‘Overwhelming support from parents for post-Covid continuation of flexi and hybrid working’

A new survey from Bright Horizons warns employers face an ‘iceberg’ of staff discontent if they withdraw flexible working after the pandemic.

working mum sits at desk, stressed


Many parents fear a confrontation with employers over flexible working at the point Covid restrictions lift and bosses seek to return to “normal” working conditions, according to a new survey.

The 2021 Modern Families Index Spotlight by Bright Horizons also shows that just 15% of the over 1,000 working parents surveyed believe their organisations have been supportive of their having to home-school as well as work from home.

The annual survey found anxiety about the future, including about flexible working and job security. More than 40% of those surveyed fear losing their jobs because of the pandemic, as furlough schemes end, organisations downsize and managers demand greater attendance in offices and other workplaces. More than half says their employers have either been unsympathetic to their childcare needs or offered no practical help.

One in three respondents resents their employer and more than half (55%) indicated their loyalty depends on managers’ reaction to the pandemic. Almost half (45%) thought their work-life balance has become increasingly stressful.

The survey shows that parents have welcomed the increased flexibility that has come with the pandemic. Two fifths of respondents saying they are able to work more flexibly than a year ago, with only 9% negative about changed working patterns. A third of working parents (32%) also feel that flexible working allows them to work more effectively.

Employees believe that the new blend of remote and office-based working has demonstrated its legitimacy and will continue, with only 7% considering flexible working a barrier to their career progression.

More than a quarter of men (28%) working flexibly, and 42% of women, said they needed to do it to meet their childcare commitments. Fourteen per cent of workers said they needed to work flexibly in order to care for elderly relatives. For more than one in three of those with eldercare responsibilities, having an employer who helped them fulfil that need was particularly important when it came to career choices.

Meanwhile, one in five respondents working flexibly said they chose to do so “to pursue outside interests and hobbies”.

The survey looked at the post-Covid scenario. Almost one in five or those surveyed (18%) want to work entirely from home in future, and a further 57% favour 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.

More than two thirds of working parents (73% of mothers, and 69% of fathers) said that they would consider an employer’s childcare support arrangements before accepting or applying for a new job. However, only 58% of those surveyed agreed that their organisation cares about their work life balance and only 59% that their manager cares.

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.

Most staff who were offered clear work-life balance opportunities reported feeling positively towards their employers as a result. Interestingly, the youngest age category – those aged between 16 and 25 – were most interested in an employer’s childcare support arrangements, even more than the so-called “millennial” generation of 25-35 year olds. 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: “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.”

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