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15 Feb 2022
by Jennifer Liston-Smith

How the needs of parents of young children are finally being recognised

As 2022 began against a stormy backdrop of party politics, scientists reported sight of the ‘peak of Omicron’ – not a feature on the moon’s surface, but the tipping point leading to the easing of pandemic restrictions, across the UK.




This moves us toward living with the Covid-19 endemic and – for the vaccinated – a less deadly virus, unless a vaccine-resistant strain emerges.

With this comes our latest (of many) opportunities to figure out new working styles; to define ongoing working arrangements, rather than crisis management. Google, according to the BBC, is among those backing the office as the best place for people to collaborate, grow and deliver work together. Our just-released Bright Horizons 2022 Modern Families Index shows a strong need for employers to get things right on both family support and flexible working, and shows a slight trend back towards more time in the office vs home.

Qualtrics, meanwhile, in its 2022 Employee Experience Trends Report, ties up survey results from 14,000 workers around the world into a ‘Letter’ thanking their employers for their support during the pandemic and then ‘tearing up the playbook’ in terms of expectations regarding future flexibility and autonomy. A 4-day week pilot programme being trialled by 30 UK employers should yield insights into whether 80% hours on 100% pay could enhance productivity long-term (beyond the initial flurry of gratitude).

In another survey, by workingmums.co.uk and The Changing Work Company, more than 2/3 of people who worked remotely pre-Covid-19 have not been asked about their experience even though it could shape new ways of working. The WM People Top Employer Awards ceremony took place showcasing innovations in flexibility, support for work-life fit, wellbeing and career progression. This certainly seems to be a time for consulting people on what works.

Misconceptions about working alongside children

Kitty Holland, writing in the Irish Times about the potential gendered impact of remote working, included two case studies pointing out that remote workers do actually need, and use, childcare. Understanding that remote workers do not usually have a child on their lap all day did not stop a tweet about a parent and baby desk in a Virginia library going viral. Social media threads made leaps from an hour in the library to a day at the office, with heated views on all sides, and several mentions that surely a workplace nursery might be a better option.

Speaking of which - and with all eyes on the high cost of living - our upcoming webinar about Care Solutions in The Hybrid Working World shares vital information about the cost-neutral way employers can help employees save money on childcare through partnerships with local nurseries. This will bring even more savings if the rise in National Insurance goes ahead.

Parental leave is a top-scoring requirement

Research by Vodafone has found that ‘one-in-five younger workers in the UK have quit their job due to poor parental leave support’ and that ‘a quarter of 18–34-year-olds did not apply for a job as a result of a perceived lack of support for parents’. Bright Horizons' 2021 Parental Leave Benchmark could be a helpful guide to what ‘good’ looks like.

According to the BBC, female professional footballers however will now have contractual maternity leave and cover, though with 14 weeks of paid leave and most stopping play at 3 months, it is regarded by some as just a start.

A boost for carers

Any carers waiting for a Covid-19 booster vaccination might be glad to know they are being given priority, thanks to a campaign by Carers UK. Another recognition of carers is expected this year with the Employment Bill, announced at the end of 2019, delayed during the pandemic and now expected to emerge in 2022. This is set to bring in statutory carer’s leave, giving employees with caring responsibilities one week of unpaid leave per year, whatever their service length.

This is the same Bill that is also due to introduce statutory neonatal leave and pay for parents whose babies need neonatal care, and to extend the redundancy protection period for employees on maternity and similar leave to up to six months after they return to work.

As many, though not all, carers are themselves older workers, better recognition of, and provision for carers could play a part in stemming the Great Retirement.

Around the world

The gender pay gap and female workforce participation are proving hard to influence in both the Netherlands and India. Workplace culture and better division of household work are seen as part of the Dutch solution, while in India there are calls for better government-funded support for maternity leave and crèches, as well as gender-neutral leave.

The Australian state of New South Wales is providing a modest payout of $A500 (£270) to support parents with out-of-school care, as classes resume, recognising the tough times parents have had. It’s another global indication that the daily juggling act of working parents managing the mismatch of the school day and work day is now better understood.

In the US, President Joe Biden is attempting to get support from business leaders to get elements of his Build Back Better package back on track after it was stalled at the end of 2021. It’s possible that the package will be broken up and that climate commitments might pass more easily than provisions for families and care, despite their pivotal role in retaining much-needed female talent. Medicine is another in a long line of professions highlighted as losing women, with high reported rates of burnout and a traditional lack of flexibility.

With the Chinese new year celebrations and the move from the year of the Ox to the Tiger, hopefully there is energy in the air to continue tackling these interesting times in which we live.   

Author is Jennifer Liston-Smith, head of thought leadership, Bright Horizons

Article provided by Bright Horizons.

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