetings and peak periods. Employers can ease this transition by assigning a colleague as an informal ‘buddy’ to help the new staff adapt better.

* Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs)

Many mothers who return to work are still directly involved in child-raising. Employers need to be mindful of this, and offer FWAs that will allow these individuals to contribute meaningfully to the organisation, while they meet their personal responsibilities on the homefront. These schemes may include staggered hours, start and end time, telecommuting or flexi-hours.

Employers should consider taking the extra step to formalise FWAs in the existing HR policies. This can be a business strategic move to create a Work-Life friendly company culture that attract this pool of talent even in this tight labour market.

New Way of Maximising Talent

More employers are realising that facilitating integrated lives for their staff may soon become one of the most important aspect in retaining and attracting talent.

With strong support and the initiatives by the government, more companies and agencies are implementing flexi-work and reaping the benefits such as ease of hiring, better employee engagement and lower attrition rates.

Interestingly, at least half of Careermums’ database is made up of full-time working mothers looking for non-full-time positions. This suggests that providing FWAs may not just attract stay-at-home mothers to apply, but full-time working mothers as well, effectively increasing the pool of available talent for employers to pick from.

Employers can maximise talent through a new work model with flexibility as an inherent value.

* This article was first published in Employer Alliance UPBEAT newsletter.

2013-08-14-11.57.302

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