On The Horizon – April 2024

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

Family-inclusive legislation updates

Family-inclusive legislation received a boost in early April when a week’s unpaid Carer’s Leave was introduced, the two weeks of Paternity Leave became a little more flexible, and redundancy protection was extended following maternity, adoption or (at least 6 weeks of) shared parental leave. Alongside this, in came the day 1 right to request flexible working.

If you'd like an at-a-glance guide to these changes and accompanying best practice advice, you can download the one-pager we developed with our client, law firm Hogan Lovells, working with Counsel and Senior Professional Support Lawyer, Jo Broadbent. We’ll pair up again on 22nd May to offer an interactive webinar on Carer’s Leave, which you can join here.

HR News reported a tribunal case suggesting there may now be a presumption of a higher level of protection from redundancy for employees exercising rights related to family, given the intention of the legislative change.

With another tribunal case homing in on pregnancy discrimination, the Equality & Human Rights Commission has issued updated guidance on the responsibilities of employers towards employees who have notified pregnancy or are taking maternity leave.

What’s next in family inclusion?

Beyond the legislative requirements, the boundaries of family support are ever-expanding, as with pet care or virtual tutoring for employees’ children. There’s always a new horizon to ponder: a step beyond tutoring is for employers to help employees’ children to be the all-round future citizens they need to be, to thrive amid future shifts and trends. We recently published a further report from the important Modern Families Index data, showing the future skills the UK’s parents believe their children will need given societal and technological change. We found: “Parents believe their children will need resilience, and interpersonal skills above technical skills like programming, maths and data analysis. Younger working parents (18-34) put their strongest emphasis on their children’s imagination, creativity and problem-solving, followed by resilience. These responses signify a societal shift from prioritising hard skills, in favour of learning resilience and flexible ‘soft’ skills, enabling individuals to connect with others in the face of an ever-changing landscape.”

Our early childhood team were delighted while also unsurprised: their Nurture Approach puts resilience and wellbeing at the heart of early education. Interestingly, a report from learning platform Degreed on the skills sought by adult learners resonates: interpersonal skills, problem-solving and communication still top the list of adult learners’ wishes too, above technical skills.

On other family-friendly frontiers, it was interesting to note French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal is testing out a scheme for divorced and separated parents in certain government ministry roles to work a 4-day week on the weeks they have their children, building on a scheme he ran in the finance ministry. Parents may well need to make up the hours during their other weeks, with the overall aim to encourage co-parenting.

A more well-trodden area of debate is the challenge of the summer holidays for working parents. HR Magazine published a helpful article by charity Working Families discussing a Nuffield Foundation-funded report on education inequalities, recommending England should rethink its traditional school calendar. The report proposes shorter breaks (a 4-week summer holiday and 2-week half-term holidays) for state schools. Of course, employers who provide parents with access to back-up care including school holiday clubs already have this covered!

One of the powerhouses of our innovation is the quality of conversation we have with our clients. We held our Legal Sector Peer Council breakfast meeting mid-March, with our Finance Sector Peer Council for our banking clients scheduled towards the end of April. As well as contemplating sector specific findings of the Modern Families Index, we thoroughly explore together the changing needs, trends and innovations in family support that will offer a win-win for employers and their employees. We also held another of our Heads of Family Networks events in March in which those who lead our clients’ Employee Resource Groups also get together with us to debate trends.

Expanded childcare funding gets underway in England

The new 15-hour funded childcare places in England began this month for 2-year-olds with working parents earning less than £100,000. A blog on the government Education Hub also points to 12 May as the date for applying for the next tranche: September’s 15-hour places for children from 9 months plus. The final stage is planned for September 2025 when the funding rises to 30 hours (in term-time, equating to around 22 hours when averaged across the year).

