On The Horizon February 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 reflects on key findings in the annual Modern Families Index.

It’s easier to talk about family at work now, but are employers offering enough practical support?

Bright Horizons’ 2023 Modern Families Index (MFI) highlights three urgent messages for employers:

1) Working parents expect, and need, more than ever from their employers;

2) This is a key moment to strengthen employee benefits as a retention tool; and

3) Dads are seeking recognition of their hands-on parenting role.

The report shares findings from 3,000 UK parents, with over 1 in 5 (22%) also having a caring responsibility for an adult or elder.

It is a quick, infographic-rich read, with actionable tips for employers on these three areas and more.

Download the Modern Families Index Spotlight Report here.

Exactly the same proportion as last year – nearly 4 in 10 (38%) – of this random sample of working parents plans to look for a new job in the next 12 months. The risk of leaving for another employer is higher in more senior roles. The three role-holders most likely to look for new employment in the next 12 months are Partner / Board level director 69%; Managing Partner / Chief Executive 48%; and Other senior manager or director below board level 47%. Carers of elderly parents, or of a disabled or unwell adult child or partner also reported a raised likelihood to look for a new job at 62%.

With the labour market remaining tight – and the competition to attract and retain talented workers fierce – the insights reveal clear practical pointers for employers.

Working parents expect, and need, more than ever from their employers

One of the striking findings in this year’s Modern Families Index was the leap in working parents and carers feeling their organisation and manager care about their work-home balance.

We’ve all surely noticed it’s easier to talk about family at work since the great revelation of home life on camera in recent years. In last year’s 2022 MFI, we had celebrated nudging up past the 6 in 10 mark feeling their organisation and manager care about their work-home balance (2022: 61% organisation cares; 62% manager cares). The previous year, 2021, these figures were 58% and 59%. Now in 2023, 66% feel their organisation cares and 69% feel their manager cares. So, the relative increase last year was 5% while the relative step up this year was bigger: 8% (organisation) and 11% (manager).

When nearly 7 in 10 randomly sampled working parents feel their manager cares about work-home balance, this means two things. Firstly: well done to more and more managers understanding the work-life equation and supporting employees to find the right answers. Secondly: those employers working hard to retain and attract talented workers now have further to go to evidence their family-friendly credentials: more is needed to differentiate the Employee Value Proposition.

One of the clear needs is to move beyond empathic understanding and provide practical help. Help with care, particularly ad hoc care, came through as a strong focus. Just 31% said they do not look after children while working from home. Nearly 4 in 10 (39%) said their productivity is negatively impacted when asked: ‘If you are ever looking after your children while working from home, does this negatively impact your productivity?’.

Three quarters of all parents (77% of mothers, 75% of fathers) say they have had to take a day (or more) off work unexpectedly in order to meet childcare commitments. The average time out is 3.1 days. Three-quarters similarly report that they consider their childcare or adult/elder care commitments before accepting a new job.

This is a key moment to strengthen employee benefits as a retention tool

Another reason for employers to support with care is that it helps with the overall costs that families face in living and working. Over half (54%) say they have concerns for either themselves or their partner about the cost of living/household bills and over 4 in 10 (41%) say they have or will cut down on heating as the cost of living rises, second only to cutting down on meals out/takeaways (51%).

4 in 10 (41%) said benefits or services from their employer that help with the cost of living would make them more loyal and likely to stay. This scores above professional development / training (29%) and autonomy regarding hours of work (28%).

The report has further insights into the ways parents and carers are cutting back and the support they seek from both employers and government.

Dads are seeking recognition (and they are particularly concerned about their children’s educational needs)

The third major finding of the 2023 Modern Families Index is the need to recognise fathers in their hands-on parenting role. Although all parents are now finding it easier to talk about family at work, it is still harder for fathers to do so. While 74% of women and are now confident talking to their employer about family-related issues, 67% men report this.

As we saw above, men are almost exactly as likely as women to need time off work for childcare reasons and they reported more distraction than women when caring for children while working from home. Of those who attempt to combine the two, 60% of men found it had a negative impact on productivity while 53% of women found this. We can also presume that this is not very satisfying for the children or the parents in terms of family life and child development.

Perhaps most striking of all is the finding that men report higher ongoing concerns about their children’s educational catchup needs and wellbeing. In the 2022 MFI, over half of parents had expressed concerns about their children’s educational catchup needs (55%), mental health (54%) and social skills (52%). The 2023 figures still show high concerns, though these have eased since 2022 overall: now 48% worry about educational catchup needs, mental health (50%) and social skills (46%). However, for fathers, these concerns still run high: educational catchup needs (58%), mental health (57%) and social skills (57%).

How well might that be working out for fathers when it’s also not quite as easy to talk about family at work as it is for mothers?

Among many of Bright Horizons’ partner employers, we have worked together to see back-up care extend across family life stages to provide access to virtual tutoring programmes. This, which is of course promoted and accessed in gender-inclusive ways, forms part of the kind of creativity needed now to establish the workplace of the 21st century, where employers and all employees very naturally discuss, and make provision for, home life as well as work life.

What should employers be doing?

The 2023 Modern Families Index Spotlight Report shows graphically all these trends and much more. The report also offers practical pointers throughout on actions for employers.

Some of the solutions point to employers continuing to build on practical supports for family life – such as back-up care, employer-sponsored regular care, advice and coaching.

It will also be important to continue to grow the trust and autonomy that employees seek in their working arrangements. With a Day 1 right to request flexible working due to come into legislation, the MFI found that two-thirds (67%) of the UK’s working parents are optimistic that they can combine flexible working with career progression; and the appetite to progress is higher than last year.

We need to remember that flexibility is not all about remote working. In 2022, fewer people than the previous year wanted to spend the majority of their week working remotely. A similar decrease of interest in being fully remote was repeated this year: 57% seek a blend, showing the office is still attractive. Many workers of course need to be physically present to deliver their role requirements and others value the collaborative and social aspects of the office or workplace.

It is always humbling reviewing the important Modern Families Index data and drawing out its themes. The 2023 report shows a nation of working parents and carers eager to be in dialogue with their employers about family needs, keen to be the best parents or carers they can be and also eager to progress their careers. Many are struggling with the cost of living and while they have seen corporate cultures becoming more open in recent times, they are now asking for more practical support. This comes at a time when employers are competing to attract and retain the best people and will no doubt find the MFI data quite compelling.