On The Horizon – June 2023

Jennifer Liston-Smith’s monthly review reflects on key themes, news and public policy updates in the world of combining work and family for organisations, parents and carers. This month, Jennifer draws particularly on insights from our recent Work+Family Snapshot research in the context of other current findings.

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

  1. New Research: Practical Support for Family enhances Productivity, Wellbeing and Loyalty

Bright Horizons recently published our 2023 UK Work+Family Snapshot research capturing the experience of over 1,750 of our clients’ employees. Five key themes emerged, with highlights below.

Snapshot statistics comparison

i. Employers providing back-up care and nursery places experience high productivity and wellbeing

This year’s research revealed some powerful statistics on the value of investing in employer-sponsored care and family supports. People who have used Bright Horizons Back-Up Care feel much better than the average employee about their employer. In the Work+Family Snapshot 2023, over 9 in 10 (93%) of those who used Back-Up Care rated their employer as ‘supportive of family’ compared with 77% in the general population (from the Modern Families Index 2023).

Separately, 82% of Back-Up Care users agreed their employer cares about their work and home balance. This contrasts with 66% in the general UK population (MFI 2023). Nearly 8 in 10 (79%) also said Back-Up Care has a positive impact on their wellbeing and 78% agreed Back-Up Care has a positive impact on their productivity, ease of doing their job and likelihood to recommend their employer.

Among parents whose employers provide access to Bright Horizons early years care and education, a compelling 9 in 10 (91%) agree this has a positive impact on their own productivity, wellbeing, and ease of doing their job, with 89% more likely to stay with their employer due to this service. 84% of Bright Horizons employer-sponsored nursery parents agreed they feel confident discussing family-related issues with their employer compared with 71% in the general population (MFI 2023).

ii. Back-Up Care is needed as two-thirds experience disrupted care.

More than two in three (68%) of our client employee respondents said they had a breakdown in childcare arrangements. Of those who had adult or eldercare responsibilities, nearly 6 in 10 (59%) had care breakdowns. Overall, 17 out of 20 (85%) agreed that having backup care available means care breakdowns are less likely to impact ability to work and that it reduces stress.

An important message for employers emerges as to what happens when employees come to the end of their subsidised back-up care allowance: two-thirds (67%) report they are resorting to using up annual leave. The need to keep holiday for wellbeing and restorative family time is a strong argument for making a back-up care allowance per dependant – rather than per employee – as some Bright Horizons clients do.

iii. Provision of wider family supports lifts family-inclusive employers above the general population; yet the gap is closing

Bright Horizons’ client employees score higher than the general population on factors such as perceiving their employer as caring about work-home balance, even when they have not actively used the care services. (74% client employees vs 66% general population, rising to 82% for active Back-Up Care users).

However, there is now pressure on employers to continue to innovate in this area,  to differentiate their employee experience. For example, we have seen a steady climb in perception of managers caring about work-home balance across the last 3 years. In 2021, there was a clear 20 percentage point difference between Bright Horizons clients (Work+Family Snapshot) and the general population (Modern Families Index) on perceiving the manager as caring about work-home balance (79% Bright Horizons clients vs 59% general population). In 2022, this difference was 19 percentage points (81% vs 62%) and this year, it is a 13 percentage point difference (82% vs 69%). We can see that Bright Horizons’ client employee scores have continued to rise, yet the ‘rest of the world’ has seen a culture shift towards more openness.

As more employers have become more open to – at least – discussing family at work, and as more organisations offer flexible working, it will be vital for leading employers to keep working at the growing edge of family support in the competition for talent. This will mean providing inclusive supports across all family life stages. It also means ensuring there is practical support, beyond mere conversations, since active care users continue to score higher than those who are simply aware of the services.

iv. The younger generation is ambitious about career, yet unwilling to sacrifice family life for work

Across all generations in this survey, career ambitions are stronger for over a third (34%), when asked to reflect on the last 12 months. For the 18-34 age group, an impressive 45% indicate higher career ambitions in 2023. This compares to 33% of the 35-54 age group and just 5% of those in the 55+ bracket.

Alongside this, family priority is high. Half (50%) of these client employees indicate ‘My family has become a higher priority than before’. For the youngest generation this stands at 56%, while 48% of 35-54 year olds now place higher priority on family and 46% of over 55s feel this way.

