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28 Jun 2022
by Jennifer Liston-Smith

The great rethink of working parents and carers: or how work-life balance is more important than ever

Work flexibility, help with child and elder care and a greater emphasis on employee family life are all factors that need to be considered in retaining talent

The ‘great rethink’ of working parents and carers: or how work-life balance is more important than ever.jpg 1


Global events have dramatically affected the world of work over the past two years. The break from old routines has seen many working parents and carers recalibrate their work and family lives. They have asked questions about their employment and their employers.

This ‘great rethink’ pushed people to look for opportunities that better fit their lives and values and made the competition to attract and retain talent fiercer than ever. All this has played out in an economic climate where skilled, efficient, experienced and productive people will be key to thriving business.

Research backs up these trends. Bright Horizons’ Modern Families Index (MFI) asks randomly selected UK mothers and fathers about working parenthood, while the Work+Family Snapshot (WFS) surveys clients’ working parents and carers. Both support the evidence of a ‘great rethink’ with individuals questioning the direction and purpose of their working lives and looking to move towards roles that fit with a better work-life balance.

Reflecting  on a sense of purpose

The Work+Family Snapshot, published in June 2022, found more than half of employees overall (53%) indicated: ‘I find myself reflecting more on my overall direction and sense of purpose than I used to’. This is particularly so for women (56% compared with 48% of men) and was more prevalent with increasing age:

• 18-34 years - 45%,
• 35-54 years - 54%,
• 55+ years - 63%.

This links with the Great Retirement trend. The MFI in February 2022 revealed that almost two-fifths of working parents (38%) plan to look for a new job in the next 12 months. And while it is not surprising that those who stated they felt “completely stressed” will be looking to change roles, 62% who rated themselves as having a good work-life balance are also looking to move. This is possibly due to post-covid-19 changes in how they can manage their work-life equation.

Our research also indicates that many parents have concerns about their children’s educational catch-up and mental health, and many workers, including young people, are worried about eldercare responsibilities.

Family is a key priority

What seems clear from both these research reports is that family is a key priority and crucial to most working parents’ and carers’ wellbeing. The Work+Family Snapshot found 58% now prioritise family more highly (a clear increase on the 2021 WFS figure of 48%) and the MFI revealed family is an important consideration when accepting promotion or a new role: three-quarters will carefully consider childcare and/or eldercare plans before accepting a new job or promotion.

Our findings are complementary to those of the recent Microsoft 2022 Work Trends Index, which surveyed 31,000 people across 31 countries. It found 53% of employees are more likely to prioritise health and wellbeing over work, and 47% are more likely to put family and their personal lives first.

McKinsey’s The Childcare Conundrum article goes further, while exploring the question: How can companies ease working parents’ return to the office? Under the subtitle, ‘Retention’ the authors say: ‘When deciding whether to stay with a company or switch to another, 83% of the women and 81% of men in our survey with children aged five and under said childcare benefits would be a 'very important’ or ‘somewhat important’ factor in the decision.

About 40% of respondents who were considering moving to a less-demanding job said that on-site childcare services at their current company may cause them to reconsider. And 38% of respondents said that their employers’ help with childcare expenses would also be a key factor in their staying put.

While family has become a higher priority, the importance of career has also increased on last year, implying a renewed wish to ‘have it all’. The Work+Family Snapshot revealed over three in 10 (31%) of our clients’ employees stated their career ambitions are stronger than a year ago: more than doubling 2021’s figures.

A total of 32% of women and 29% of men indicated higher career ambitions, across ages. These two trends around family and career are especially marked in the 18-34 age group, with nearly four in 10 (39%) indicating higher career ambitions, and two-thirds (67%) putting greater emphasis on family.

Higher expectations of flexibility

The MFI found 79% of all workers consider the opportunity to work flexible hours more important than flexibility of location (69%) and this was especially so for younger workers for whom flexibility of time an almost unanimous expectation.

Another enabler is helping employees manage their caring responsibilities. More than nine in 10 (91%) of those with eldercare responsibilities consider support with care an important factor in any new employer, as do 76% of parents with children aged 0-10 years. Employers attending to this are more likely to have an edge in a competitive talent marketplace.

Those employers who can demonstrate an ethos where family life, career progression and a sense of purpose are embraced, coupled with a flexible approach, will stand out. And to maximise their talent appeal, providing and promoting practical support with ongoing care, and back-up care for emergencies and short-notice needs, will make a difference and help them to stay ahead of the game in talent retention.

In partnership with Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions

Bright Horizons is dedicated to providing the best in class work+family solutions.

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