Sarah Jackson: Should employers be doing more to support working parents?

Sarah Jackson Working Families 430

We see a variety of practice from employers, and there is no doubt that support from employers is crucial to finding and maintaining a work-life balance. Working Families’ Modern families index, published in January 2016 in partnership with Bright Horizons, found that the UK’s working parents are struggling to balance their work and family life. Although younger, millennial parents want to share care more equally than previous generations, the workplace has not caught up with these new expectations.

Employers need to do some future thinking if they are to accommodate the expectations of today’s millennials and tomorrow’s young workers. They need to adapt and create flexible work cultures now if they are to attract and retain the employees they want and keep them in the future. If employers get it right for these younger parents, they can future-proof their workplace.

Employers need to think about how to get workplace culture right. Poor work-life balance can lead to resentment as well as decreased motivation and performance; the Index found that 42% of millennial fathers reported that they felt resentment towards their employers. Employers need to be realistic about workloads and allow all employees to feel confident enough to discuss and exercise some control over their work. Jobs should fit the hours allocated to them. But the Index revealed that many parents are putting in up to two extra hours a day, or 10 each week.

We would like to see employers adopt a ‘flexible by default’ workplace culture. Flexible working needs to be available to all employees and should be aligned with choice. The Index has highlighted that flexible working is currently taken up mostly by senior high earners; 80% of those earning between £50,000-£70,000 reported that they were able to work flexibly, compared to 50% of those earning less than £30,000. More than half of millennial fathers (58%) feel uncomfortable about asking employers for working time limits.

Flexible job design, flexible recruitment and hiring, and creating quality and sustainable flexibly designed jobs will go a long way to supporting working parents. Training and communication about the value of flexible working is vital. And the good news for employers? A flexible working culture will support working parents, while offering opportunities for engagement, motivation and retention, a win for employers and employees.

Sarah Jackson is chief executive at Working Families