Employers beware: workers increasingly expect to have it all

Employees demanding both better work-life balance and career progression is becoming the new normal, according to a survey of staff from the UK’s top firms.

The Work+Family Snapshot 2022, commissioned by work solutions and education provider Bright Horizons, found that 58% of employees said family has become a higher priority in the past 12 months than before, a 21% increase on last year’s results. But 31% said that their career ambitions are stronger now than a year ago, a two-fold increase on the 2021 results. Employers wanting to attract and retain talent in a tight labour market will need to plan proactively to meet both of these employee priorities.

The research, with responses from more than 1,500 employees from across 186 of Bright Horizons’ clients and a broad spread of sectors, found that this dual priority trend was particularly pronounced in workers aged 18-34. In this age group, 67% said that family has become a higher priority in the past 12 months and 39% said career progression has increased in importance.

Workers are contemplating changes when looking to the future

Changes in priorities are not the only thing on employees’ minds; more than half (53%) of respondents said that they are rethinking their overall direction and sense of purpose more than they used to. And this percentage increases as we move up in age. In the 55+ age bracket, 63% of employees said they’re rethinking their purpose, which should sound alarm bells for employers who wish to retain these experienced workers but have not yet developed a strategy to do so. Many employers in the post-pandemic era are doubling down on their corporate mission and purpose which can re-engage those who are taking a hard look, post-covid, at what life’s all about.

Hybrid working continues to play a key role in the post-pandemic landscape. While not all jobs can be done flexibly with regard to location, when asked in an ideal world what their preference would be around hybrid working, those wanting to work from home for at least half the week had increased from 79% last year to 82% this year. A fifth (20%) would favour an even split between home and workplace and while 18% would like to work exclusively from home, just 4% would want to be entirely workplace based.

Breakdowns in care arrangements are an unwelcome fact of life

Respondents to the survey had a range of caring responsibilities from childcare to eldercare, including those in the “sandwich generation” with both. The research found that breakdowns in care can not only be unexpected but also long lasting.

Two-thirds (67%) of respondents experienced a breakdown in childcare arrangements in the last year. While this is slightly lower than the 71% in last year’s survey amid lockdowns, it shows the need for short notice care arrangements for workers persists even when schools and early years settings are open. Of those experiencing these childcare breakdowns, well over half (58%) had a breakdown of five days or more. Twenty-eight per cent had a breakdown of childcare of more than 10 days.

Those with adult or eldercare responsibilities also face breakdowns in their care arrangements, with 81% saying they had experienced them in the past 12 months Almost a quarter (24%) had had to deal with a breakdown lasting more than 10 days.

The most popular option for those facing breakdowns in care arrangements once their employer-provided back-up care days have been used was to take annual leave. Given that the number of back-up days needed by employees is rising year on year, employers wanting to ensure the wellbeing of their employees should be aware of the impact that this ‘Plan C’ option may have on staff productivity and engagement, through missing out on using leave for family leisure.

Caring employers have care provision

The research showed a clear link between employer sponsored care provision and a positive impact across a range of metrics, including productivity, overall wellbeing and stress reduction, and return to work after time off to have a baby or adopt. Seventy per cent of respondents said they’re more likely to recommend their employer to others based purely on having access to Bright Horizons Work+Family services. This rises to three-quarters (75%) for those who use employer-sponsored Workplace Nurseries or Nursery Partnerships and 88% for those who have used back-up care.

Indeed, when comparing the results of the Work+Family Snapshot to the 2022 Modern Families Index Spotlight, which surveyed the general population, 81% of Bright Horizons clients’ employees agreed their manager cares about their work and home balance, compared with only 62% of the general population.

Denise Priest, Executive Director of Work and Family Solutions at Bright Horizons, said: “While expectations and new ways of working may still be crystallising as employers and employees adjust to the post-pandemic world, it’s important to recognise that not all working roles can be hybrid such as those in a hospital or a manufacturing plant. However, there is a clear direction of travel for forward-thinking employers to note.

“Family friendly employers who provide tangible support for employees, such as back-up care provision for that clear majority of employees who experience breakdowns in child, adult or eldercare plans, not only see the positive impact in employee engagement scores, but the figures here show it also helps employers with their succession planning and talent pipeline. Being family-inclusive further contributes to narrowing the gender pay gap, with parental leave returners and those with care responsibilities better able to take on promotions and positive career progression, whatever their gender.

“This research with our clients’ employees shows providing access to back-up and ongoing care makes good business sense as well as being beneficial for employees. Employers already providing these services are ahead of the game in talent retention.”

Download the full report here