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25 Nov 2022
by Dawn Lewis

REBA Inside Track: Why workforce planning needs family-friendly benefits 

With an increasing number of employees finding themselves in the sandwich generation, the number of working carers on the rise and childcare costs at an all-time high, addressing family-friendly benefits has never been more critical

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Family-friendly benefits and those that focus on employees and their dependants are on the rise. Our Benefits Design 2022 research showed that 79% of employers do, or will, focus on employees and dependants, indicating a more holistic approach to family, while 47% expect to increase spend in this area. 

Why this interest in family benefits? There are a whole range of reasons, but ultimately it comes back to workforce planning. There are several reasons why this issue is now coming to a head. 

Older workers

Following the pandemic there was a mass exodus of older talent from businesses. Figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that overall economic inactivity increased by 522,000 persons in October to December 2021 compared with before the pandemic (October to December 2019). Most of the increase was because of those aged 50 years and over, contributing 94.4% (493,000) to the overall change. This trend has continued into 2022 and what has been termed as The Great Resignation. The reasons for this exit from the workplace are multifaceted, but are predominately related to early retirement, health, caring responsibilities and wanting greater flexibility. 

Despite this, there are now signs that some of these retirees are beginning to return to the workplace due to the cost of living crisis. Although this is good in terms of being able to fill skills and knowledge gaps, the fact is many of these individuals are returning out of necessity, and so keeping them motivated and engaged will be challenging. 

And this issue is not going to go away. We have an ageing workforce, particularly in Europe, and so employers will need to consider what this means for their organisation and the benefits they offer. In the UK, for example, the average age exceeded 40 years old for the first time in 2014, and by 2040 nearly one in seven people are projected to be aged over 75.

As the government’s Future of an Ageing Population (2016) report notes: “The productivity and economic success of the UK will therefore be increasingly tied to the productivity and success of its ageing workforce.”

Working carers

Figures from Carers UK reveal that there are five million people in the UK juggling caring responsibilities with work – that's one in seven of the workforce. It is a figure that is steadily increasing. However, the significant demands of caring mean that 600 people give up work every day to care for an older or disabled relative.

These figures highlight the loss of talent from UK businesses due to caring responsibilities. For those that remain, three quarters (72%) of working carers were worrying about continuing to juggle work and care, and 77% felt tired at work because of the demands of their unpaid caring role. Six out of 10 had given up opportunities at work because of their caring responsibilities, according to Carers UK Supporting carers at work: opportunity and imperative report.

In addition, many working carers are themselves in poor health, be it physical or mental.

The risk of losing employees who feel unable to manage their work and caring responsibilities is substantial. Yet this is a growing issue as more of us are living longer, but in poorer health. In turn, this is putting pressure on younger generations who need to provide additional support, be it short- or long-term, to their family. 

Childcare 

The cost and availability of childcare is increasingly prohibitive to working parents. More than half of those surveyed for the Working Families Index 2022 said availability of childcare impacts their capacity to work. A further seven in 10 parents also said they would need to consider childcare options before going for a new job or promotion. 

These findings are reinforced by a survey of nearly 27,000 parents of young children by Pregnant Then Screwed and Mumsnet, which revealed that for 62% of respondents, the cost of childcare is now the same or more than their rent/mortgage. It’s an issue that is particularly acute for women, with 43% of mums stating that the cost of childcare has made them consider leaving their job, and 40% have had to reduce their working hours. Perhaps most worryingly, nearly all respondents (99%) said the cost of childcare is making the cost of living crisis even more challenging. 

It's clear that childcare issues are putting both financial and personal career decisions under pressure. Our own DEI Benefits Research found that over a third (36%) of businesses face the challenge of losing new parents from the workforce. And so, not only are employers at risk of losing employees after they start at family, but if parents feel unable to afford adequate childcare and are hesitant to push for progression or have to reduce their working hours – for those individuals, their pay and career progression is significantly hindered. 

The boiling pot of pressures

Dr Eliza Filby gave a perfect example of the family pressures facing employees during REBA’s Employee Wellbeing Congress earlier this year: “Generation X are the squeezed generation. Saddled as you are between looking after your kids – which is a 30-year financial commitment – and looking after your parents. This is something that is really going to influence your millennial employees, but it is now stressing out your Generation X, particularly women.”

If employers aren’t careful they will begin losing talent because of the external pressures on families. Be it new parents who find it difficult to manage childcare costs, through to those who become working carers, or those who simply want to reduce their workload as they get older and their health deteriorates. 

Reward and benefits professionals have huge potential to mitigate some of these risks and create a workplace culture that is genuinely supportive of working parents and carers. Traditional benefits such as employee assistance programmes can help, while insurances could be expanded to be more inclusive of dependents. 

There are also new benefit propositions coming to market offering concierge services to help employees with different life events, be it practical support for those going through divorce, through to help with choosing a nursing home for an older relative. Offering access to legal services such as will writing and Lasting Power of Attorney are also important for financial wellbeing.

Whatever the motivations, the need to align workforce planning with a flexible, inclusive and comprehensive reward and benefits strategy, that supports employees no matter their life stage or circumstances, is clear.

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