October’s ‘Monthly Horizon’ Work+Family News

Jennifer Liston-Smith’s monthly blog for employers reflects on recent news and themes in the world of combining work and family for organisations, parents and carers.

Prioritising Work-Life Fit now and next year

It’s National Work-Life Week 10th to 14th October. When Bright Horizons ran our Work+Family Snapshot survey of client employees earlier this year, we found 58% of respondents overall had placed higher priority on family over the last year compared with previously. 31% had also become more ambitious about career. When we looked more closely at the 18-34 age group, family priority had gone up for two-thirds (67%) and career ambitions for nearly 4 in 10 (39%). Whatever the constraints of our times, there is an increasing expectation among employees of ‘having it all’, in a reasonable and balanced way.

The employers we work with have risen to that, taking an ever-broader view of what family supports should cover. For example, back-up care now includes access to virtual tutoring for the majority of programmes, taking what was an emergency provision into the wellbeing space by responding to parents’ concerns about educational catchup. Back-up care will also soon include access to pet care, after strong interest among employers in supporting pet-owning trends.

As we’re also in budget-planning and forecasting season, how will employers be supporting work-life fit next year? We brought our clients Cisco, Citi and Marsh McLennan together on 4th October to debate the Top 5 ways to Support and Retain your Working Parents and Carers in 2023. Turns out it comes down to Flexible, learning cultures, Care, Allies, Educational and developmental support and Communication. One of the most pressing matters on most employers’ minds is how to support employees with the Cost of Living. One of our contributions to this important debate will be on 13th October in an Inside HR webinar hosted by HRreview.

Who is best placed to pay for Childcare?

There is ongoing coverage across the media about the cost of childcare. The Times reported women quitting work or cutting back due to childcare challenges according to a survey by credit reference service Credit Karma. A UK-wide March of the Mummies is planned at the end of this month, led by campaign group Pregnant then Screwed, demanding more support for childcare from the Government, though a question over its policing in London has arisen.  

It has been a difficult moment to become Prime Minister of the UK amid mounting global cost of living crises and a looming global recession. Having put in place an Energy Price Guarantee, and what proved a provocative ‘mini-budget’, among Liz Truss’s many remaining priorities is childcare. Good quality, accessible, affordable childcare improves labour market participation as well as supporting child development, so is a key part of any long-term growth plan.

There have been several months of discussion and consultation around potentially relaxing the ratio of 2 year-olds that can be supervised by one educator, which brought out views from the sector that this might not, in effect, lower costs. There is now some speculation that ratios could be removed altogether, leaving early years settings to make their own decisions. Another possibility being explored would be a switch to providing cash to parents to spend as they choose (including in principle paying grandparents for childcare support) rather than funding early years settings.

There is a real role for employers here within existing structures given the tax and National Insurance savings for both employee and employer through provision of workplace nurseries or near-site nursery partnerships.

I wrote last month about the crisis in availability of childcare given the high rate of closure of early years education settings as the sector faces rising costs, including escalating energy costs, and challenges in recruiting and retaining skilled educators. One of the important elements to keep in mind is the need to ensure these vital front-line professionals are adequately paid.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has published its vision for a Childcare Guarantee, which would include increased funding for the sector, care to fill the gap between parental leave and the current funded childcare and access to wraparound care for school age children.

Meanwhile, mothers show they are indeed keen to advance in careers after becoming a parent. A survey by the Open Study College found that 30% had enrolled on education courses since the birth of their child/children, with 45% saying the key reason was to increase their earning potential; 44% said it was to provide for their family.  

Menopause has gone through a change

With women in and around menopause making up the fastest-growing workplace demographic according to the CIPD, October sees Menopause Awareness Month and World Menopause Day 18th October. There has been a rapid expansion in employer recognition of the need for better conversations and adjustments to respond to the menopause, with many signing the Menopause Workplace Pledge.

While this is progress, the current conversation so often seems to approach the menopausal person as a collection of symptoms, in need of a good policy. The picture is painted of someone sweaty, confused; rushing with battered confidence between the loo and the nearest open window. Surely the next step would be to recognise the powerful individual who is emerging as she goes through this life transition? Menopause usually takes place between the ages of 45 and 55. This is often a phase when women are stepping into serious leadership roles. Many post-menopausal women find a new confidence to speak their minds, as the conventions that may sometimes constrain younger women no longer feel relevant and speaking truth to power becomes second nature.

Of course, many people do experience challenging physical, mental and emotional symptoms and it’s right that we also discuss strategies and make adjustments. The British Menopause Society will be launching a programme with ITN ‘Continuing the Conversation’ on 18th October to ensure everyone has access to good advice.

Work-Life Fit for Carers, Sandwich Carers and Older Workers

Our National Work-Life Week podcast with Mary Bowie of the Insurance Families Network explores how employers can empower sandwich carers, those who balance the needs of elderly parents and children, especially when care plans break down. Mary Bowie speaks powerfully of the need to recognise and retain the skills of carers, ensure there is flexibility to meet daily demands, provide practical help in covering care arrangements and encourage carers to have conversations that normalise their concerns. The theme of conversations was strongly present in this year’s DiveIn Festival for the insurance sector – with learning relevant to all sectors – under the theme of Braver Cultures, shining a light on progress made, and work to be done, in discussing and embracing all aspects of diversity and inclusion at work.

Working carers and their employers who have waited patiently for an Employment Bill may be heartened to know that Lib-Dem MP Wendy Chamberlain’s Carer’s Leave Bill is heading for its second reading as a Private Member’s Bill on 21st October. This could pave the way to a minimal provision of a week of unpaid leave.

Something that will benefit all generations of today’s workforce would be an end to age discrimination and better generational inclusion. My colleague Danielle Fowler and I recently wrote a whitepaper on this as well as recording a conversation about what it was like writing on this topic together, as people with different generational perspectives.

And if we’re wondering what work-life integration will mean for older workers a couple of decades from now, the recent Future of Work & Wellbeing whitepaper by performance consultancy Hintsa paints a couple of scenarios that might co-exist for two different 65-year-olds with a decade of working life ahead of them: existential emptiness in a minutely scrutinised, digitally-driven world and warm, personalised wellbeing, empowered by intelligent tech. As now, there is unlikely to be one mode for all.

Author: Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership, Bright Horizons