The CIPD has said that the Modern Families Index 2017, released on 16 January by Working Families and Bright Horizons, makes for an interesting, if disappointing, read. Interesting, because it gives real insight into the attitudes and experiences of 2,750 parents in the workplace. Disappointing, because it reveals the gap between the aspirations of working parents to reconcile their work and childcare responsibilities and the reality of how they can achieve this in practice – just one in five families say they’ve got the right balance between time for family and income level.

The research shows real signs of a cultural shift on the part of many working fathers, particularly younger ones, who want to be more involved in childrearing – just under half (46%) of millennial dads said they would exchange a pay cut for a better work-life balance. Eight out of ten mothers and seven out of ten fathers would assess their childcare needs before taking a new job or promotion. 

The report concludes that ‘the shape of work is failing to keep up with the shifting context’, a view that chimes with the CIPD’s own research into working parents. The CIPD’s survey asked over 1,000 HR professionals about how they support parents and carers at work, and found a lack of cohesive provision in most organisations. A third of organisations (33%) said they don’t offer any of the ten types of provision listed that could help working parents.

The most common type of support is for the organisation to proactively promote flexible working options such as job-share, term-time working and part-time hours, but only three employers in ten even offer this type of support. Given the considerable length of time that the law allowing employees to request flexible working has now been in force, it’s not encouraging that less than a third of organisations take the lead in promoting flexible working.

The CIPD is calling for employers to make a concerted effort to ensure that they create the right policies, as well as a supportive culture, to help their people to balance work and caring demands. Sometimes these adjustments, like changing a parent’s working hours to allow school drop off, can be small scale and still make a big difference to an employee’s ability to balance their work and caring roles.

Government also has a key role to play in setting the right regulatory framework and working with business to actively support working parents – and over the past few years we’ve seen good progress on many fronts. Welcome initiatives include the introduction of shared parental leave (SPL) and the extension of free childcare provision. However, some initiatives are not hitting the right mark and may need tweaking.

For example, the CIPD’s research found that, on average, just 5% of new fathers and 8% of new mothers have opted for SPL since its introduction in April 2015. Key obstacles are the lack of financial incentive to take the leave and the complexity of the application process, which is proving challenging for employers and HR professionals.

Current government policy for childcare funding is targeted at parents of three- and four-year-olds but there is no childcare funding for the majority of 0-2-year-olds. The absence of funding for young children from birth to two (aside from disadvantaged two-year-olds) does not encourage women to return to work straight after maternity leave. Our research shows that over two-thirds of HR professionals (68%) agree that the participation rate of women with young children at work would improve if the same level of free childcare support was available for 0-2-year-olds.

Many UK employers work hard to build genuinely supportive family friendly practices and cultures, but the majority are clearly not seeing their support for working parents as a strategic business issue that can considerably affect their access to skills and talent. A lack of awareness and action in this area will not only impact on women’s ability to balance work and care commitments. With more and more working fathers seeking active involvement in bringing up their children, it‘s the well-being, engagement and retention of both genders that is at stake. It’s not farfetched to add that the productivity and competitiveness of the UK economy is also at risk.

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About the CIPD

At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.