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Bright Horizons Head of Thought Leadership, Jennifer Liston Smith shares her commentary on the 2022 Modern Families Index Spotlight findings.

Flexibility and Family-Focus: The Keys to Retaining Talented Working Parents

Bright Horizons’ 2022 Modern Families Index highlights three vital themes for employers:

1) The risk of talent loss;

2) The wish for ongoing flexibility, in time as well as place, of work; and

3) An increased priority placed on family life.

This year’s report is a quick, infographic-led read, with actionable tips for employers on these three fronts and more.

Download the Modern Families Index Spotlight Report here

Nearly 4 in 10 (38%) of this random sample of 1,001 working parents are looking for a new job in the next 12 months. A key driver is the rift between what employees want and what many are able to access.

Flexible means more than Remote or even Hybrid

More than 2/3 (69%) want flexibility over their place of work, continuing the appetite for hybrid working, a strong theme of the Modern Families Index (MFI) 2021. Despite this wish, less than half (48%) report they have scope for hybrid working. The MFI report sets out the opportunities for employers to bring working practices into line with these trends at a time when retaining talent is key and when employees are in the midst of the ‘great rethink’.

Interestingly, however, views on work locations have shifted again this year. While hybrid is still very much desired, fewer people than last year want to spend the majority of their week working remotely. Over a fifth (22%) now want to work 100% in the office, against 16% in 2021. Hybrid workers wanting to work more than 50% from home was also down (from 32% in 2021 to 20% in 2022).

Even more than flexibility over work location, the MFI participants wanted flexible hours. Nearly 4/5 (79%) of these working parents seek flexibility in the hours they work, yet fewer than 4 in 10 (39%) have the opportunity in practice to vary the timing of their work.

Help with Care

Employer-sponsored care might have sounded like something for parents of very young children before all our lives went on camera during covid lockdowns. Now, the ongoing juggle across lifestages for parents and carers is better understood. Even when schools and care settngs are fully operating, there is a complex web of care arrangements needed to sustain family life alongside work. This reality has become clearer to all, including employers.

Over two-thirds (68%) of all MFI participants looked for support with care when asked for their requirements in a new employer. Some groups placed even higher emphasis on this: over 9 in 10 (91%) of those with Eldercare responsibilities consider support with care an important factor in any new employer, and over 3/4 (76%) of parents with children aged 0-10 years .

Weighing up a new employer for their support with care is also high among younger workers (86% of 18-34 year olds), and senior managers (81%) look to a new employer for help with care.

Are employers responding? Encouragingly, two fifths (40%) of respondents feel their employer is ‘sympathetic to childcare responsibilities and allows them to work flexibly or offers support to help them manage childcare’ (same as 2021). A further quarter (25%) find that their employer is ‘understanding, but only up to a point and does not offer any practical help with childcare’.

Over a third (35%) of working parents said their employer is not at all sympathetic, and of these, 39% rated their current stress levels at 8-10 (compared with 26% of overall participants).

Parents Are Concerned About Their Children’s Educational Needs

Employers are now more aware that parents carry out a huge daily juggling act, made even more intense during school lockdowns, and that parents now have deep worries about the pandemic’s impact on their children’s development.

The findings from this survey also bear this out: over half of parents expressed concerns about the impact of the pandemic on their children’s education (55%), mental health (54%) and social skills (52%).

All Bright Horizons’ experience of partnering with top employers confirms that leading practice goes beyond simply equipping people to work. A striking example of this has been in the transformation of back-up care: which has seen employers addressing working parents’ emotional load by providing access to virtual tutoring programmes. This takes back-up care beyond absence management and firmly into the wellbeing space.

Better Conversations at Work

Our Coaching services team has long described one of our aims as being to support ‘better conversations’ at work. Since coronavirus – and other social forces – shuffled up working patterns and worker expectations, we do all seem to be talking a little more about the work-life equation.

In the 2022 MFI, 61% feel their organisation cares about their work-home balance and 62% feel their manager cares about this. In 2021, these figures were 58% and 59%, so we have nudged up past the 6 in 10 mark.

Women, however, are less likely to feel this type of care from their organisation (53%) or manager (55%). The sense of the employer or manager caring also drops markedly by age: 76% of 18-34 year olds feel their manager cares against just 45% of those aged 55+.

Still, for younger workers, better work-life conversations do seem to be happening with employers and managers, and the overall trend is upwards. Pre-pandemic, back in our January 2020 MFI, just 50% felt their organisation cared, and 53% that their manager cared, about their work-home balance.

What should employers be doing?

The 2022 Modern Families Index Spotlight Report shows graphically all these trends and much more. The report also offers practical pointers throughout on actions for employers.

Essentially, the data here tell two stories: firstly it’s about offering real flexibility, fitted to job roles. This flexibility of time and place needs to be based on choice and trust. If the objectives and deliverables are clear, then new ways of working can and should be crafted around delivering role requirements in ways that blend better with life, and family.

Secondly, it’s about the way that the best employers have really leaned in on supporting care needs, and have become employers of choice.

On a human level, people providing care, whether for children or adults, have become heroes during the pandemic, and rightly so as we know from the commitment and passion of our own early years educators.

Now, on a societal level, care is much more visible as a part of the business infrastructure, too. Almost all employers have provided smart technology for new ways of working. Offering help in finding and managing care has been the next natural frontier for the most forward-thinking employers. The findings of the Modern Families Index suggest this might now be on its way to becoming a hygiene factor.

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