Childcare and early education are increasingly seen as vital in enabling parents to work as well as providing a well-supported start for children. With this in mind, there have been concerns among employers that employees may struggle to access places given new demand. Personnel Today reported research findings from charity Coram that two-thirds of councils lack childcare places for full-time workers’ hours. Quoting Ros Marshall, Managing Director, International at Bright Horizons, the article outlined issues faced by childcare providers across different regions including that “There is a stark difference in the systems and processes used by local authorities, often causing delays and unnecessary challenges in accessing funding for providers”. Ros also underlined the role of employers: “More can be done beyond government funding. Fortunately, we’re seeing increasing support from forward-thinking employers; they recognise they can be part of the solution when it comes to the childcare challenges facing many working parents. Providing onsite nurseries and subsidised and emergency care provisions can support working parents to achieve more in their careers alongside their personal responsibilities. These businesses are recognising that childcare support is often an essential aspect of a successful organisation and is a mutually-beneficial solution.”

This theme was echoed by Employee Benefits magazine: "Challenges around finding and affording childcare can prevent parents from staying in work and progressing their careers. Onsite nurseries, workplace nursery schemes, and subsidised and emergency childcare provisions can enable them to balance care responsibilities with their work." Paul Quartly, Client Services Lead at Bright Horizons adds the wider context: “UK employers are in the midst of a recruitment challenge and skills shortage, and family-friendly policies are key to addressing this. They help to create equal opportunities by ensuring that talent can engage equally at home and work. When these are in place, we see improved recruitment, retention and productivity, as well as reduced absences.”

This support can be make or break. HRreview reported a study by savings and retirement entity, Phoenix Group showing 43% of women and 15% of men with children under the age of five had reduced their working hours or left the workforce due to “the financial burden of childcare”.

Gender Pay Gaps

The peskily persistent Gender Pay Gap is nibbling away at the news again given the looming reporting dates (public sector 30 March, private sector 4 April). MusicWeek helpfully explored how major record labels are tackling the gap: “Our game-changing parental policy establishes Warner Music as a leader in this space and adds to the wide variety of benefits already on offer, from private medical, dental, critical illness and life insurance to emergency back-up care for children and elders through Bright Horizons, personalised one-to-one virtual tutoring sessions, family-focused meditation and online courses, and much more.”

Still, the gap is widespread, despite all the evidence that gender-inclusion is good for business. Dr Maren Ingrid Kropfeld writes in HR Magazine: "the economic case for women in leadership is compelling. Studies consistently show a positive correlation between gender-diverse leadership teams and improved financial performance." Despite this, “According to the World Economic Forum, it will take around 140 years to close that gap completely.”

Bright Horizons Chief Digital and Transformation Officer, Priya Krishnan explained in HR Magazine that a concerning backward step on gender equity emerged in this year's Modern Families Index. "The findings reveal working parents find their employers less sympathetic than they were a year ago and working mothers are disproportionately impacted. Overall, 72% of working parents feel confident their employer will take account of their family responsibilities and treat them fairly (down from 75% last year). This is just 69% of women against 75% of men."

Gender also plays a striking role in research findings by the University of Warsaw studying 937 UK managers. Remote working was associated with lower rates of promotion and pay rises. A gender penalty was being paid here by men: fully remote male workers faced a 15% lower likelihood of promotion and 10% decreased chance of receiving a pay increase compared to their office-based counterparts. The figures for women were a 7% reduction in promotion likelihood and an 8% decrease in probability of a pay rise.

I wonder whether the stronger negative impact of remote working for men is associated with what Dr. Jasmine Kelland has termed the fatherhood forfeit where men who choose to work flexibly around family may encounter unwarranted assumptions about lack of ambition.

An intersectional lens is, as ever, important: and gender is not the only cause of pay gaps. Among the many pay gaps, a less reported source is the tendency for single parents of all genders to be trapped in lower paid roles, according to HR Grapevine.

A Great Place to Work

This month, we were excited to hear that Bright Horizons was placed 13th in the Super Large category of employers this year in the Great Place to Work (GPTW) Best Workplaces league. Among other worthy stats, “80% of employees at Bright Horizons Family Solutions say it is a great place to work, compared to 54% of employees at a typical UK based company.”

Director of GPTW Ben Gautrey kindly commented: “A tremendous achievement and I believe it is the 19th successive year of listing as a U.K. Best Workplace. Everyone at Bright Horizons UK should feel extremely proud about the culture that has been collectively fostered and the incredible impact the organisation continues to have on society. Congratulations”.

You can catch Great Place To Work MD Ben Gautrey, along with Andrei Ursu of our client Bloomberg on the panel with us in our next HRreview webinar on 18th April.