The cost of not offering flexibility

Why employers who offer real flexibility are in increasing demand from parents.

working mum sits at desk, stressed


More proof of the chaos being created by the pressure to work more days in the office came this week with a survey by flexible childcare site Pebble. It found more than half of parents have felt pressure to be in the office an additional two days a week more than they expected, resulting in higher childcare costs equating to an average of £166 per week. In addition, employees are having to spend almost £100 more each week on travel costs.

Now you might argue that they had to do that commute and have that childcare pre-Covid, but not only have prices escalated. Many people have moved house on the basis of more homeworking. They may therefore face longer commutes, even higher travel costs and childcare costs because their children will have to be in childcare for longer. According to another survey by Pregnant Then Screwed many parents of pre-school children are being forced to leave the workforce or reduce their hours due to childcare costs. Yet our annual survey of parents with children of all ages  shows a good proportion are increasing their hours to keep up with cost of living. That is more complicated if you have younger children so many of the mums I have been speaking to are trying to take on additional self-employed work that they can do in the evenings or at weekends.

What is clear is that there is a huge demand for more remote working, including hybrid working that doesn’t involve three or four days in the office. It’s not about shirking or being too lazy to get on a train. It’s about not having the care structures in place, commuting costs – not just money but time, reducing the stress of rushing to get back for nursery and, dare I say it, actually wanting to see your children. There are many other different reasons. People’s lives are very complicated, but every argument these days seems to have to be an economic one to get heard and, of course, we are in an economic crisis so it makes sense to do so. And God knows having reliable, affordable childcare would lift a huge weight off parents’ minds.

But many don’t want to spend all their hours working and commuting and not seeing their children. Or send them to holiday schemes they don’t want to go to. That is absolutely not a reason to not fund holiday playschemes. Many parents need them and many children really benefit from them. They should have the choice. At the moment they don’t due to lack of availability, lack of flexibility and cost.

Employers who can offer the right flexibility that parents want will surely clean up. How many people are searching for homeworking jobs? Even my daughters have been looking. My daughter’s friend has secured a remote job to do alongside her university studies and it’s working very well. Of course, employers have to do what is best for the business, but is risking losing experienced employees best for the business? Swings and roundabouts. We’re in a new world. We know remote working is possible. We’ve done it en masse. Research shows consistently that hybrid working works, although it will be interesting to look at how many days in the office have the most positive impact.

Yes, the jobs market is very volatile and people are more worried about their jobs and about finding new ones than they were a year ago when all we talked about was labour shortages, but every family is having to weigh up the pros and cons very carefully amid mounting costs. In the long term, the world is shifting to greater online engagement. Kids know it. They’re doing it all the time in their gaming. They’re much more prepared than adults are. There are all sorts of challenges, of course. How do we create a sense of society in a more remote world being the big one. New ideas are needed. Proper debates about the future, not just hankering for past models that don’t fit any more, that maybe didn’t fit in the past either, but that people now don’t see the need for.

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