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How employers can help working parents in a tight labour market

For many, becoming a parent fundamentally alters how people view and what they expect from their workplace.

Over three-quarters (76%) of mothers with dependent children are in work which is a two-decade high and a clear sign that UK businesses are modernising employment practises to make it easier for parents who have taken time off to return to the labour market.

However, only a third (33%) of mothers and less than a quarter of fathers (24%) in work said they had agreed special working arrangements in their job, according to ONS statistics.

This is a huge swathe of the population battling with the added mental, time and financial demands on their personal lives that parenthood brings.

Working parents and cost of living: 

Childcare staffing crisis demands flexibility from employers

Parents struggling with childcare costs

Rising childcare costs outstrip maternity pay

These may be logistical like the daily school-run or suddenly caring for a child that wakes up with a fever, a desire to create cherished family memories such as attending the school nativity play or sports day or a squeeze on their household budget.

It is crucial that employers recognise this shift and take steps to meet the demand from parents for support to avoid a brain drain from their organisation.

Increasing flexibility

The pandemic completely upturned many people’s notion of a productive working day. For many parents it highlighted the ‘wasted’ time of the commute and the value of spending more time interacting with their children throughout the day.

As we move out of the pandemic, there are therefore lessons to be learnt from the shift in working behaviours and easy, initial steps that employers can take.

For example, businesses can increase the flexibility of hours to help parents better fit their working hours around school or utilise home-working to help parents juggle commitments.

This might include offering to support working parents with split shift arrangements so they can finish early to collect their children and then log back on in the evening to complete their working requirements.

As the cost of childcare rockets and employers face a fierce battle for talent in the labour market, it is mutually beneficial to make it as easy as possible for parents to continue working whether that is helping them move part-time or implementing term-time hours to support childcare arrangements.

We are also starting to see more employers trialling or adopting a condensed four-day working week which can allow more quality family time for working parents.

Supporting childcare

Employers can go even further to support their staff too like offering working parents emergency childcare help should a sudden, unexpected need arise. Some employers partner with networks of local nurseries to offer this either closer to the parent’s home and or to their workplace depending on what is most convenient on any given day.

Employers are increasingly looking to support parents through the holiday period when childcare can be more difficult. This might be through on- and off-site summer camps or partnering with third-parties to make it easier and less stressful for parents to find these resources themselves.

Discount portals offered by employers can also help working parents take advantage of reduced-price family outings to entertain children in the holidays or at weekends while easing financial pressures.

Financial assistance

Employers with strong benefits propositions should be flagging state perks for parents such as child tax credits and incorporating these tax incentives into their wider corporate benefits programme.

Private healthcare insurance programmes put in place by employers can also provide peace of mind and help families reduce time spent waiting for NHS treatment with demand for the private sector growing as the public health system struggles to cope with the pandemic-induced backlog.

Providing both financial and mental wellness initiatives that help parents manage the additional demands on their time are also vital because they recognise the value of their colleagues as real people.

Supporting employees throughout their different life stages such as parenthood – not just via competitive remuneration but with a complete package of benefits that boosts financial and mental wellbeing in the workplace – are crucial.

Only in this way can businesses reduce absenteeism and turnover, boost productivity and ensure a healthier, happier workforce.


Emily Jones is principal at pensions and employee benefits consultancy Broadstone