Need to know:
- The foundation for a caring culture is a sense of flexibility, empathy and understanding, particularly when unexpected issues arise.
- Offering enhanced maternity and paternity leave and pay can help support new parents, as can access to childcare facilities or financial schemes.
- Benefits such as life insurance and critical illness cover may become more important to new parents, with financial provision for their new dependents in mind.
Balancing work and home life is a challenge for many employees, especially for parents, who often face additional pressures, such as disrupted sleep, coping with long school holidays, and caring for children when they are ill.
Beyond just benefits and perks, employers can offer valuable support by creating an entrenched culture of care for working parents, which can reap rewards for employees and businesses alike.
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Creating the right culture for working parents is about driving empathy within an organisation, says Matthew Jackson, vice president of client solutions at Thomsons Online Benefits. “Children add a level of unpredictability to your life; babies can arrive prematurely, while children of all ages can fall ill unexpectedly,” he explains.
“In each of these scenarios, the first response from a supportive employer will be, ‘do what you need to do’.”
Offering flexible arrangements is one of the best ways to support working parents, for example by allowing employees to request schedule changes or periods of home working.
This flexibility can not only help with the day-to-day practicalities of childcare, but can also help ease the return back into working life, allowing employees to have a positive experience of re-entering the organisational culture.
Jonathan Richards, chief executive officer of HR software provider Breathe, says: “For parents returning from a period entirely focused on their new child, the prospect of reintegrating can be daunting, and many firms have taken this on board.
“In KPMG’s Return to Audit scheme, the roles offered as part of this initiative have flexible working for several days per week or reduced hours, working a shorter day from 9:30am to 2:30pm, with school holidays built in as leave, allowing a slow re-integration into work processes and culture.”
Supporting new parents
Offering enhanced maternity and paternity leave and pay can be highly effective in supporting new parents at work, as well as putting across a clear statement about an organisation’s positive attitude towards, and commitment to helping, working parents.
Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at global employment law consultancy Peninsula, says: “While there is no legal requirement to offer over the statutory minimum, providing staff with extended periods of leave or higher rates of pay should reduce the need for them to rush back to work and enable them to enjoy more quality time at home with their young family.”
Employers should also give special consideration to parents whose children require significant medical attention immediately after birth. The government has proposed introducing additional neo-natal leave provisions for parents in this situation, in recognition of the distress it causes. Employers could choose to offer this voluntarily in the meantime, demonstrating a wish to provide care and support beyond the legal minimum.
Working unsociable hours can take its toll on shift workers who are new parents, such as nurses or train drivers, because these employees may have irregular sleeping patterns.
“Extra care should be provided to those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or have given birth within the previous six months,” says Palmer. “These individuals should be moved from night work to day work if working nights is likely to pose a risk to their health and safety or that of the child. Paid suspension may be required if no day work is available.”
Money can be a major concern for parents returning to work, especially if they need to reduce their hours to accommodate childcare responsibilities.
Employers can reduce the financial strain by offering easy access to childcare facilities or advice and information about the schemes available to parents, says Jamie Mackenzie, director at Sodexo Engage.
“These include the government’s tax-free childcare scheme or childcare vouchers, although it’s important to note that the UK government discontinued the voucher scheme to new applicants after 1 October 2018,” he says. “By offering multiple solutions, employers can ensure working parents feel supported.”
Working parents should be kept informed of the facts: which benefits support their current life stage, what the implications are of any decisions they make to prioritise their children, and what benefits are available to support them in the next stage of their lives as parents. Certain products, for example, will become more attractive to staff once they become parents.
“Life insurance and critical illness cover are important to parents, who suddenly start thinking about what will happen to their dependents should anything bad happen,” says Jackson. “Flexible annual leave is also a massive bonus, allowing parents to take additional time off during school holidays as opposed to paying for childcare. Most of all, they want to know that their decision to have a child will not impact their relationship with their employer.”
Employers have many options within their reach to be able to create a culture of care for working parents; communicated effectively, these methods can ensure that employees feel supported and able to find a balance that meets both their work and home-life needs.