workingmums.co.uk speaks to Bright Horizons about their flexible culture and how that has contributed to a hat trick of Best Place to Work rankings this year.
Child and elder care company Bright Horizons has completed an extraordinary hat trick this year. It has been listed in three different categories on Great Place to Work, the platform that promotes best practice in workplace culture. It was listed on Great Place to Work for the 17th year in a row, on its Best Workplaces for Women for the fourth consecutive year and this year it was ranked in the organisation’s first UK Best Workplaces for Wellbeing list.
And those are by no means its only awards and recognition this year. That’s quite a pedigree and it matters to the company which is keen to be a leader in its sector and an example to the many employers it works with to provide care support for their employees.
HR director Janine Leightley [pictured above] says that the spread of rankings shows that the company supports all its employees through different life stages in order that they can reach their full potential.
Bright Horizons’ demographic make-up is typical of the childcare sector, with significantly more women working there than men. Seventy seven per cent of its board and senior leadership team are women. Janine says one of the company’s objectives is to bring more men into early years in order to ensure greater diversity of experience and outlook. “We are keen to promote early years as a career of choice for all,” she says. “Having that gender diversity adds richness for children and for our nurseries.”
Bright Horizons encourages men to apply in its recruitment work through sharing their stories and experiences and supports their career progression. “We want to be a great place for women and for men. It is very much part of our brand to be seen to be equal opportunities,” says Janine.
Flexible working is key to the company’s success. Formally, 48 per cent of its workforce work flexibly. Four per cent work term time only. Around 22 per cent of its nurseries are part of the Bright Flex programme which means they have a flexible team of support workers who can choose their shifts and locations. This recognises that it can be more difficult to work flexibly in frontline roles. The scheme has been in place for some time, but it has grown since the UK started emerging from the Covid lockdowns.
“It was part of a conscious effort to recognise people’s desire for more flexibility,” says Janine. That flexibility can benefit the business by providing a more flexible resource. She says that some days – generally Tuesday to Thursday – more staff resource is needed. It also fits with Bright Horizons’ aim to provide more flexible childcare – indeed the company offers a range of different forms of childcare from nursery places to nannies and back-up care.
Managers are trained to manage flexible teams and receive central support. Bright Horizons also monitors all its workers’ career progression through its talent calibration process and encourages everyone to take advantage of opportunities to progress and develop. For instance, its leadership programme is open to everyone, including those who work part time. Twenty two per cent of its senior managers work flexibly and two board members work part time, acting as role models for others and demonstrating that working part time doesn’t act as a barrier to progress.
Janine says a lot of the focus of its work on flexible working has been on its nursery teams who make up the majority of the workforce. Labour shortages across the sector mean Bright Horizons, like many other employers, has an immediate need to attract new talent and, in addition to making a significant investment in the salaries of its early years educators, it is going out of its way to showcase the benefits it offers employees and its strategy on wellbeing which includes flexible working. Its longer term workforce strategy involves growing its own qualified practitioners through its apprenticeship programme and upskilling them along the way. The apprenticeship programme attracts 700 new apprentices a year, many of whom work flexibly.
The benefits Bright Horizons offers are benchmarked against some of the leading employers it supports with their care needs. “It is very important to us that we lead the way on wellbeing,” says Janine.
She adds that its benefits and wellbeing strategy, constantly under review to ensure Bright Horizons is a leader in its sector, focuses on three key areas – financial wellbeing, physical wellbeing and emotional wellbeing. When it comes to financial wellbeing, it provides childcare and other discounts, back-up care and other valuable support. As for physical wellbeing, it has invested in Smart Health, a virtual health service provided by AIG Life. It provides unlimited, 24/7 access to everything needed to create long-term wellbeing habits. That includes a virtual GP, mental health support, nutritional support and tailored fitness programmes.
When it comes to emotional wellbeing, Bright Horizons offers a range of support, such as a parental toolkit which includes one to one support and coaching tools, personalised plans and advice in recognition of what a major life change becoming a parent is. Managers can also access parental support tools. Coaching advisers run sessions on everything from return to work to developing children’s social skills. Everything that is offered to employees, including back-up care, is also offered to its clients. “We know from our clients how complex people’s care arrangements can be and we are continuing to build and support our offer to reduce the emotional load on parents and carers,” says Janine.
In addition, Bright Horizons encourages peer to peer support. It has a range of internal employee network groups which link up with external networks in the early years sector so that employees benefit from the latest thinking and have a voice in the sector as a whole. Bright Horizons staff will have spoken at 34 online or in person events by the end of this year. The company collaborates with HR organisations such as HR Review and hosts client think tanks to bring top employers together to share best practice and insights on issues including hybrid working.
One of its internal network groups and fora is its Be Heard forum which aims to let everyone in the organisation have a voice and share ideas. “It helps employees be part of the decision-making process,” says Janine. Representatives from every nursery and every function take part in regional and national forums and once a quarter some of these representatives talk to the senior leadership team to share their insights. “They are very proactive in telling us what they want,” says Janine.
Its employee network group on diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging [DEIB] is supported by DEIB champions and there is also an employee-run group which focuses on its future work agenda and covers issues such as sustainability and environmental issues.
Bright Horizons’ culture since its inception has been founded on what it calls its HEART [Honesty, Excellence, Accountability, Respect and Teamwork] values. These include inclusion, treating colleagues with respect, valuing everyone’s contribution and a sense of leadership being a shared experience. “We think of ourselves as a family,” says Janine, adding that the HEART values are as relevant today as when the company was founded in the 1980s and permeate its relationships with clients and parents too.
“Our mission is to provide exceptional childcare and education for children. Everything we do is with that in mind. When we recruit we are looking for people who share that guiding ethos. All our questions at interview are underpinned by our values and we look for examples of how candidates demonstrate these behaviours,” says Janine. “We want them to share our desire for meaningful work with social impact. We are a deeply human business and we want people who care about their impact today and in the future.” Janine adds that skills can be trained for, but attitude and values are harder to teach.
She says that Bright Horizons is really excited to make Best Place to Work’s first wellbeing ranking and to continue to be ranked as a great place for women – and others – to work. She states that the company’s research is linked to its forward-thinking work on gender equality. For example, its annual Modern Families Index, shines a light on working parents’ needs and helps to inform employers about what they need to thrive rather than just survive. Providing support for those needs increases employee wellbeing and loyalty which then impacts on business productivity and success, says Janine. It also prevents people developing mental health issues due to feeling overwhelmed by keeping all the work and family balls in the air.
Bright Horizons itself holds its own excellence awards annually and four times a year it holds an employee appreciation week. All employees are invited to a gala evening for the awards where individuals are recognised for a range of different achievements, including inclusive leadership and special needs support and there is a practitioner of the year award too. The company also actively participates in external awards to showcase its talent. “The aim is to make our people feel special internally and in the wider society so they can see the value they bring,” says Janine. There is a sense of togetherness and we celebrate their contribution to the important work that we do.”