How flexible working for dads can level the playing field and boost productivity

Offering flexible working to fathers can not only help improve equality in workplaces but also lead to a happier workforce, according to an entrepreneur who decided to become a stay-at-home dad four years ago.

“It’s probably the best thing I have ever done when I look back on it now," says the founder of The Northern Affinity.

Michael Edwards quit his job in corporate finance in 2017 so that he could look after his then 18-month-old son. Mr Edwards set up his own firm The Northern Affinity, a business community, a couple of years later.

The pandemic has shown that a lot of people can work flexibly and put more focus on spending time with family.

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“What we have all experienced in the last 12 months is that we know a lot of people can work from home or work at different times,” Mr Edwards said. “A lot of jobs involve basically a laptop and a phone.”

“I was in a job where I was leaving as my little boy was waking and I was getting home as he was getting to bed so I was barely seeing him," says Michael Edwards.

Mr Edwards believes that granting fathers flexible working can also benefit mothers enabling them to return to work much sooner after maternity leave.

It also means that they are not forced to choose a career which fits in with things such as the school run. Mr Edwards said: “My wife took a year of maternity leave and a six-month career break straight after that to look after our little boy.

“I was in a job where I was leaving as my little boy was waking and I was getting home as he was getting to bed so I was barely seeing him. It gave me that push. I’d always wanted to do my own thing and set my own business up.

“My wife was going to go back into her corporate job and we had an 18-month-old boy so the idea was I’d stay at home with him and look after him.”

The founder of The Northern Affinity says businesses that do offer flexible working to parents will ultimately benefit from increased productivity and loyalty.

Mr Edwards said: “Giving them that flexibility gives you a better workforce because they are happier and therefore they are likely to be more productive and stay longer in the job. The benefits are there for everyone.

“As a business owner I know it’s challenging because you have to manage the business priorities with individuals but it can be done. It doesn’t happen overnight but it can be done.”

The coronavirus outbreak is likely to have accelerated the trend of fathers interacting more with their children, says Mr Edwards.

He added: “I’m sure there are a lot of dads that have spent more time with their children than they have ever done before in the last year or so.

“While they probably do want to get out of the house generally speaking they’ll also have enjoyed it.”

His advice to any fathers in a position to take on a more hands-on role with their child’s upbringing is to “do it”.

Mr Edwards added: “You don’t get that time back. My boy is about to turn six so he’s still very young but they grow up so quickly and they change so quickly. I feel very fortunate that I have had the opportunity to see that probably more than most dads will.

“It’s probably the best thing I have ever done when I look back on it now. I think of how much fun I’ve had as well. Probably one of the big lessons we’ve all been taught over the last year is enjoy yourself while you can. Do it. You will have a lot of fun.”

When he made the decision to quit his job and spend more time with his child, many around him were surprised.

There was no “direct negativity” about his decision but many people thought he would end up looking to return to work not long after quitting.

That was not the case and Mr Edwards hopes that the decision will lead to a stronger relationship between him and his son.

Building a business community

The Northern Affinity was established by Michael Edwards in March 2019.

“It’s a business community for small business owners mainly to come together and support each other,” Mr Edwards says. “You only have so much knowledge, experience and skills. It’s about having people around you that you can lean on when you need that support. What we’re trying to do is build that community of people.”

The Northern Affinity, which is based near Pudsey recently hired two people through the Government Kickstarter scheme and plans on making an additional hire in the coming weeks.

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James Mitchinson