Working parents demand continued flexible working after Covid, research finds

Experts warn that pre-lockdown arrangements ‘clearly don’t work’ and encourage businesses to invest in creating family-friendly policies

Almost a fifth (18 per cent) of working parents want to work completely remotely after the pandemic, according to a survey, highlighting the danger of employers failing to continue to offer flexible working options once lockdown restrictions are lifted.

The Modern Families Index Spotlight survey of working parents by nursery care provider Bright Horizons found that just over half (57 per cent) of the 1,000 respondents would like to have a balance between working at their workplaces and remotely. 

More than a quarter (28 per cent) of men currently working flexibly, and two-fifths (42 per cent) of women, said they needed to work this way to meet childcare commitments. 

However, half of respondents said their employers were either unsympathetic or didn’t offer practical help with their childcare needs. Only one in six (15 per cent) believed their employers had been supportive of their having to home school children as well as work from home.

Despite two-fifths of workers saying they were able to work more flexibly than a year ago, almost half (45 per cent) said their work-life balance had become increasingly stressful.

Aside from childcare needs, a third (32 per cent) of working parents believed that flexible working allowed them to work more effectively. One in six (14 per cent) said it allows them to care for elderly relatives, and one in five said it allows them to pursue outside interests and hobbies. 

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However, only a quarter of respondents said their employers had made it clear they support flexible working, and just over half (55 per cent) said their organisation cared about their work-life balance.

Earlier this week, the CIPD launched its #FlexFrom1st campaign calling for requesting flexible working to become a day-one right. Its own research revealed that almost half (46 per cent) of employees say they do not have access to flexible working arrangements.

Experts are calling for employers to continue flexible working beyond the pandemic, but to also be aware of the differences of flexible and remote working. 

Mandy Garner, managing editor of WM People, agrees that flexibility has been “crucial” throughout the pandemic.

“Flexible working has, for many years, been the number-one demand of working parents, and many women have left their jobs or found it difficult to get back into the workforce because of the lack of it,” she says. 

“It’s clear, however, that the demand for flexible working from parents – and many others – is there. It would be a pity if we emerged from Covid and returned to pre-lockdown ways of working, when they clearly don't work for a great many people."

Chris Parke, chief executive of Talking Talent, advises employers to talk to parents about how they can best support them to have a healthy work-life balance. However, he says, businesses must understand that remote working isn’t the same as flexible working.

“Being at home all day does not offer working parents any more flexibility when it comes to balancing jobs and home – in fact, it blurs the lines,” he says.

“Even though remote working does have its benefits, it has also triggered another conflict. Without the clear distinction of being at work and being at home, working parents have faced juggling the responsibilities of both, whilst being in the same environment. Any companies not offering the right support and company culture could find their high-talent individuals eschew them in favour of more forward-thinking firms.”

Jane van Zyl, chief executive of work-life balance charity Working Families, said: “It’s becoming abundantly clear that there’s no going back to business as usual in a post-Covid working world. Employers have realised that many more jobs can be done flexibly than had ever been considered before, and now is the time for these employers to invest in creating long-term strategies to support robust flexible and family-friendly policies and practices. 

“An increase in high-quality, flexible jobs will not only help employers increase their productivity, talent attraction, and diversity—but it will also help the long-term economic recovery of the UK by opening the labour market to those who were previously shut out by inflexibility.”

Denise Priest, director of employer partnerships at Bright Horizons, said: “2020 has been truly extraordinary, with staff doing triple time as employees, parents and in-home teachers. As normality returns, there seems to be disagreement between some organisations and their workers about what normality should mean.

“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.”