June’s ‘Monthly Horizon’ Work+Family News

Author: Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership

New research urges employers to help with balance, cost of living, and childcare

The 11th Deloitte Gen Z and Millennial Survey has hard-hitting messages for employers; yet also a kind of reassurance that the phenomena we are experiencing are global, given a survey population of over 23,000 people across 46 countries. The introduction states: ‘Now in the third year of the pandemic, we’re also facing alarming geopolitical conflicts, extreme climate events, inequality, and a steep rise in inflation’. It later concludes: ‘the sustained workplace changes they’ve [gen Z & millennials] been asking for—including higher compensation, more flexibility, better work/life balance, increased learning and development opportunities, better mental health and wellness support, and a greater commitment from businesses to make a positive societal impact—are also the strategies that will help employers attract and retain talent’. In this study, the gen Z respondents are currently aged 18 to 27 while millennials are 28 to 39. For both groups, cost of living is the highest concern (p7 of report) while good work-life balance (p13) tops the list of reasons to stay with their employer.

The Working Families Index, run by the charity Working Families with Talking Talent, also explored financial pressures on working parents as well as their desire for flexibility. The study of 2,800 parents and carers found that 70% reported working flexibly compared with 55% in 2019, and over a third reported hybrid or homebased arrangements compared with 22% pre-pandemic. More working fathers reported working part-time post-pandemic but working mothers still worked more part-time overall, which the report describes as ‘the least flexible ‘flex’.’ Overall, while hybrid workers were more likely to be male / higher earners / London based, people working reduced or part-time hours were more likely to be women / single parents / younger, and earning under £25k a year. Advice for employers flowing from the report incudes sensible calls for better, more equitable and transparent access to flexibility. It goes on: ‘The research shows that families are finding it harder to manage financially, with 3 in 5 parents and carers reporting it has become more difficult to raise a family.’ It links this with advice to consider the living wage as well as supporting childcare costs including emphasising that ‘subsidies towards ongoing childcare, holiday club provision or loans to cover nursery deposits can facilitate working for many families.’

McKinsey’s The Childcare Conundrum article goes further, while exploring the question ‘How can companies ease working parents’ return to the office?’. Under the subtitle, ‘Retention’ the authors explain: ‘When deciding whether to stay with a company or switch to another, 83 percent of the women and 81 percent of the men in our survey with children aged five and under said that childcare benefits would be a “very important” or “somewhat important” factor in the decision. About 40 percent of respondents who were considering moving to a less-demanding job said that on-site childcare services at their current company may cause them to reconsider. And 38 percent of respondents said that their companies’ assistance with childcare expenses would also be a key factor in their staying put.’

Bright Horizons’ own Work+Family Snapshot research similarly reveals new trends and shifts in expectations, as well as the power of helping with care. This survey population came from the employees of our client organisations, the UK’s leading employers. Over 1,500 employees took part and the newly-released report shows a continuing shift towards placing higher priority on family life as well as rethinking overall life direction. For many, this is also coupled with a strengthened career ambition. The findings further demonstrate that the provision of care solutions, both short-notice and ongoing day-to-day care, has a very strong positive impact on wellbeing, loyalty, engagement, productivity, parental leave return and career progression. For example, nearly 9 in 10 (89%) of those using one of our workplace nurseries found it easier to return following parental leave, while 88% of those using Back-Up Care are more likely to recommend their employer as a result. 87% of those who used either Back-Up Care or workplace nurseries agreed the service ‘positively impacts overall wellbeing/reduces stress’.

Childcare ratios in debate and take-up of tax-free childcare is low

While discussing support with childcare, it is worth all employers being aware that tax-free childcare is being under-claimed by families, although take-up is rising. Employees could be encouraged to check they are not missing out on up to £2,000 of support a year. The fullest support of course comes through provision of a workplace nursery or an innovative workplace nursery partnership which enables tax and National Insurance savings through a salary sacrifice scheme.

The Department for Education is consulting on whether a reduction in childcare ratios in England could help in making childcare more affordable and more places available. The proposal is to increase the number of 2-year-olds who can be looked after per practitioner from 4 to 5. This would bring the ratios in line with those operating in Scotland. However, many early years educators have responded that a change in ratios would further increase the pressure on practitioners in the rooms. The financial wellbeing of early years educators themselves was addressed back in March by Bright Horizons with investment that received widespread publicity.

No Employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech, but lots else

When HRH Prince Charles read out The Queen’s Speech, no Employment Bill emerged, despite much anticipation since it was announced in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech. This means the day 1 right to request flexible working will not be scheduled to pass into law any time soon, nor a statutory right to 5 days’ unpaid leave for carers. There has been criticism of the missed opportunity and the TUC is now calling on the Government to clarify how employers will best be guided towards best practice on flexible working.

Carers might be reassured to see the fuller pack follows through on Social Care promises so that – from October 2023 – help will be available to those with less than £100,000 of savings compared with the current limit of £23,250 and ‘Someone's house will also not be taken into consideration in this financial assessment if they, or an eligible family member such as a spouse is living in it’. The provisions also reaffirm the eye-watering, yet progressive, ‘£86,000 limit on the amount anyone in England will have to spend on their personal care cost over their lifetime’.

In wider provisions, the Brexit Freedoms Bill which the Prime Minister’s written introduction described as to ‘enable law inherited from the EU to be changed more easily to suit the UK without taking decades of parliamentary time’, implies a move toward less regulation. We should not, however, imagine that the Queen’s Speech was light on planned legislation. Wide-ranging provisions follow through on establishing the UK Infrastructure Bank ‘with objectives to support economic growth and the delivery of net zero’, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and the promise of a Future of work review. There is also the Protect Duty Bill, which would require publicly accessible locations to take account of, and make plans to prevent, terrorist threats. This includes a wide range of venues, such as sports stadiums, festivals, hotels, pubs, casinos, high streets, retail centres, schools & universities, places of worship, parks, transport hubs among others. The Public Order Bill is set to increase police powers in relation to protests and a Bill of Rights is promised following earlier consultation, though not without its dissenters.

In the days following this statement of planned legislation, amid rising concerns about the cost of living, the UK joined other countries in Europe in taking steps to ease the pressure on families’ energy bills. The “temporary, targeted energy profits levy” (or windfall tax) on oil and gas producers’ profits has a provision for energy companies to reduce their new tax payment by reinvesting a proportion of their profits ‘in oil and gas extraction in the UK’. That said, this eagerly-anticipated support package for households was not in itself sufficient to turn down the heat on leadership challenges triggering the recent vote of confidence.

Good employers continue to be recognised and celebrated

Leading employers do not, of course, wait for legislation to take action. They put provisions in place because there is a business case based on attraction, retention, engagement, wellbeing and productivity – as well as cost savings – and because it keeps up with societal change. The current flurry of recognition of these forward-thinking employers includes the Times Top 50 employers for women, as well as Working Families Best Practice Awards, with the ceremony this year in partnership with Bright Horizons. There was also a hugely positive atmosphere at the inaugural Working Dads Employer Awards in Westminster co-launched by the University of Birmingham’s Equal Parenting Project and Music Football Fatherhood. And speaking of fathers, more Danish men are taking up a fuller share of joint parental leave which will become more equitable again in August.