Annette Lawson, consultant, policy and diversity, Abbey: Back-up care can help avoid some stresses

In October this year, Abbey became one of the first retail banks in the UK to offer back-up [also known as emergency] care to its 16,000-strong workforce. This is in marked contrast to the US, where back-up care has been a popular employee benefit across most industries for several years.

Back-up care provides employees with qualified care-givers on a temporary basis when their normal care arrangements break down. The benefit is a win-win proposition for both employees and employers. We estimate that up to 1,600 Abbey employees every year are forced to take an average of five days’ leave to provide ad-hoc care for children and dependents. That adds up to 8,000 days a year.

With an average salary of £22,000, this equates to a cost to the business of about £500,000 a year, demonstrating just how valuable the back-up care service is. For Abbey, the service, offered in partnership with My Family Care, provides a 24-hour database of contacts through which staff can source emergency childcare, out-of-school care and eldercare.

Back-up care helps address an everyday issue for working families and people with dependents. Recent research by US firm Work Options Group shows that two-thirds (68%) of HR leaders believe back-up care reduces stress among staff. Also, three-quarters (77%) of employees feel the benefit reinforces their loyalty to their employer.

A breakdown in care can be stressful for an employee to deal with. In situations where they have no back-up provision, not only do employees have to worry about a sick child or dependent, they will most likely need to take days off and can fall behind in their job as a result.

Back-up care solves this problem by reducing employees’ emotional and financial stress, the latter being of particular concern in the current economic climate. By providing backup care, the benefit can help to retain key employees, and keep them engaged and motivated so that productivity remains high.

Most often, an employee’s only option if care breaks down is to take unscheduled leave, and research has shown a clear correlation between the provision of back-up care and the reduction of unscheduled absenteeism.

Annette Lawson, consultant, policy and diversity, Abbey