Major Study reveals backwards step for working parents

The number of working parents looking for new work to help manage the cost of living and balance their work and family life continues to rise, reveals Bright Horizons' annual Modern Families Index survey.

  • 42% of working parents are looking for alternative work in 2024 (an increase of 4 percentage points on 2023), seeking higher pay and better support with family life
  • The number of employees who feel their employer is supportive of family life has dropped (from 77% in 2023 to 72% in 2024)
  • 2 in 3 parents take time off due to last-minute childcare arrangements with 49% of parents using annual leave to cover this.

The annual survey of over 3,000 working families reveals a growing disconnect between the support working parents need and the support they currently have from employers, which has noticeably dropped in the last 12 months.

Three in 10 of working parents surveyed are seeking help with childcare costs and nearly four in 10 with the cost of living from their employer. 80% of women and 76% of men said they would need to carefully consider their childcare options before a promotion or a new job.

Time off to cover last-minute and emergency care is also high, with 67% of working parents taking an average of 4 days off at short notice in the last 12 months. Over 3 in 10 (32%) of those reporting this type of absence needed to take 5 or more days.

The data reveals working mothers are impacted the most; almost three quarters (74%) of those surveyed say they carry the mental load for parenting, compared to 48% of working fathers. There is evidence that this is having a detrimental impact on their work and home life, as well as their mental health. The gender inequity goes further at work too; working mothers feel less able to progress their careers while working flexibly than working fathers do (63% vs 71%).

Bright Horizons warns a reduction in inclusive support will see burnout among working families, particularly amongst some minority groups.

Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership at Bright Horizons, comments: “The results of this year’s Modern Families Index are worrying to say the least. We would prefer to be reporting on progress - as we have in this research across the last decade and more - but something seems to be shifting in the wrong direction and the added pressures are clearly taking their toll.

Employers continue to face significant retention and recruitment challenges; retaining working parents and carers has to be a key focus to alleviate these and supporting their mental health and ability to perform at work should be at the heart of employers’ strategy.

With higher living costs and more companies urging employees back to the workplace, employers need to be moving forwards, not backwards in enabling employees to combine their career with family life. The imbalances in expectation and reality need to be addressed and employers need to be supporting employees from all angles.”

The ability to use annual leave for rest and recuperation as well as building family memories together is critical, and it’s concerning to see so many working parents and carers resorting to using up their annual leave at short notice to manage child and elder care arrangements.”

Download the full report here.