Employees want increased flexibility after the pandemic

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Employees with caring responsibilities fear the loss of flexibility later in the year as more sectors of the economy return to similar working patters as those prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Research in the UK by child care provider Bright Horizons has indicated that working parents are overwhelmingly in favour of a continuation of flexible hours and hybrid working, and feel that the model has proved its worth. However, more than half of employees thought their employers were likely to be unresponsive to demands for greater flexibility once the pandemic dissipates. Just under half (40%) feared their jobs were at risk as furlough and government support ended, firms downsized and flexibility ended.

There seems to be disagreement between some organisations and their workers about what normality should mean” – Denise Priest, Bright Horizons

The survey’s authors claimed the results showed that the decisions some employers make in 2021 will either win the long-term loyalty of their valued staff, or permanently alienate them.

The 2021 Modern Families Index Spotlight points to potential discord ahead, as more than half of respondents (55%) indicated their loyalty to their employer depended on managers’ reaction to the pandemic, as they attempt to juggle work, child care and care of elderly relatives in many cases.

As the UK population gets vaccinated and some kind of “normality” returned in 2021, the study suggested man employers were approaching a moment of truth in their relationships with valued staff.

Almost one in five or those surveyed (18%) wanted to work entirely from home in future, and a further 57% favoured a mixture of home and office work. The majority of those, particularly workers in senior positions, would ideally spend most of the split at home. Two thirds of working parents said they would consider an employer’s childcare support arrangements before accepting or applying for a new job.

Just 58% of those surveyed agreed that their organisation cared about their work-life balance, while only 59% said their manager cared.

Fewer than a quarter of those polled (24%) said their employers had given a clear message that flexible working was positively viewed. One in five (19%) felt their organisation had given line-managers the tools they needed to support them in managing their work-life balance. And just 15% believed their organisations had been supportive of their having to home-school as well as work from home.

Those aged 35-45 were most interested in eldercare assistance, suggesting that the “sandwich generation” – those potentially faced with caring for children and older relatives simultaneously – may be getting younger.

Denise Priest, director of employer partnerships at Bright Horizons, said: “In previous years, this survey has shown an increasing desire among both mothers and fathers for greater flexibility at work. But 2020 has been truly extraordinary, with staff doing triple time as employees, parents and in-home teachers. As normality returns, there seems to be disagreement between some organisations and their workers about what normality should mean. Employers who have recognised the heightened priority of family life and provided practical support for their staff will retain – and gain – talented employees, while those who do not will lose out.

“Currently the pandemic is causing much concern about job security, with accompanying gratitude to be in a job and a reluctance to risk change and rock the boat. The hidden hazard now for employers is that new expectations sit below the surface like an iceberg. This survey strongly suggests that when some degree of economic certainty returns, highly-valued staff will judge their companies on how they supported them during the crisis.”

The Modern Families Index Spotlight published by Bright Horizons surveyed 1,000 parents from across the UK.

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