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Employers with unsupportive workplace cultures at risk of losing employees with children, as long-hours working culture takes toll

  • The UK’s long hours working culture damages family life - and parents are voting with their feet 
  • Flexible working, on its own, is only giving parents the ability to keep going, without improving their quality of life 
  • For employers, tackling unsupportive workplace cultures is a crucial to success of family-friendly working initiatives 

London, 23 May 2018 

Tackling unsupportive workplace cultures is crucial in helping parents achieve a better work life balance, according to latest research [1]. The 2018 Modern Families Index: how employers can support the UK’s working families [2], published today by work life balance charity Working Families and Bright Horizons, exposes the limitations of policies like flexible working, whilst unsupportive workplace cultures remain in place.

Many parents feel compelled to work far beyond their contracted hours to meet managers’ expectations and to progress in their careers [3]. When parents were asked how they felt about their employer in terms of work-life balance, over a third (34%) of parents said they felt resentful, with more fathers than mothers agreeing (37% vs. 32%). Millennials were the most resentful; 46% of millennial fathers felt resentful, the highest proportion of any group of parents.

Working parents are taking decisive action. To tackle the trade-off between work and family commitments, parents have stalled their careers, refused a new job or turned down a promotion [4]. This attempt to rebalance is most prevalent in younger parents with 41% of millennial parents intending to downshift into a less stressful job, and 36% willing to take a pay cut to work fewer hours.

Is flexible working the solution? Whilst the Index found that flexible working affords parents the best means of gaining some control over their working lives, the majority (81%) of parents who said they worked flexibly still had to bring work home in the evenings or at weekends [5]. The study found that, for many parents, flexible working can’t deliver work-life balance if they are battling an unrealistic workload. It must be accompanied by better job design, effective organisation and management and most importantly by a culture that truly supports balance.

It found working parents understand this. When asked what employers should do to ensure a good work life balance, the most popular option was ‘make efforts to change the company culture so work-life balance is more acceptable’ (37%). The next most popular choice was ‘put more policies in place to help balance work and home’ (35%). The third most popular was ‘encourage people to use existing policies to help their work life balance’ (28%).

Sarah Jackson OBE, Chief Executive of Working Families, said:

“While work is badly organised and workplace cultures are unsupportive of work life balance, the best policies aimed at supporting working parents won’t translate to a better lived experience.

“Parents, particularly millennial parents, are looking for human-sized jobs and supportive workplace cultures that genuinely allow them to combine work and family. Employers whose approach to organising work and underlying workplace culture hasn’t caught up with their family friendly policies may find that, for parents, they aren’t an employer of choice.

“Tackling workplace culture – for so long the elephant in the room - is a vital to future proofing businesses, unlocking working parents’ potential, tackling the gender pay gap and harnessing the business benefits of family friendly and flexible working.”

Denise Priest, Director of Employer & Strategic Partnerships at Bright Horizons, said:

“Without a supportive, family-friendly workplace culture, it is unlikely that policies and measures designed to support working carers will prove truly effective, however well-intentioned. By contrast, employers who create and nurture an environment where it is not only acceptable but expected for individuals to make their needs known and to take up support where it is offered, experience a true return on investment in terms of employee loyalty and performance.”

The report provides a roadmap for employers interested in supporting parents at work and in future-proofing their business has been launched to mark Working Families Annual Conference [6], which is kindly hosted by EY and takes place today.


Notes to the Editors:

[1] The Index provides a snapshot into the lives of working families from across the UK; 2,761 working parents responded with at least one dependent child aged 13 or younger who lives with them some or all the time. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) were also caring for adults. The sample gathered equal numbers of fathers and mothers of all ages. Respondents represented a range of household incomes and family structures and were spread equally across the 12 regions and nations of the UK including Scotland and Wales. Most respondents (63%) identified as being from couple households, a very high proportion of whom had both parents working full time (71%). The most common household income was between £25-49,000 (44%) for couple households and £21-30,000 for single parent households.

[2] For the report summary: https://solutions.brighthorizons.co.uk/resources/research/mfi-employers-report-2018

[3] 34% of parents who work 25 hours per week are doing extra hours - with 30% of these parents putting in enough hours to qualify as full-time workers, at around 35 hours per week. Similarly, parents that work full time are putting in extra hours: of parents who are contracted to work 35 hours per week, 40% are putting in extra hours, of whom almost a third are putting in an extra seven hours (the equivalent to an extra working day) each week.

[4] Nearly 1 in 5 parents (17%) have deliberately stalled their careers. More than 1 in 10 (11%) have refused a new job and 1 in 10 have said no to a promotion because of a lack of work life balance opportunities. Millennial parents in particular are making these choices.

[5] All the time, often and occasionally. It’s important to remember that, for some parents working flexibly, this is the arrangement agreed with their employer. For example, they might not work from 3pm to 5pm then do a couple of hours in the evening. But parents assert it disrupts family life. More than a third of parents who work flexibly were still negative about their work life balance.

[6] https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/events/annual-conference-2018/

About Bright Horizons Family Solutions

Bright Horizons® is the UK’s leading provider of early years care and education, with over 300 nurseries in the UK. We care for over 25,000 children each week and have over 100 corporate clients for whom we manage workplace nurseries and broader dependent care services. We believe that by being an employer of choice, we are a natural partner of choice for our clients, and we have been recognised as one of the Best UK Workplaces since 2006 and achieved a Gold Award from RoSPA every year since 2011.


For more information, or interview requests please contact: Isabelle.saber@powerscourt-group.com 020 7250 1446 / 07870423569

About Working Families

Working Families is the UK’s leading work-life balance charity. We support and advocate on behalf of working parents and carers, and work with employers to create workplaces which encourage work-life balance for everyone. Working Families provides a range of support for parents and carers, including through our legal advice service.


For more information, or interview requests please contact: press@workingfamilies.org.uk 07715 651 509

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