Bright Horizons Head of Thought Leadership, Jennifer Liston-Smith shares her commentary on the 2021 Modern Families Index Spotlight findings.
The Modern Families Index has tracked the experience of working parents every year since 2012. This year, we asked working parents to report on their current situation and also to look ahead at their ongoing work-life blend.
There are some concerning findings overall. This was a randomly-selected group of 1,000 UK working parents, surveyed in December 2020. 40% felt that the pandemic/lockdown had had a negative effect on their mental health (46% of women; 33% of men). They also felt their employers could provide more practical support and recognition of their circumstances.
Even after months of vivid coverage of working parents’ lives in the media, only 58% of people agreed that their organisation cared about their work life balance, and 59% that their manager cared about this. That said, these are still up on last year’s figures of 50% (organisation cares) and 53% (manager cares). This may reflect at least some appreciation of the practical challenges during the pandemic and lockdowns.
The Index has seen parents become more confident in having conversations with employers about family matters, over time. This year, the trend continues although the uplift is again modest: 58% now feel confident talking with their employer about family-related issues, compared to 55% in the 2020 MFI.
The Modern Families Index asked how working parents would prefer to work in the future, once out of the current restrictions. 75% want to continue to work from home for at least some of the time, with two-thirds (67%) wanting to work at least 50% from home.
Only 16% would like to work fully in an office or workplace while just 18% would like to work 100% from home. So hybrid or blended working – a mix of remote and onsite working – is the new preference, and is strongly favoured across genders and generational groups in the Modern Families Index.
This tallies with other credible research. In May and June 2020, the Working from Home during COVID-19 lockdown Project, was run by the University of Kent and the University of Birmingham. This study found that 2/3 of non-parents and 52% of parents said it is (very) likely that they will work from home after the COVID-19 lockdown has ended.
The reasons are varied. In the MFI, many simply wanted to avoid the commute. In the Kent and Birmingham project, 76% of all mothers and 73% of fathers surveyed wanted to work flexibly to spend more time with children.
It is also about productivity. 61% of respondents in the MFI were ‘Delighted’ about working more flexibly now, 32% selecting the reason ‘I feel that I can work more effectively with flexible working’ (and the other 29% indicating Delighted because ‘I’d previously wanted the opportunity to work flexibly’).
Consumer research by Accenture from May 2020, showed 54% agreed they could collaborate with colleagues easily while working from home (only 16% Disagreed) and 54% agreed it was actually easier to collaborate across other organisations while working from home (13% Disagreed). The scores had been even higher in March and might have been sustained had many workers not also been shouldering care responsibilities and a pandemic.
The Modern Families Index shows childcare and eldercare are top of mind in career decisions, and earlier than we might imagine. In the 2021 Index, 71% said they would need to carefully consider their childcare options before accepting a promotion or new job. This was true for 73% of women and 69% of men. Strikingly, it was highest among the 16-25 year old working parents in our survey, at 81%.
Three-quarters of those with a caring responsibility would need to consider their eldercare options before progressing their career: (73% of women and 77% of men). This was highest among 35-44 year olds (84%), followed by 26-34 year olds (77%).
We’ve understood, more than ever recently, that childcare and education are key parts of the infrastructure, as are adult care provisions. Working parents have been doubly challenged during lockdowns when lack of care disrupts work and also leaves parents worried about their children’s progress. For some, furlough or other leave has been the answer. However, 40% of our survey participants expressed fear about losing their jobs through the pandemic, so taking leave is often not seen as the best way forward.
Here at Bright Horizons, we have been proud to support our employer clients and the community with access to Back-up Care and nursery places whenever the restrictions have permitted. This of course is down to the hard work and dedication of our own staff on the front line. In-person care options during the pandemic have relied on very strict precautions and protocols. Once we emerge from lockdown, the value of having kept and supported parents and carers in their jobs and careers will be obvious all round.
There are further valuable data points for employers within the 2021 Modern Families Index. Download the MFI report for more detail.
 In previous years, The Index was conducted through our valued partnership with Work-Life charity, Working Families. This year, for speed and ease during recent times, Bright Horizons conducted a Spotlight version with a smaller independently-sourced panel of 1,000 working parents.
 Heejung Chung, Hyojin Seo, Sarah Forbes, and Holly Birkett. Working from Home during COVID-19 lockdown Project: Changing preferences and the future of work
COVID-19 is Reshaping the Consumer Goods Industry: Data-driven insights into consumer behavior reveal new and lasting trends Accenture COVID-19 Consumer Pulse Research – Wave 4, June 2020 https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-127/Accenture-COVID-19-CGS-Pulse-Survey-Research-Wave-4.pdf