How bosses can be family friendly

Written by: Adam Bernstein
Published on: 24 Oct 2023
Category:

Parent

Image © Vector Mine / Adobe Stock

If the COVID-19 pandemic led to one thing, it was accelerating the change in attitudes workers hold when it comes to their work-life balance.

With more people wishing to work from home where possible, and a cost of living crisis with child care proving to be almost too much for some, anything that an employer can do to assist will be welcomed.

Official data from the Office for National Statistics details that people do want to work. In its July 2022 report, “Families and the labour market, UK: 2021”, between April and June 2021, 75.5% of mothers with dependent children were in work – the highest level in the equivalent quarter across the past 20 years – and 92.1% of fathers with dependent children were employed, also.

When asked about any special working arrangements, such as flexible or term-time hours, 33.3% of mothers reported an agreed special working arrangement in their job, compared with just 23.6% of fathers.

Of course, being both a parent and an employee is not easy. From dealing with child care, schoolwork, caring for the extended family, and managing the household and its finances, little time is often left for parents to be perfectly selfish and have time (and money) for themselves.

Many employers already provide a package of benefits that go beyond cash – especially with the ongoing recruitment crisis. For those wanting to learn more about the why and wherefore of providing employee benefits, a useful page can be found on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) website – tinyurl.com/9zf8cby7

An April 2022 survey from the CIPD, its 18th reward management survey, shed more light on the subject. It found that of 2,500 employees surveyed, many were in financial trouble and needed help because their work was not a reliable route out of poverty.

In particular, 12% said their pay was not enough to support an acceptable standard of living and that one in four said that money worries impacted their work.

To be fair, the chancellor, during his 2023 spring budget, did promise child care reforms that would “increase the availability of child care, reduce costs and increase the number of parents able to use it”. In essence, he announced 30 hours of free child care each week for children aged between nine months and four years for working families, with support phased in by September 2025.

However, full support is some time off, so anything an employer can do to reduce the burden on working parents will raise the value of their employer immeasurably and so increase loyalty.

Here are options to think about when making the workplace more family friendly.

Legal responsibilities

The first thing to note is that employers are legally obligated to help staff, and understanding this is not only good for morale and efficiency, but also a good way to stay out of tribunals.

In essence, employers have obligations in relation to maternity and paternity, shared parental leave, adoption leave and time off unpaid to care for a child.

All of this applies regardless of whether individuals are in same or opposite sex relationships. On top of that is a right to request flexible working – once a year - which, for the moment, can be made by an employee with at least 26 weeks of service.

However, by summer 2024, following the introduction of new legislation, that right will apply to all employees from day one and they will be able to make two requests in a 12-month period.

Increase flexibility

Despite what the law lays down, nothing exists to stop an employer helping employees manage private and working lives better. Those employers who demonstrate they are more flexible are likely to become an employer of choice.

An employer can become more flexible in numerous ways. They could, for example, increase flexibility of working hours, and so help parents better work around the school run. Similarly, employers could allow an element of remote working to help those struggling with caring needs – a boon for the single parent.

Split shifts, early or late starts, swapping of days, part-time and even the four-day week (but on full pay) are all simple steps that need not interfere with the operation of the business, but which could mean so much to employees.

For more administrative roles, an argument exists to say that it matters not when the work is done, so long as it’s done by when it’s needed. And with the huge costs of child care and transport, anything that helps parents keep the cost down is going to help when it comes to recruitment and retention.

Help with child care

Data from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has shown that child care can be crucifyingly expensive. Back in June 2022, it noted that “the cost of child care for parents with children under two has increased by more than £2,000 a year since 2010” and that “many parents with pre-school children are caught in a ‘catch 22’”.

Further, the TUC survey found that of working parents with pre-school children, 32% spent more than one-third of their wages on child care. So, with child care being such a significant expense for working parents, employer support is important.

As to what employers can do, one option is to provide a workplace crèche. Child care vouchers and/or subsidies could be provided instead. Alternatively, an employer could link up with a local provider of child care or help find care that is either close to employees’ homes or the workplace. Beyond that, the employer might spend time researching discount websites to help employees take advantage of reduced-price days out.

Other forms of financial assistance

While the Government seems to have done a reasonable job of informing the public on the benefits and grants that are available to them, not everyone will necessarily be aware of what they can tap into. Again, an employer could invest time in highlighting all the benefits employees may be entitled to and signpost them in an easy to digest form. Child tax credits, child benefit, disability living allowance for children, the Child Maintenance Service, guardian’s allowance, childcare grant – they could all potentially make a difference to parents.

Another option is to consider offering private health care to employees who might otherwise wait for NHS treatment. While some employers may already offer this, they could gold-plate it by extending cover to the whole family, not just the employee. It will add cost to the employer, but it will help with employee recruitment and, in some cases, may keep employee sick leave to a minimum.

Summary

We are in an age where employees, to an extent, have choice over who they work for.

Granted, a limit exists to what employers can do, but to ignore employee demands and needs is to do little for morale and retention, let alone recruitment.