Rewarding Futures

Staying energised through blurred lines

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"Workplace policies have not kept up with the social changes in people's everyday lives…"

This is just one conclusion from a recent House of Commons Report on working fathers, and the extent to which people have taken up the government initiative of shared parental leave. It’s indicative of changing times – and how the world of work is struggling to keep up.

For our latest blog we’ll assess the current pressures on working families, explore flexible working as one solution, and ways to physically and mentally cope with modern working life.    

In January, Personnel Today reported on the findings of the Modern Families Index 2018. The index, co-produced by work-life balance charity Working Families and Bright Horizons Family Solutions, used survey data from almost 3000 working parents and carers, two thirds of whom class themselves as ‘couple households’ with over 70% of those having both parents working full time.

The index reveals two interesting issues in particular;

  • Firstly, parents are working well in excess of their contracted hours;
    • 40% of those parents already working full-time are putting in extra hours, up to the equivalent of one working day per week in some cases.
    • These additional hours are being attributed to both workload and organisational culture.
    • A third of parents said ‘they felt burnt out all or most of the time’, over half of whom see work as the main cause.
  • Secondly, parents are consequently having to make a trade-off (the ‘parenthood penalty’ as it’s described). This plays out as follows;
    • One in five parents have stalled their career,
    • 1 in 10 have refused a new job or career progression because of the potential impact on work-life balance.

These findings led to a call for “human-sized jobs” from Sarah Jackson, CEO of Working Families. “Parents are responding to the pressures on them by deliberately stalling and downshifting their careers. Our findings should be a wake-up call.

Only this last week, the BBC reported that working fathers are ‘losing out’, fearing they’ll jeopardise careers by taking advantage of shared parental leave rights introduced in 2015. It’s not just employers being asked to take note. In their ‘Fathers & the Workplace’ Report (the basis for the BBC online article), the House of Commons Women & Equalities Committee conclude that the government still has some distance to go to convert good intentions into workplace reality;

‘The right to request flexible working has not created the necessary cultural change in the workplace and the Government itself told us that its shared parental leave policy… will not meet its objective for most fathers.’

Flexible working is one way to balance work and home pressures. But, as Vana Resourcing noted in their Half Year assessment, there is a trend of tension between flexible working and physical presence – particularly where senior hires are being asked to immerse themselves in organisations and spend time with executive level managers and teams across multi-site operations.

So, from their work with candidates, is Vana seeing evidence of the ‘parenthood penalty’? Quite possibly according to Vana Resourcing Co-Director, Jo White. “Achieving a form of work life balance can be something of a ‘holy grail’ for many candidates we support - particularly parents who are returning to work following a career break or those juggling family commitments. I’d certainly concur with the statistic that 1 in 5 have stalled their careers to achieve this.

Therefore, when a candidate weighs up career aspirations, the motivation to change employer and the rewards on offer, the ability to work flexibly/remotely is seen as a huge benefit - and any employer that makes this intrinsic to their culture leads the way. A recent HSBC report on flexible working and remote working practices shows that 89% claim remote working as their number one incentive to boost productivity. In this case ‘flexible working practices’ doesn’t actually mean ‘less working’ but instead a better engaged, more productive workforce.”

For all its benefits though, the irony of flexible working as a means to tackle the work-life tightrope walk has been to blur the lines that define when we’re in or out of ‘the office’. How then to adapt to working life in an age where communication technology has also made work – and the workplace – an amorphous concept?

For some it’s simply about staying energised.

Last November Forbes interviewed 12 women leaders on how they achieved levels of physical and mental energy to help them cope with the demands that their senior positions impose. From a dozen different takes on staying energised, three common factors emerged; exercise/physical activity, doing something that makes you happy and fulfilled and staying hydrated. It would be easy to dismiss this as relevant only to the stratosphere of corporate America. But, although everyone has routines personal to them and tailored to fit their circumstances, some of the advice offered still resonates. For example;

‘Don’t take yourself too seriously and always remember the “why” and the “who” for which you are working.’

‘Enjoy what you do! Feel excited about it. Surround yourself with other excited and interested people. And try not to waste energy dwelling over mistakes or being too self-critical.’


We concluded our most recent blog by talking about personal goals outside work for 2018. This was a reflection of how activities and interests are not just the things we love doing – but they also have the effect of counterbalancing the pressures of work and putting them into context.

