On The Horizon – October 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, celebrating the launch of our newly published Parental Leave and Family Support Benchmark, Jennifer takes a particular glance at what Good looks like.

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

Parental Leave and Family Support Benchmark – What does Good look like?

Our just-published Parental Leave and Family Support Benchmark gives a clear picture of what Good looks like in employer support for new and expectant parents, ongoing parents, and carers, drawing on over 500 UK employers.

This year, we’ve presented the data in diagrams showing the basics covered by most employers and then the provisions in place with fewer employers, which offer a competitive edge. Some provisions such as group coaching and access to support with care are growing while some, such as the option to return part-time on full pay are reducing. There is also an anonymous league table to explore to see where your parental leave policy sits in terms of enhanced paid leave.

Looking at support for ongoing parents and carers is a novel addition this year. Of interest to many in our community of HR leaders, this enables a look at how many employers are supporting with childcare for example.

For ongoing parents, back-up care comes into the group of Core offerings provided by at least 30% of employers, along with a culture encouraging flexibility (32%) and other baseline essentials such as unpaid emergency time off, and statutory unpaid parental leave for ongoing parents. When we look at help with regular care, nearly a quarter (24%) offer savings on ongoing care. Nearly 1 in 10 (9%) offer a near-site childcare facility, and onsite childcare is available with 7% of employers in this sample of over 500.

For carers, meanwhile, back-up care is cited by 22% of employers along with advice on finding care (18%), helplines (22%), savings on ongoing care (19%) and paid emergency time off by a quarter (25%). In the offerings affording a competitive edge, we find carers networks at 13% of employers, coaching at 12% and paid carers leave offered by 7% of employers.

For new and expectant parents, we are able to look at changes year on year as we have been running the Parental Leave Benchmark every two years since 2017. Growth areas include access to an onsite or virtual GP / nurse (27%, up 18 percentage points). Coaching is also on the rise: Group Maternity / Parental Leave coaching (20%, up 7 percentage points), one-to-one coaching (18%, up 1 percentage point) and training/coaching for managers (17%, up 3 percentage points). You’ll find all this and more in the research report.

CIPD’s view of Good Work

Further on the topic of what Good looks like, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) has published a Manifesto for Good Work, setting out steps – for government and the major political parties – toward skilled, healthy and fair work. In terms of family-friendly measures, fair work includes a call for:

  • better supported flexible, statutory paternity leave of six weeks at or near the full rate of pay
  • reform of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) to boost uptake by enhancing the statutory provision and simplifying the process
  • enhanced childcare support for working parents, including for parents who are training
  • two weeks’ bereavement leave and pay for all employees experiencing the bereavement of a close family member or dependant
  • and an employer-led campaign to create more menopause-friendly workplaces.

Workers are not so convinced that work is Good.

While HR leaders continue to emphasise wellbeing and inclusion as ongoing themes, many figures refuse to show positive change. Reward Gateway found trends in which loneliness at work is high with workers seeking greater recognition. Intriguingly (and worryingly) in those reporting loneliness, full-time office workers (26%) are slightly lonelier than their counterparts who work from home (25.6%), with those adopting a hybrid model faring better at 21%.

And we turn again to the CIPD, along with SimplyHealth, for the insight that ‘UK workers are taking more sick days than at any point in the last decade’. Their study explored rates of absence in more than 900 organisations, representing 6.5 million employees and found that staff took on average 7.8 sick days in the past year, up from 5.8 before the pandemic.

The CIPD blamed stress, Covid and the cost-of-living crisis. On the other hand, Dr Audrey Tang, psychologist and broadcaster, diagnosed "a mismatch of understanding from people right at the top" about what workers needed. "Often, quick, short-term fixes such lunchtime yoga or ice cream vans are not what people need," she said.

Getting Good access to care

Could caring be contributing to the high absence levels reported by the CIPD? Opinium’s Future of Work survey sampled 9,400 employees across Germany, UK, Netherlands, Italy, France, Spain, Ireland, Denmark, Switzerland and Sweden. Among many insights, it emerges that both in the UK and in Europe, 50% of employees feel comfortable asking for time off to care for someone else and nearly 1 in 5 (19%) feel uncomfortable. Many employers find that Back-Up Care more than pays for itself in absence management savings and is an important indicator that the employer understands the demands of caring and is taking practical steps to support.

Absence can also rise when access to childcare is a challenge. Media including the BBC reported figures from the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), showing the number of childcare places has dropped by 24,000 in the past financial year. Our experience is that such concerns continue to increase the number of employers looking to ease cost of living pressures, as well as helping their people access care, by supporting their employees with childcare through employer-sponsored nursery partnerships.

Good girls and boys?

There has also been a lot of coverage of the World Values Survey in recent weeks. Among many eye-catching insights, parents no longer rate Obedience as such a key value to pass on to children.

The survey, one of the largest and most widely used academic social surveys in the world since 1981, includes the values parents want to pass on to children. These have remained relatively stable since 1990, with some notable rises and falls.

In order, parents seek to pass on:

  • Good manners (90% in 1990, 85% in 2022)
  • Tolerance and respect for other people (79%, 76%)
  • Independence (42%, 53%)
  • Hard work (29%, 48%)
  • Feeling of responsibility (46%, 46%)
  • Unselfishness (56%, 43%)
  • Determination, perseverance (29%, 41%)
  • Imagination (18%, 37%)
  • Thrift, saving money and things (26%, 19%)
  • Obedience (42%, 12%)
  • Religious faith (23%, 9%)

The unfashionable nature of obedience looks like good news to our Early Childhood team: Bright Horizons’ Bright Beginnings learning philosophy is in tune with the values of independence, determination, perseverance and imagination that have all risen in importance, as the curriculum centres the child's own wellbeing and self-reliance.

Have a Good National Work-Life Week

Finally, we are very proud to be sponsoring Working Families’ National Work-Life Week with involvement across all the week’s activities including the Culture Coffee Morning Webinar with Denise Priest on 3rd October, our input to the 5th October Making Flexible Working More Inclusive webinar and contribution to the design and analysis of the week’s YouGov poll amongst other impactful work. The key of course is not only to ensure your people have a good week, but that they genuinely feel your ongoing, positive, attention to supporting a Good work-life fit.