May’s ‘Monthly Horizon’ Work+Family News

Author: Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership

Not so ‘Sorry you were out’? New evidence on implementing hybrid working.

When office space is under-utilised in the new world of work, there could be two reasonable concerns. Are expensive facilities justified if they are not fully used? And are people collaborating, networking, with enough spontaneous human contact to further ideas – and careers – effectively?

Cabinet Minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose remit includes ‘government efficiencies’, is concerned about the low use of London offices by civil servants and has taken to publishing league tables of use and leaving ‘sorry you were out’ notes at empty desks.

We might expect an empowered approach to hybrid working among government officials with the same philosophy shown in Boris Johnson's speech on 21st February about living with covid, which spoke of “moving from government restrictions to personal responsibility." The concern about expensive office space is real, yet hybrid does not mean fully-remote: it means a blend, using offices for the purposes they best support. An emphasis on personal responsibility might accept that civil servants can be productive in different locations and even be able to discern which location works best for which types of work.

The CIPD has published its timely report and case studies on hybrid working with key findings including that employers should: allow workers to request flexible working from day one of employment; provide support and training for managers; and focus on outcomes, rather than being ‘present’ in the office. The research showed that three-quarters of employers (75% public sector and 77% private sector) felt employees are more productive, or show the same productivity, when working remotely or hybrid compared to fully at the office (report p9, table 1).

The wider benefits of flexibility, and of trusting employees to find the right blend, are increasingly clear. Perkbox found that 6 in 10 (61%) women and 51% of men feel freer to be themselves when working remotely. Over half found hybrid working promoted a better work-life balance (54%) and more diverse, inclusive environment (55%). However, we do need to keep ensuring wellbeing is prioritised: 53% felt isolated as it was harder to make friends.

For those whose focus is on utilising office space, popular incentives to attract people back, according to Emburse’s YouGov poll, could include paying commuting costs, in these times of high cost of living, a four-day working week or more paid holidays. Empowering individuals and teams to select the right blend of onsite and remote seems the most effective strategy for both productivity and wellbeing, from the conversations our coaching team has with employees on the ground, as well as the CIPD research. To make those office-based collaborative spaces attractive, there’s always onsite, or near-site, childcare to weigh up, of course, as brought to life persuasively in a recent Bright Horizons US webinar with SHRM and featuring Susan McGowan of Biogen. In the UK our next webinar on care solutions for the hybrid world will be on 9th June.

Small change: five Years of Gender Pay Gap reporting

This year’s Gender Pay Gap reporting deadline saw little change in the numbers among over 10,000 employers reporting. The median gap stands at 9.8%: line everyone up in two gendered lines and the middle woman is paid around £0.90 for every £1.00 paid to the middle man. They are not all doing the same jobs, but it does reflect the lack of opportunity for women to occupy higher paid jobs. It’s a small decrease on last year’s gap of 10%, though that figure did exclude furloughed staff so is not representative. Media articles continue to ruminate on the slow progress and to use Easy Jet as the easy example to explain the difference between unequal pay (different pay in like-for-like jobs) and the gender pay gap, with (largely male) high-earning pilots contrasted with (largely female) cabin crew.

Bright Horizons’ webinar with HRreview shared Ruth Thomas of Payscale’s state of the nation gender pay gap reporting summary, Sarah Gregory of Baker McKenzie’s insights on the firm’s progressive reporting approach and its partnership with Bright Horizons, as well as David Whitfield of HR DataHub’s look at measures taken by the FTSE 100. You can listen again to the information-packed hour. And yes, among the many questions, we did get the increasingly relevant enquiry as to why the gender categories are so binary.

The webinar also included our own advice on how family-friendly approaches contribute to levelling the gendered playing field. Recent research by The Centre for Progressive Policy (CPP) has highlighted the role of parenting and caring in the gender pay gap and called for greater flexibility to enable women to participate more readily in the labour market despite their current 23.2 billion annual childcare hours vs. men’s 9.7 billion hours in the UK.

I’m reticent to make this a recurrent theme, but – especially amid the high cost of living – employers supporting with childcare is another key leveller, whether back-up care, onsite nurseries or partnerships with community nurseries which can be cost-neutral for employers given savings in employer and employee NI as well as tax savings for employees. The need for care was again evidenced by our US colleagues when the Bright Horizons US Modern Family Index was published in April. The research report leads on high levels of stress (88% of parents feeling worn out) and the 'Great Realization' that more help with care is needed via employers. In terms of talent loss / changing jobs, '60% would stay for emergency child care and 58% would remain loyal for everyday child care'.

Being family-friendly also includes many low cost and no-cost practices, as outlined in our latest employers’ guide to Family-Friendly in the New World of Work.

Helping our youngest citizens catch up with education

Educational inspector, Ofsted, has launched a new 5-year strategy increasing support for early years and school settings in light of the impact of the pandemic disruptions. Among a great deal of research into the educational impact of Covid lockdowns, April’s McKinsey report takes in a global landscape: students in Europe are generally around 4 months behind, while those in less advantaged parts of the world are, on average, 8 months behind. Meanwhile, early years organisations have pushed back against cost-saving suggestions of changing staff to child ratios in nurseries to cut staff numbers.

Bright Horizons’ part in the educational catch-up process includes many of our clients enabling their employees to convert back-up care sessions into virtual tutoring. This extends through primary up to supporting 11+ exams and even GCSEs. This will be explored further in our coming webinar on 18th May.

For the youngest, Bright Horizons’ Bright Beginnings curriculum has wellbeing at its core and has shown measurable impact in supporting key developmental indicators. Among children following the curriculum – which also covers all requirements on the Early Years Foundation Stage – practitioners have observed enhancements including a 22% rise in children scoring at the highest end of the Leuven wellbeing scale, as well as a 15% increase in control of impulses, and 12.8% increase in pro social behaviours, using the CindLe Cambridge Independent Learning framework.

Caroline Wright, Bright Horizons Director of Early Childhood, and Ann Stubbs, Area Director Early Childhood will be presenting at the World Forum on Early Care & Education, in Orlando, Florida in May, having been invited to present findings from the rigorously evaluated impact of the curriculum.

Making Adult Caring visible

With Carers Week approaching on 6th-12th June the theme this year is ‘making caring Visible, Valued and Supported’. The House of Lords has launched a Call for evidence including unpaid carers in the workplace, inviting responses by 27th May. You can find out more about the Adult Social Care Committee here, and see Madeleine Starr, Director of Business Development at Carers UK speaking to the Committee in April here (from 17 mins 15 seconds).

Thank Holidays and Inclusive Bank Holidays

Bank Holidays are springing up all around at this time, particularly with Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Bank Holiday combining 2nd & 3rd June into a long weekend. This season also sees a flurry of religious festivals, from the pagan to the major world religions. M&C Saatchi, in publicity announcing putting Bright Horizons Back-up Care in place, also announced flexible Bank Holidays, enabling, for example, people to choose more personally relevant religious or other dates to celebrate instead of the traditional Christian dates commemorated by several of our existing holidays.

Meanwhile, not content with a one-off extra Bank Holiday, the CBI, UK Hospitality and Deborah Meaden have written an open letter to the Prime Minister and Chancellor proposing a permanent extra ‘Thank Holiday’ (bringing the UK’s 8 public holidays closer to the EU average of 11), providing a moment to reflect and show gratitude for those who build our communities, and boosting the hospitality industry.