This article was written by Ben Black, CEO of My Family Care.
Why should employers worry about their parents and carers? Well, a number of reasons. Firstly childcare vouchers as we know them are going. With no childcare voucher scheme to hide behind employers will need to decide just how much support their working mothers, fathers and carers need.
1. These days flexible working is a commercial reality – the people who benefit most from flexibility are those who combine their careers with some kind of family commitment. A parent who manages to combine career and family successfully will be the most engaged and productive member of any team.
2. Diversity, in its broadest sense, is a good thing – and it’s impossible to have any kind of effective diversity policy unless you make sure you have gender and age groups in the mix
3. Female talent – If you want your best women to rise through the ranks and contribute to the bottom line in the way their talent deserves then you’d better support them through maternity
4. Demographics – the population is getting older. Some of the statistics are truly frightening. Don’t think about being “family-friendly” without also thinking about supporting the increasing number of your employees who will have a commitment to look after one or both of their own parents.
Before I get into the detail, a few points by way of background. Firstly, family-friendly is primarily about culture rather than benefits. How do you shift culture so that you have the kind of business where career and family are not mutually exclusive and people are judged on performance and results?
- Concentrate on the managers – for working mothers with an empathetic, sensible boss, all things are possible. Mothers who report to someone from the other end of the enlightenment spectrum are likely to leave.
- Get the CEO on board and on message – someone very senior turning up to talk for 15 minutes at a quarterly networking event, for example, can work wonders.
- Dads – if you can find a few senior men to hold up their hands as Dads as well as star employees you will be halfway there.
Get the policies right. Don’t try and do “family-friendly” without having a decent set of policies in place. It’s hard work rewriting them but it needs to be done and not too difficult finding good templates to work from.
What about the benefits you should actually put in place?
Well, in no particular order:
Networks – a proactive and well organised parents/carers group can make the HRD’s life a lot easier. Encourage a network; get senior people on board; get a little bit of budget – enough for a few sandwiches and maybe a couple of outside speakers and throw a bit of HR admin support in and you’re off. And you don’t need hundreds of employees to build some peer support into the working environment. The important thing about networks is that they allow you to leverage all the support and knowledge that already works for you.
Backup Care / Emergency Childcare has been one of the most popular new benefits to emerge in the last 5/6 years. The reasons are obvious:
- Childcare breakdowns are very stressful – especially these days when the old networks of friends and family have broken down. There is plenty of very good care out there with nannies, nurseries, childminders and even school holiday cubs but accessing it last minute can be very difficult. The good thing about back-up care is that it is incredibly transparent – you can see who used it, when they used it, why they used it, what they thought of it, and ideally whether they were in work and being productive as a result. That kind of data can be magic when you’re busy trying to prove the business case to the recalcitrant FD.
- The other good news about back-up care is just how inclusive it can be. Make sure you include parents of school age children in the mix and include adult dependent care/eldercare in the support provided and you have a benefit that might be applicable to up to 40 percent of the workforce.
Advice and Support – finding the right childcare can be difficult. Some of the most organised and decisive people can turn into confused nervous wrecks when it comes to making sensible decisions about the right childcare solution to combine work and family effectively. The good news is that in these days of information overload there are solutions out there either via the Internet, via your childcare voucher supplier or often via your EAP. HR’s job is to make sure that practical advice, knowledge and support is made available to working mothers and fathers at the point when they need it most. Again it’s not complicated but it is time consuming. The gold standard approach of an employer like P&G is actually to provide a one-to-one childcare consultant whose job is to advise and then actually put in place the right childcare solution. On the eldercare side the problems and solutions are more difficult but the same basic rules apply – the information is out there if you look hard enough.
The Maternity Journey – this is obviously where lots of employers concentrate their resources. Motherhood raises lots of questions about work-life balance and acknowledging that it’s the time when mothers are at the most sensitive is sensible. There are a number of approaches from the one-to-one maternity coaching favoured by the banks, to the more internal mentoring approach favoured by the accountants. More recently giving everyone who goes through maternity access to some tailored online coaching tools has become the more affordable and preferred option. But as above it doesn’t matter how you support people through maternity the important thing is that there is a clear maternity journey understood by managers, supported by HR, and experienced and enjoyed by working mothers.