So employers seeking to engage all generations will need to ensure family can be prioritised at all life stages as well as ensuring attention to career progression stays strong, particularly for the rising generation.

v. Over 55s and under 35s are all continuing to rethink their direction, just as employers seek to draw the older demographic back to work

Over 55s and under 35s in particular are all continuing to rethink their direction, just as employers seek to draw the older demographic back to work. Over half (51%) of under 35s and over 55s agreed ‘I find myself reflecting more on my overall direction and sense of purpose than I used to”, while 46% of 35- to 54-year-olds felt this way.

We will be debating the best ways to engage Older Workers and Carers in our HRreview webinar on 15th June, along with Kim Chaplain, Specialist Advisor, Centre for Ageing Better and Katherine Wilson, Head of Employers for Carers, Carers UK

  1. Deloitte’s 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey shows the younger generations want more support and choice

The Work+Family Snaphot findings, above, sit in a wider context including two other current pieces of research we’ll touch on. One is Deloitte’s Gen Z and Millennial Survey now in its 12th year, which gathers insights from more than 22,000 Gen Z and millennial respondents across 44 countries. In the UK data, the cost of living remains the top concern for UK Gen Zs and millennials with more than half of respondents saying they live from pay-day to pay-day. To cover their living costs, 42% of UK Gen Zs have taken on a side hustle. Employers can of course help with the cost of living through childcare and other family supports.

Stress and anxiety levels remain high, driven by financial and environmental concerns, as well as workplace pressures. Over half of UK Gen Zs (51%) and 47% of UK millennials say they feel stressed all or most of the time, higher than the global average. Stress levels are even higher among women, LGBT+ respondents, ethnic minorities, and those with disabilities.

Alongside these concerns there is a strong appetite for hybrid work: more than three-quarters of UK Gen Zs (77%) and 7 in 10 millennials (71%) would consider looking for a new job if their employer asked them to go into their workplace full-time.

  1. Working Families Index reveals the cost of living and scheduling pressures on families earning under £50K

The Working Families Index 2023 report, run in partnership with Pinsent Masons, shone a light this year on the financial challenges faced by lower-income families in the UK. The survey group focused on families with two children and a combined income of £50,000 or less, drawing on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Minimum Income Standards. The report highlights the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on families, particularly in terms of childcare costs.

There were four key findings:

  • i. Childcare: Over 50% had had to reduce their working hours to manage childcare, rising to 58% among mothers and 60% among Black parents. 4 in 10 working parents on lower incomes have gone into debt to pay for childcare.
  • ii. Parental leave: Working mothers on lower incomes take 4 months’ less maternity leave than the UK average.
  • iii. Flexible working: Parents who are on a lower income are twice as likely to have an informal flexible working request rejected than the average parent. Those whose flexible request was successful were a third less likely to have to quit their job to manage childcare, 25% less likely to fall into debt, and half as likely to have had their mental health negatively impacted due to the difficulty accessing childcare. Comparison to the 2022 Working Families Index highlights a differentiation between higher income families, who have better access to remote and hybrid working, and lower income families, who are more likely to work reduced-hours or term-time arrangements.
  • iv. Control over working patterns: Parents on lower incomes are more likely to work shifts, as 69% in this survey do. Almost half of shift workers receive one week’s notice or less, with agency and zero-hours workers being most likely to receive the least notice. Only a fifth of shift workers receive a month’s notice or more.

Among the report’s recommendations, Working Families and Pinsent Masons comment: ‘We welcome the Chancellor’s commitment in the 2023 Spring Budget to increase funding for childcare, as it is an acknowledgement that affordable childcare is vital for economic growth. However, the budget as it stands does not offer enough funding to realise the promise of a fully supported system from nine months to four years old. It is crucial that the Government funds these new childcare provisions at rates that are sustainable for the early years sector, allowing them to meet increased demand, and alongside a workforce strategy to ensure that nursery staff are supported to deliver high-quality care.’ Our recent HRreview webinar on the employer’s role in childcare explored the ways employers can ensure employees continue to have access to affordable, quality, early years education with salary sacrifice schemes, tuition subsidies, and back-up care among the options.

In terms of control over work schedules, it is heartening that Amazon has been widely congratulated for introducing two new approaches to flexible working for site-based workers. According to Employee Benefits, ‘Amazon’s term-time contract will give parents, grandparents and guardians of school-age children the option to work term-time only, guaranteeing time off for the six-week summer break and the two-week Easter and Christmas holiday periods. This will not affect the benefits they receive, which include private medical insurance and life assurance. In addition, ‘Amazon’s new flexible part-time contract is for a minimum of 80 hours a month, allowing employees to choose part-day, full-day, day or night, weekday or weekend shifts depending on their needs. It will enable those who are unable to find work due to family or other commitments that require flexibility to return to the workplace’.