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Adrian Wakeling: Scratching backs or tugging forelocks?

Tuesday 26 July 2016

Adrian Wakeling, Senior Policy Analyst at Acas, discusses career breaks.

Adrian Wakeling Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser windowAdrian Wakeling

Adrian is a Senior Policy Analyst at Acas and is part of a team responsible for informing the future strategic direction of Acas and influencing the wider debate on the value of employment relations.


In March 2012, the CIPD published a report entitled 'where has all the trust gone'? The narrative it set out is now quite familiar: due to the financial crash and various public scandals, the public no longer trusted big institutions or leaders. The old deference, once thought of as automatically given, was a thing of the past. Could it be won back?

As well as the need to identify and re-cultivate the qualities that go to make 'trustworthy leaders' - such as ability, benevolence, integrity and predictability - there was, and continues to be, an increasing emphasis on what makes good 'followers' (the ability to identify but question trustworthy leaders).

Let me speak from personal experience. When I took a career break from Acas, I left them. Not a divorce. Just an amicable 'time out'. I needed to relocate my family from the city to the country, to finally get down to do some things I had put off for ages, and to balance childcare arrangements. The career break enabled me to build a bridge between what was in the past and what we wanted for the future.

I realise that putting a halo around your own work-life experiences isn't the usual done thing in a personal blog post but Acas has always been flexible - don't take my word, just look at the report we commissioned the LSE to do on our own home working practices 'pdf icon Home is where the work is: A new study of homeworking in Acas – and beyond [1Mb]'.

Anyone who has been on extended periods of absence from work - on maternity leave or long-term sick perhaps - will know that coming back is often harder than leaving.

I was lucky in that I kept in touch with colleagues. And, I am glad to say, they kept an eye on me. So when an opportunity arose and they needed help, I was on hand. I started back a couple of days a week and then over the months this built up. It suited me and it suited them.

I wrote good practice guidance for Acas for ten years and almost everything I wrote says somewhere 'have a policy'. I don't know much about best practice for career breaks but I do know this: if the days of unquestioned deference ('tugging the forelock') are over, then thank goodness.

These days working life should be based upon shared interest and give and take - I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine.

This is not always the case in many workplaces: but my colleagues and I here at Acas are doing are best to make sure that it is.

Find out more about Taking a career break from work.

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