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27 Oct 2020
by Jennifer Liston-Smith

No more childcare vouchers: new and innovative ways to support employees with childcare

We’ve seen that for many organisations, the pandemic has meant a huge step up in employer involvement in childcare. Vouchers may be off the table but the total rewards system for 2021 definitely gets its sleeves rolled up around direct care provision.


Areas for the forward-thinking employer to consider are ongoing care provision, back-up care, wrap-around care and care advice. With the school system delicately poised around selective isolations and circuit breaks, it is a question of stepping in with care or being ready to review priorities, or both.


  • Ongoing Childcare Provision workplace nurseries are key to supporting those who need or want to be back at a place of work which will be important to hybrid working in the future. There is now also a new model of near-site care: employers are branching into partnerships with our local community nurseries to provide childcare nearer to home-based offices. Employers have wanted to ensure home-based workers have priority access to covid-safe childcare.
  • Back-up Childcare – even BC (before coronavirus) most large employers understood the need to bridge the gap when care arrangements fall over (usually around nine times a year). Whether with in-home childcare, nurseries and holiday clubs to in-home adult and eldercare. Now many of our client organisations have been rapidly innovating along with us, and some sectors, such as banking or tech, have increased their subsidised sessions of back-up care or waived their consecutive day policy to provide additional support.
  • Wraparound Care – there has been a great deal of innovation in supporting parents who are working in a school-free or reduced-school world, including virtual holiday clubs and subsidised access to tutors. In-home back-up care can also act as homework support during disruption to schooling or to fill out a shortened school day, so make sure you promote any provision that you have available, flagging its suitability to support in these times of disruption to schooling.
  • Care Advice  well informed signposting is needed more than ever. Navigating the care maze for any parent, let alone those new to the UK can be time-consuming at the best of times. Any helplines you have should be strongly promoted. Our experts have been finding a significant rise in eldercare queries too, as more employees step up to caring at a distance for loved ones.

Working parents have always been jugglers, more so since the pandemic, lockdown, a disrupted summer and now altered schooldays. Parents also used to be magicians to an even greater extent than jugglers as they (we) used to completely ‘disappear’ our children during working hours to underline our appearance of willingness and ambition at work.

Now – since everything went on camera at home and childcare and education paused for a while – working parents have been allowed to keep those children showing a bit (they’ve been the backdrop to some famous Zoom meetings) but only the cuter moments, of course.

The result has been quite a performance! Step aside Cirque du Soleil, this is Cirque de la Famille! But the serious and lasting point is the visibility of family life and suddenly more of an understanding across management and leadership of what it means to combine work and family.

Working parents will struggle to magically disappear their children again, while school life is uncertain and Covid rules are so changeable, but perhaps there is more understanding now of what’s involved.

Bright Horizons recent survey of over 400 working parents in the UK showed the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on working parents of every gender, and particularly women, relative to those without children. Nearly four in 10 working parents felt that their work and career had been worse affected than colleagues without children and the disruption continues. There are altered timetables in schools. There are potential closures or localized lockdowns and isolations. There's an absence of the usual wraparound care, breakfast clubs or after-school activities.

Employers in all sectors will need to hold open the window of patience as well as stepping in to ensure continuity of care. Even in early September, our survey revealed 71% of working parents had concerns about potential disruption to their work through changed school schedules or potential closures, and of those, just 13% had any contingency plans.

As we move through October, the outlook worsens but employers with practical solutions are making a positive contribution that will be remembered for much longer. This engagement dividend is on top of simply ensuring presence and readiness to work and also goes some way toward levelling the gender-inclusive playing field as – during the pandemic – care, and care-related leave of absence have often, though of course not always, been borne by women.

The author of this article is Jennifer Liston-Smith, head of thought leadership, Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions. 

Jennifer delivered a speaker session as part of REBA's virtual Employee Wellbeing Congress. Her session Best Practice for Working Parents: engage and support your expert work-life jugglers, back to school, back to work and into the future shared further insights from working with leading employers to solve the challenges for employees who combine work and family. Bright Horizons provides a wide range of work and family solutions to more than 1,200 leading employers globally.


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