Working Parents: supporting the balancing act

Working Parents: supporting the balancing act
Working Parents: supporting the balancing act

As companies look to bolster their ability to attract and retain top employees, many employers are starting to recognise the value of supporting working parents to balance their work responsibilities with family life.

This year, we’ve seen companies introduce new and innovative employee benefits to help care for their parent employees. From Natwest’s enhanced parental leave policy to Timpson giving parents an extra day off when their child starts school for the first time, the pressure is growing for HR and business leaders to keep up with a changing benefits landscape in a highly competitive hiring market.

Accommodating the needs of parents can be advantageous to your business. As well as helping to attract and retain employees, offering the right supports to working parents can reduce absenteeism, increase productivity, boost performance and encourage new parents to return to work after maternity and paternity leave.

Here are just a few ways you can support parents’ work-life balance through your company culture, HR policies and employee benefits offering.

Enhanced Parental Leave

As you’re probably aware, when an employee has a child, you must offer the statutory level of parental leave. In the UK, this accounts for:

  • Maternity: 52 weeks of leave, with 6 weeks at 90% pay and a further 33 weeks at either 90% pay or £156.66 a week, whichever is lower.
  • Paternity: 2 weeks of leave paid at 90% of earnings or £156.66, whichever is lower.
  • Adoption: 52 weeks leave, with some pay for 39 of those weeks.

However, couples can choose to share up to 50 weeks of parental leave and 37 weeks of pay. As an employer, it’s important you’re aware of this option and have open conversations with expectant parents to understand how they plan to share their parental leave.

Recently, more companies have started offering enhanced parental leave. In fact, from 2018 to 2021, the number of UK companies offering enhanced parental leave more than tripled.

For example, Natwest’s new policy entitles all parents to the same pay and leave entitlement regardless of gender, whether they’re in a heterosexual or same-sex relationship, and whether the child arrives through birth, surrogacy or adoption. Meanwhile Skanska UK, a construction firm, has increased fully paid maternity and adoption leave to 26 weeks, and paternity leave to 8 weeks on full pay.

Offering enhanced parental leave can benefit parents and employers alike. While financially supporting parents to spend more time with their new-born means they’re away from the business for longer, the extra time off could mean they return to work more refreshed, focused and productive when the time comes. You may also find employees’ appreciation for enhanced parental leave helps to boost their engagement and loyalty to the company – potentially making it more likely that they do return to work when their leave is over, and stay with your company longer.

And, of course, offering equal leave for mums and dads can help to address the gender imbalance and boost diversity in your workforce. 75.6% of mothers with dependent children are currently in work according to the Office for National Statistics – a 20-year high. By allowing parents to decide how to split childcare in the early months of a child’s life, employers can help more women return to the workforce.

Working Hours and Location

The demand for flexible, hybrid and remote working has undeniably soared since 2020. Many employees now expect to be able to work from home for at least some of the week – and are willing to move to a new employer if flexibility isn’t offered by their current one.

For parents, flexible working is especially important. Allowing parents to choose what hours they work, and where, helps balance work with school runs, attending appointments, and caring for children when they get sick. Not only can this help reduce absenteeism by allowing parents to fit work around their family life where they may otherwise need to take time off, enabling flexible working can help more parents stay in the workforce.

As with shared, enhanced parental leave, offering flexibility can support more women to return to work after maternity leave. Where they and their partner can each work from home or adjust their hours as needed, they’re empowered to share parenting responsibilities more evenly; and in the case of single parents, they can keep earning an income while meeting their child’s needs.

Of course, not all jobs can be done from home or with flexible hours. If this is the case, have an open discussion with your employee to understand how you can help them balance work and family life – such as through reducing hours or particular shift patterns.

Childcare Support

Childcare in the UK is very expensive. In fact, a recent poll found that 60% of people in the UK believe childcare is unaffordable, with 70% of respondents saying this is a key reason why mothers choose to stay at home. In many cases, the cost of childcare can outweigh the financial benefits of working.

