Sage Advice UK

How to support the parents in your workforce

Flexible working can be beneficial both for parents and employers

Raising children and working a full-time job can be stressful in isolation, so when the two are combined it can put a lot of pressure on parents, particularly those who are readjusting to work not long after starting a family.

With recent research underlining just how big an impact this can have on people’s health, employers could benefit from giving some thought to how they can support the parents in their workforce.

1 in 3 parents feeling the effects

In a survey by global advisory and business solutions firm Willis Towers Watson, just over a third (34%) of parents said the strain of balancing their job commitments with family life had impacted on their physical or mental health.

The poll of more than 1,100 workers suggested there is scope for employers to be doing more to drive progress in this area.

Less than three out of ten respondents (27%) said their employer currently offers childcare support or benefits. One in three said their company only offered the statutory minimum rate of maternity or paternity pay.

Three out of ten workers felt that not enough was being done and employers should get more involved in providing childcare support. That proportion increased to more than four out of ten people (42%) in the 25-to-34 age bracket.

There has been some government action to address some of the difficulties faced by working parents, such as the introduction of a right to request flexible working for any employee with at least 26 weeks of continuous service.

However, the employer can reject these requests if it has given them “reasonable” consideration.

Mike Blake, director of Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits, also highlighted the government’s new tax-free childcare scheme, although he stressed this is “just one piece of the jigsaw”.

He added: “For some parents, additional benefits such as further financial support, access to a workplace nursery or provision of flexible working practices may prove invaluable.”

What else can employers do?

One of the most constructive steps any employer can take to understand the pressures of its employees are under is to have regular, face-to-face discussions.

It’s important for the employer to instigate this contact and to give workers a comfortable platform where they can talk through any concerns, without feeling under any pressure.

Flexibility is likely to be an important concept for working parents over the coming years.

Businesses should look into ways they can allow people to be more flexible in when, where and how they work. This can also provide advantages for the company, such as reduced office costs.

Another strategy that can deliver results is investing in childcare support schemes and related benefits for working parents. These provisions could be instrumental in helping the organisation to retain its existing staff, but also in attracting new recruits.

As Mike pointed out, offering support to parents can have all sorts of positive consequences for employers.

He said: “By looking after [workers’] financial and emotional wellbeing, incidents of sickness absence can be reduced and productivity can be increased through improved levels of motivation and engagement.

“Furthermore, support for this important workforce demographic can reinforce an organisation’s reputation as an employer of choice and, in turn, help boost recruitment and retention.”

Cloud computing could help flexible working

One way you could support the parents in your workforce is via cloud computing.

Traditionally, work files would be stuck on a local server in the office, with that being the only place that documents could be accessed.

But cloud computing is ideal for flexible working as all documents are saved in the cloud – online servers hosted on the internet. In this location, documents can be managed and processed.

Cloud computing means work doesn’t have to be confined to the office. Parents can have the flexibility to leave the office early to do the school run, then continue working from home.

It also means parents don’t have to be confined to their computer as with cloud computing, they can access documents from any connected device – smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop.

Teleconferencing and videoconferencing

Meetings are a key part of the working day for businesses but that doesn’t mean everyone has to be in the same room.

Why not implement teleconferencing and videoconferencing set-ups for your employees? That way, if a parent can’t attend the meeting due to childcare duties, they can still be present.

They can simply join the meeting via their computer – or smartphone or tablet – and make a vital contribution to the decision-making process.

Making changes to the working environment using technology can make it easier for parents to avoid feeling isolated, while also improving productivity for your business.

Has your business implemented flexible working for parents? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.