On The Horizon – May 2024

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

Summertime, and the living’s not so easy

Horizons have quite literally been bright over much of the UK recently. Amid widespread flashes of the Aurora Borealis, there was day-long basking in warming sunshine, enticing us into smiles and t-shirts.

On a more sombre note, there may be heatwaves ahead and there is also the summer juggle to contend with. That’s the one outside those colourful circus tents about to spring up. Angela Stalker, Head of Client Services at Bright Horizons, was featured in Personnel Today describing the dread many working parents feel, given the mismatch between typical annual leave and the school holiday. How can parents be present to work, and give their children enriching, memory-making summer fun, while also remaining productive? As Angela Stalker explains, leading employers make sure their Back-Up Care programmes include summer holiday club access. Then parents can deliver their work goals while the children keep up their enjoyable learning. And annual leave can be used for actual family fun, rather than frenzied tag-team contortions between couples or groups of friends.

The other option, of course, is to change the summer holiday. For at least 15 years, historians have pushed back on the myth that the holiday was an archaic plan to enable children to work in the harvest. It actually belongs more to a world in which the cost of living was low enough for at least one parent to spend stay-at-home time with the family. But unless and until the holiday itself is modernised, it is worth being aware just what it means for parents of school-age children and the boost to employee experience that comes from helping with care and education, as well as the productivity gains.

And for those families relying on an au pair, the options have been narrowed by live-in workers now being entitled to earn the minimum wage in place of the previous 'pocket money’ (apart from certain exceptions such as Canada or Australia, under the youth mobility scheme).


10th US Modern Family Index urges employers to listen and act

While we have run the Modern Families Index in the UK since 2012, our US colleagues are now marking their 10th anniversary with the launch of their 2024 Modern Family Index (MFI). 70% of over 2,000 US parents surveyed say working for a company that has benefits to support work/life balance is “non-negotiable”. What does that mean? Strikingly, they value onsite childcare above unlimited remote working.

Stephen Kramer CEO of Bright Horizons has commented: “There has been a fundamental shift in employees’ expectations of their employers… Employees 10 years ago felt like they were simply workers to their employers. Today, they really believe that employers should be supporting their careers, but at the same time support their families in order for them to be most successful.”

Contrasted with 2014, nearly 8 in 10 (78%) are more comfortable speaking up about family-related responsibilities with their employer than they used to be, and just 24% of parents surveyed say they would be “nervous to tell their bosses they have to miss a work event to make a family commitment”, compared to 39% in 2014.

There is optimism too. Many US working parents (44%) anticipate that the workplace will get better over the next decade and hope for specific improvements including: 
• schedule flexibility (65%) 
• better quality benefits (57%) 
• a work environment sensitive to their work/life balance needs (44%) 
• more childcare supports (35%)

Talent Retention is still a worry

A key message in the US 2024 MFI data is that parents are “poised to quit [their] jobs if [their] boss doesn’t step up”. Our UK MFI report carried a similar warning with 42% expecting to look for new work in 2024 and a 4-percentage point rise since 2023 being attributable to women in particular.

This trend echoed in wider research findings. HR software provider Ciphr’s study of 300 HR decision-makers across the UK showed that retaining skilled employees was chief among challenges for 51%. Top concerns included their ability to meet employee expectations around wages, work-life balance, and mental health support.

Registration is open for September’s funded places

Parents who earn less than £100,000 are now well underway with their new 15-hour funded childcare places for 2-year-olds in England. On 12th May, applications opened for September’s 15-hour places for children from 9 months. 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).

In order to deliver the full rollout, the sector is reported to require 85,000 more places and 40,000 extra staff, with 9,000 of those staff by this September. Forward-thinking employers are ensuring their employees have access to sufficient places through workplace nurseries or partnerships with local provision. The same article quotes the NPELC (National Partnership in Early Learning and Childcare), of which Bright Horizons is part: “We welcome the government’s increased investment in early learning and childcare and have been pleased to work closely with those across the sector to ensure a smooth rollout of the April entitlement, so families can access this vital provision.”

Meanwhile, the Fawcett Society has said childcare in England needs a deeper overhaul, publishing a report with a plan for long-term reform, expanding the existing funded hours to all children, not only those of working parents, and providing funding to nurseries so they can operate in unprofitable areas, and support inclusion for all children.


Employers look for guidance on Domestic Abuse

The Department for Business and Trade (DBT) has reviewed statutory leave provision for employees to consider whether there is enough support for victims and survivors trying to escape domestic abuse. Enterprise Minister, Kevin Hollinrake has given a statement to Parliament setting out key findings. He has urged employers to consider that a relatively simple way of supporting those experiencing domestic abuse can be to offer greater flexibility about when and where someone works, or to make small adjustments to allow time away for appointments.

There is certainly an eagerness among employers to exchange information and learn together on this important topic. Bright Horizons is hosting an online forum on the employer’s role in domestic abuse on 4th July and over 100 employers signed up within the first few hours of opening registration. Our line-up of panel guests will ensure a depth of shared experience and insight. This pro bono event has been spearheaded by Emily Harris, Bright Horizons Social Impact Manager, whose work with our Bright Horizons Foundation puts her in touch with so many families affected by domestic abuse.

Is family life still too quiet?

‘Parenting Loudly’ has been much discussed since at least Spring 2021 when Lorna Borenstein publishedIt's Personal: The Business Case for Caring’. Elliott Rae picks up the baton in usual charismatic style, brightening up the London Underground with his Parenting Out Loud campaign, calling on dads, and their employers, to talk more openly about parenting responsibilities.

But it doesn’t stop with parents. Many think carers of adults need to turn up the volume too. Employee Benefits, quick to report the many employers building on the new statutory week of unpaid carer’s leave by providing paid leave, highlighted claims management provider Crawford and Company among others. Part of Crawford’s culture is to encourage its people to ‘Care out Loud’. In addition to making the new statutory 5 days' unpaid leave into paid leave and a Caring For Others Network Group, Care Out Loud aims to normalise employees’ caring activities by encouraging “openness and authentic communication about staying at home to care for sick dependants and being confident about requesting flexible working."

There are still places available at our interactive webinar on Best Practice for Carers and Carer’s Leave, on 22nd May with our client, law firm Hogan Lovells, and Counsel and Senior Professional Support Lawyer, Jo Broadbent. You can register here. We also produced together an at-a-glance guide to the recent family-inclusive legislative changes and accompanying best practice advice.

Our next research release 6th June

After the Modern Families Index, our next important UK research release will be our Work+Family Snapshot on 6th June. The findings of this survey of Bright Horizons clients’ employees will be revealed during our HRreview webinar exploring the meaning of productivity in 2024. We will discuss the data further in a client briefing later in the month, and at our June Heads of Family Networks knowledge exchange for clients. It will also provide rich material for our next round of client peer council meetings in the Autumn.