Vana Resourcing co-director, Debbie Flowers, explains the scenario. “As business owners we know first-hand the blurring of home and work life. In our profession, we’re regularly talking to clients and candidates outside of core business hours.

We established Vana 14 years ago and created a truly flexible culture. This isn’t about working from home one day a week; it’s effectively managing our time across the week to fulfil business and family needs, live healthily and remain energised. Experience has taught us how to maintain a balance. It’s not perfect but then I’m not sure I’ve met anyone who has achieved that! Our work timetable can be intense but we’re adept at planning and delivery, and can remain agile to ensure we’re present for our little people at a variety of important events, and spin the household management in the background! 

I often read articles about working parents’ guilt over striving to try and strike the right balance. I think it’s important we demonstrate to our children a strong work ethic, and it’s part of who I am. My twins are now 11 and they’ve told me they’re proud of their Mum so it doesn’t get better than that.

I can also identify with those perspectives on staying energised. For me, regular yoga is incredibly important to help keep a sense of balance, I love getting down to the sea when I can, eat healthily and stay hydrated. Jo and I also laugh a lot. It’s a great way to keep sane and remind ourselves, when things can get a bit stressful, why we do what we do.”

In conclusion, social and structural change aided by the digital revolution has reshaped the workplace. This has presented opportunities – but also blurred the boundary between home and work, putting working parents under considerable pressure as they seek to do both justice. It’s clear from research that such pressures are taking their toll and forcing people to make radical choices about career progression.

Flexible work can act like a pressure valve for this situation. However, it seems that the promised land of a universal flexible working culture is some way off and for now employers and the talent they seek try to achieve a balancing act of being both flexible and present.  

Staying energised – and finding ways to counterbalance the demands of working life – is at least one way of taking steps to deal with the modern age. Even if we can’t take the pressure away, we can find and accentuate the positive as a means to take back some control of who we are.


(Image Credits: Swaraj Tiwari, Linda Xu)

I’ve worked with the team at Vana on many occasions over the years, engaging them to hire senior talent in a number of businesses. Both Debbie and Jo offer great insight and expertise, but above all they deliver results. I would happily recommend their services.

Scott Fishburn, HR Director, DFS

“Debbie and Jo are high-integrity recruiters who take time to understand organisational needs; commercial and cultural. VANA have worked in partnership with us a number of times, enabling us to secure some excellent senior HR hires.”

John Burgess, Head of Talent & Leadership Development, AXA Group

“I have worked with Debbie both as a candidate having introduced me to ING Direct and Invensys, and as a client supporting me with key hires in both organisations and more recently at DAS.  Both Debbie and Jo are exceptionally well networked, I trust their judgement completely and would highly recommend Vana.”

Kate Banks, ‎Group Director of HR & Legal Services at DAS UK Group

'Debbie and Jo are first class headhunters of HR talent. They take the time to fully understand the brief and culture of the organisation before suggesting any candidates for opportunities. Thank you Vana for sourcing quality hires for my team.'

Helen Norris, Head of HR - Nationwide Building Society

I have worked with Debbie both in the search for talent and also as a candidate, in both situations Debbie has been faultlessly professional. Debbie builds strong relationships exploring briefs to ensure she has a deep understanding of what the business and candidate need, allowing her to deliver a real match.

Ian Marchant, Retail HRD, Greene King plc

Candidate experience is really important to me in recruitment, because that is someone's first experience of an organisation - your organisation. As I see it, the recruiter is part of YOUR brand and their actions impact on YOUR reputation when they act for you. The candidate remembers the experience of applying for a job and not always the recruiter involved.

My experience as a candidate of Jo's was exceptional. Jo kept me informed at every stage, questions were anticipated and I always knew where the process was. Also, Jo was present as a person and not as a remote handler. This shows me that any candidate that Jo places would be treated in exactly the way I'd want them to be. I recommend her without hesitation.

Geraldine Buckland, Director of People, Bristol Water

Debbie and Jo are great recruiters of HR talent; they have successfully worked on a number of key senior hires for us both in the UK and internationally.

Jonathan Wright, Group HRD, Murphy Group

Debbie has recently supported me in securing my first HRD role. Her observations and feedback were very insightful and assisted me greatly in navigating the recruitment process and learning about the company and environment I'll be stepping into. Totally dependable, unbiased and a good judge of character, I would highly recommend her to act on your behalf with prospective employers. I haven't worked with Debbie yet as the employer but wouldn't hesitate to do this if the need arises.

