Corkwoman is helping people to find flexibility in the workplace

This week Employmum is set to re-brand and expand, writes COLETTE SHERIDAN
Corkwoman is helping people to find flexibility in the workplace
Karen O'Reilly of Employmum and Employflex

“FLEXIBLE work should be a policy, not a favour.”

The words of one of the respondents to a survey on flexible working conditions, which was carried out by Clonakilty-based Karen O’Reilly, who set up Employmum four years.

Now Karen is rebranding and expanding her company with Employflex. It will be launched by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, at the Republic of Work on the South Mall this Friday.

While Employmum will continue, Employflex is a better name for what is a recruitment agency that offers jobs with flexible working hours.

Karen, a mother-of-two, lived abroad for 20 years, in Australia and France. She and her husband and kids moved back to Ireland as they wanted Alannah and Dylan to be educated here.

“Employmum was born four years ago,” says Karen.

“My husband (Brian Harrington) works in the oil and gas industry. He was working away for eight months of the year. We had just moved back from France and the kids had started in a new school. I wanted to be there for them after school and I wanted a flexible job.”

A qualified accountant with 20 years experience as well as having run her own business in France selling property, Karen was free to work from 9am-4pm during the working week.

“But there was nothing out there that would work for me. That’s where I got the idea for Employmum. I realised there was no-one helping people like me who really want to work but on a flexible basis.

“Fundamentally, we’re a recruitment agency specialising in flexible work. It could be a job that starts at 9.30am after the school drop off. Even a small gesture like that can help stressed-out parents to get kids out the door.

“It could be part-time work, a job share, remote work or full-time work with flexibility.”

There are four people working in the company, paid by a percentage of the salary that the client is offering to the employee who has been put forward by Karen.

“While we started off as a recruitment agency, we realised there was a demand for other services. For example, I spent a lot of my time in the first year on the phone counselling and coaching people. People were ringing me up, some of them women, lacking in confidence, lonely, upset, feeling rejected and feeling they had lost their mojo. But I’m not a coach so I needed to take on a panel of coaches to help me.

“The panel is scattered throughout Ireland. We can refer people to coaches on the panel.”

The company has more than 4,000 candidates registered with it. The four staff members all work remotely from Clonakilty, Limerick, East Cork and Cork.

“The last person we took on had had a baby. She has 18 years in recruitment, which she loves. But her employer wouldn’t give her flexibility, so she came to us looking for a job. We asked her if she’d like to work for us. She is Anne O’Gorman and she is outstanding and has brought so much to the table.”

To become a candidate, you register with the website (

“If we have a job that matches your skill set, we’ll be in touch. Last year, 30% of our placements were with men.

“We have had phone calls from people saying ‘I’m a woman but I’m not a mum. Can I apply for this job?’ We assure them they can. We’re open to everyone.

“Our original name gives out the wrong message. We’re showing that we’re open to males, to non-parents — everyone who wants to work flexibly. There’s a demand for it in the workplace. It’s not just coming from parents. It’s also people who have hobbies, who want to go surfing on a Friday afternoon. It works for people with disabilities, mental and physical, who might not be able to physically get to a job. They might want to work remotely. There are so many different situations which is why we’re rebranding.”

In a survey carried out by Employmum recently, one of the questions asked was whether a person would move to another job, all things being equal, but with the opportunity to work flexibly.

“Some 94% of respondents said ‘yes’. Employers need to wake up to the fact that if you’re an employer and don’t offer flexibility, employees will go to a job that does offer it.”

Karen’s company also offers a flexible work audit.

“We look at what a company is doing at the moment and we have a flexible work tool kit that can be used by companies to implement the work strategy.”

A lot of work can be measured by results as opposed to time spent sitting at a desk.

“I think we are all going to start working smarter,” says Karen.

“When they hear about flexible work, a lot of Irish companies think it’s all remote work and they don’t want anything to do with it because it’s going to be hard to manage.”

But presenteeism isn’t necessarily an indicator of productivity. In any case, Karen says that some employees like to come into the office, to be part of a team and be sociable.

A recent Network Ireland survey asked professional women in Ireland about work — the most important thing for women considering a new job is by far flexible working hours, followed by an increase in pay.

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