Childcare support

Some 60% of employees who are very happy at work have good childcare arrangements, compared to only five per cent who are very unhappy, according to a survey by My Family Care. Workingmums.co.uk explores good practice in childcare and how it can help employee motivation.

Some 60% of employees who are very happy at work have good childcare arrangements, compared to only five per cent who are very unhappy, according to a survey by My Family Care.

The survey shows just how important good, reliable childcare is to working parents' state of mind and attitude to work. Yet many still feel their employer does not understand the stresses placed on them by having to constantly find last minute childcare solutions when care breaks down or if they have to rely on a patchwork of care because of the cost and availability of childcare in their local area.

The same survey by My Family Care found that over 45% of working parents cannot rely on immediate family members to help out in a childcare emergency.

A growing number of employers are grasping the nettle and realising there is a strong business case for recognising employees' childcare responsibilities and providing support, whether that is in the form of childcare vouchers, back-up support or parenting networks.

The payback is more motivated, productive staff who are likely to remain loyal to the company and so reduce recruitment costs.

Workingmums.co.uk's recent Top Employer Awards threw up some good examples of employers who have got the message. The John Lewis Partnership, winner of the Childcare Award, was praised for its comprehensive childcare offering, including its childcare vouchers, its package of family-related benefits including discounts on trips to theme parks and its policy of allowing partners to work longer hours in busy periods and bank hours to take time off during less busy times, such as the summer holidays.

Other benefits it offers include discounts at John Lewis shops, regional events for families and a meet Santa event at John Lewis' head office.

The family outings recognise the fact that there is a social aspect to returning to work, says Carole Donaldson, Manager, Resourcing. “Some of our people come back on one day a week. They say it's not about the money. It's more about the mental and social stimulation,” she says.

Children in the office

Several employers, including Accenture, had bring the children into work days, in Accenture's case this was timed to coincide with half term. It was not just the big firms that could see the business case for helping parents with childcare issues. Boots retailer DUO, winner of the Award for SMEs with over 25 employees, offers staff at its Frome HQ lists of local childcare providers for new mums with personal recommendations from staff who have used them. There are also meetings when women are pregnant to talk about their rights and employees are encouraged to talk to other mums and network.

As more households require both parents to work and as employers need to retain women's skills, the importance of recognising family commitments is rising up the business agenda. Those who are ahead of the curve stand to benefit.

It's not just about providing childcare support, though. It's about changing the way companies function and making them more flexible. Flexibility, of course, works both ways and if parents and employers are flexible the pay-off can be huge.

Flexible working includes flexi hours so that parents can pick up and drop off children at least occasionally or options like term-time only working for those who can't find holiday cover.

My Family Care says that flexibility can bring more complex childcare issues, particularly if meetings are arranged or rearranged at the last minute. That is where back-up care comes into play. The organisation, which provides childcare and elder care support, says back-up care is becoming a big employee benefit. Ben Black, managing director of My Family Care says childcare has been “massively slow” in catching up with the movement towards more flexible working, but predicts this will be a big growth area. “Back-up care makes business sense as there are cost benefits in terms of retaining happy, productive staff.” Black says half a million employees have access to back-up or emergency childcare through their companies who pay for it and adds that where it started being a perk for City firms, it is now going more mainstream.

Some firms offer full-time homeworking as an option, which cuts commutes and therefore the amount of childcare time staff need to cover. Some firms have gone even further. The Travel Counsellors franchise has 730 travel consultants in the UK who are all home-based and operate as franchisees. It also has 180 salaried staff in its HQ in Bolton and has around 450 travel agents outside the UK in Ireland, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and Canada and 47 salaried staff in its head offices in those countries.

It has started up a number of initiatives to help home-based staff with childcare. For instance, its TC Teens programme provides exam support for the teenage children of franchisees. Working with a specialist company which has experience in over 20 schools the company provides webcasts via its Travel Counsellors TV channel which help improve children's exam success. Another programme it offers staff is TC Kids.

Most of its franchisees are working mums and to help them work at holiday times the company provides a series of activities for them to do via webcasts.

Grandparents

Other organisations have extended what they offer to parents to others who help out with childcare. Workingmums.co.uk's annual survey shows 44% of parents rely on their own mums and dads to look after their children regularly.

In a recent report on supporting the modern family, Labour's Tessa Jowell said 35% of grandparents who look after their grandchildren are in work. She said relieving the burden on them could in turn help parents. She cited the situation in Germany where grandparents could take up to 10 days' paid leave for emergency childcare and in Portugal where they could take 30 days' paid leave a year if a child was sick and parents couldn't look after them.

Asda is one company that recognises that many of its older employees may have grandparenting responsibilities and gives them up to five days' unpaid leave when their grandchild is born and for a child's first day at school. They can also apply for up to 12 weeks of extended leave which can be used, for instance, to help out in the school holidays.

*Take part in our Bright Horizons poll on childcare.

 



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