Anita Calverley, HR Director, Yeo Valley Farms

The thing about Vana Resourcing is that Debbie and Jo actually care – about you as a person, your career and your business. Yes they deliver great candidates and opportunities but they make sure that the fit / opportunity is right, challenging both sides in a positive way when needed. They’ve supported my career for the last 10 years, including introducing me to my current HRD role, and I have no hesitation that they will be my first point of call for future candidates and opportunities.

Suzie Noble, Chief People Officer, Brightside

“I have worked with Debbie and Jo several times, they stand out from the crowd as a sourcer of talent and when managing you as a candidate, I simply haven't worked with anyone better. Commercial, thorough, expert and with a sense of integrity that means you are only ever recommended to organisations that suit you - and as a hirer you only get talent that works for your organisation. As a hiring organisation, working with a partner like Vana is simply irreplaceable.”

Head of OD, Vodafone

Debbie brings accurate and current insight on HR Talent. Her ability to recognise top people in their field and actively nurture relationships over a long period of time sets her apart from her peers. Debbie is refreshingly honest , she keeps confidences and is not afraid to challenge both candidates and hiring Executives to ensure the right outcome for all parties. I would have no hesitation in recommending Debbie or Vana Resourcing for a critical HR hire.

Barbara Duffy, International HR Director leading on Talent, L&D, Resourcing,OD

“Debbie introduced me to OVO Energy, and she not only found me the right role, but an organisation whose ethos matched my values.  I have since worked with Vana to recruit almost my entire senior HR team! From HRBP's to a Reward Lead and most recently a HR Director. Vana really understand the importance of culture fit."

Kim Atherton, Chief People Officer, OVO Energy

I have worked with Vana Resourcing for a number of years representing me in my own search and as a client. Debbie and Jo are professional and efficient but unusually for this sector, genuinely caring about both client and candidate experience in equal measure.

Jonathan Edge, HR Director UK & Ireland at Ideal Standard International BVBA

“Jo is highly professional, knowledgeable and proactive. It’s not often that a recruitment consultant really interviews you in the same way a prospective employer would.”

Simon Amesbury, SuperGroup plc

What a refreshing delight to work with a commercial partner who understood my business, had national and regional awareness, a handle on the market, an effortless connection with candidates and could tolerate my Everest-like expectations.

I will continue to work with Debbie and Jo again on my incessant drive to solve the talent conundrum of the coming years.

Keep up the great work, you are a credit to the industry.


Stephen Robson, HR Director, Global O&Supply Chain at Kingfisher plc

"The team and I have worked with Jo now on a number of occasions for various recruitment assignments. I have always found Jo to be consultative and considered in her approach but above all honest and straight forward! She has a great understanding of her market place and is always at the end of the line to offer insight and market knowledge. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Vana and look forward to our continued relationship."

Resourcing Partner, Nationwide Building Society, Resourcing Partner, Nationwide Building Society

I've known Jo for a number of years and worked with her as a client and candidate. What's great about working with Jo is that you're guaranteed an honest perspective and terrific insight to the market. She nurtures her relationships in a natural and engaging way: put simply - she knows her stuff!

Marie Aitken, Chief People Officer

I initially engaged Debbie to undertake a search for a Head of OD. She is consultative in style, and took time to gain a comprehensive insight into our organisational culture and HR journey, delivering an excellent shortlist of candidates and a super hire. The feedback from our candidates on their engagement with VANA has been equally positive. Jo and Debbie has since supported me with several other senior hires within the People organisation at RLG, and we enjoy an effective working partnership.

People & Corporate Affairs Director, Royal London Group

“I have worked with Debbie as both candidate and client. In both contexts I have found her to be super-efficient, thorough and a pleasure to do business with. She listens really well, responds quickly and is flexible to evolving demands. Debbie is up there in my top 3 recruiters.”

Sue Round, Head of Talent and Organisational Effectiveness, BP

I have worked with Debbie and Jo for many years as a candidate looking for opportunities and a manager looking for talent.  I have always been impressed by how Vana strive to ensure that there is the best fit in terms of candidate values and company culture.

Sarah King, Head of HR, Triodos Bank