Again, offering support in this area can help more women to stay in work after they become mothers – helping you retain the talent already in your business, while widening the talent pool for recruiting new employees.

The Childcare Vouchers scheme, which allowed parents to make payments towards childcare out of their pre-tax salary, closed to new applicants in October 2018. However, if any of your employees signed up to the scheme before this date, they should be able to continue, provided they are still with the same employer.

As a replacement, the government introduced a Tax-Free Childcare scheme, offering up to £2,000 a year towards childcare costs. According to MoneySavingExpert, 800,000 of the 1.3 million eligible families aren’t currently making use of this benefit – so it may be worth letting your employees know what’s available to them and how they can access the support. The MoneySavingExpert link above provides some useful information to help you and your employees learn more about the scheme.

However, employers can offer more comprehensive support as an employee benefit. While some larger corporations have the resources to offer free or subsidised on-site childcare facilities, other businesses are opting to reimburse working parents for a portion of their childcare costs. If these options aren’t feasible for your business at the moment, there’s also the workplace nursery benefit, which allows parents to save on nursery fees at no cost to the business.

There are a range of options available, with something to meet every budget – so it might be worth speaking with an advisor for help finding the best solution for your employees and business.

Child Sickness

Should an employee’s child become unwell, this could have a huge impact on their performance, productivity and wellbeing, as well as resulting in absenteeism. As an employer, you should be prepared to support parents if their children become unwell – whether it’s just a stomach bug, or something more serious.

Of course, in the case of stomach bugs and colds, allowing your employees to work from home as needed may be enough to help them care for their child. Just be mindful that they may be subject to additional distractions as they tend to the child’s needs, and trust them to manage their work and parenting responsibilities in a way that suits them.

However, where working from home is not possible, or if the illness is more serious, your employee may require some time off from work. You can’t expect that every parent will have alternative childcare, such as another parent or grandparents, readily available to step in, so it’s important to have a clear policy in place for these instances. Can the employee use their own sick leave entitlement to care for their child? If not, will they be able to book annual leave at the last minute, or make the hours up at a later date? Or will they have to take unpaid parental leave?

Parents are legally entitled to take “a reasonable amount of time off” when their child is sick, but there is no obligation for employers to pay them for these days. Offering to pay employees during this time, such as through paid compassionate or carer’s leave, will no doubt be greatly appreciated by your workforce should they need it.

You can also provide further support for your employees’ family health by offering health insurance as an employee benefit, with the option to add family members to the policy. Even if you only fund the employee’s own cover, requiring them to pay for additional members, this benefit could help your employees to access treatment more quickly than through the NHS, potentially reducing absenteeism by getting their children on the road to recovery sooner.

Above are just a few ways you can support the parents in your workforce. But every family is different, and any individual parents’ needs will vary depending on their family dynamics, children’s ages, childcare arrangements and more. As a result, the key to supporting parents is flexibility and choice, rather than assuming a single set of accommodations will suit all parents equally.

It’s important HR departments and team leaders have open discussions with their employees to figure out a plan that works for the individual. Offering flexible benefits, with a fixed allowance for employees to ‘spend’ on available benefits as they see fit, can help ensure supports are tailored to the individual – rather than trying to meet everyone’s needs with a single benefits package.

Neil Fallon Dip PFS, Co-founder of Eppione, says: “Supporting working parents has never been more important. Offering great value employee benefits is one thing, but making sure you communicate them is essential – most employees get a one-time communication when they join and, as their life changes, they might not be aware of what great supports you have to offer them.

“Imagine you could give employees access to the right information at the right time directing them to contact points at the touch of a button when these important life events happen”.

Eppione’s Employee Benefits platform makes enabling and managing these benefits and allowances simple. There’s a flexible benefits simulator, so employees can experiment with different benefit mixes before committing to changes, and a total reward statement so employees can see the value you place on them. Employees can add and remove their benefits easily through the platform and mobile app subject to your permission. And don’t forget, we’re global too, so we can add your benefits for multiple countries.

If you’d like to find out more about Eppione, get in touch and we’ll be in touch to arrange a demo.