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How will employee family friendly policies play a role in navigating what could be a ‘new normal’ as we emerge from COVID-19?

Working parents are well used to the juggle of balancing work and child care, but a new level of difficulty was thrust upon them when the sweeping public health safeguards introduced by the Government in the face of the current pandemic saw schools and nurseries close. Many mums and dads will now be trying to work from home whilst simultaneously entertaining children, home-schooling and fulfilling the never ending snack demands.

The willingness of employers to show flexibility to their employees with caring responsibilities varies widely and the charity Working Families, dedicated to promoting work-life balance, estimates that the number of people getting in touch with its Legal Advice Service has quadrupled in comparison to the months prior to the lockdown. Reputational considerations should form part of any employer’s strategy during the lockdown, and how employees have been treated during this unprecedented time could have a lasting effect on how employers  are perceived by both employees and in the wider market long after the restrictions start to lift.

However even before the lockdown employers were increasingly looking at ways to make themselves stand out from the crowd and attract new talent, and this included promoting their family friendly policies.  Also, the government were consulting on whether employers should have a duty to consider if a job can be done flexibly. 

Work-life balance and flexibility tend to feature highly on attributes that might attract employees to a certain company, and this is especially true for working parents and those with other caring responsibilities.

A lot of companies might use the statutory position as their starting point, typically mirroring the various types of leave and pay provided for as a statutory minimum. However, the low take up of shared parental leave demonstrates that the statutory schemes are not always reflective of what a workforce might actually need or value. In today’s modern world families come in all shapes and sizes, with a variety of needs. Of course it might not always be possible to cater for everyone, but more creative employers are giving thought to what other family-friendly policies they might be able to offer. Insurance firm Zurich announced late last year a wide-ranging suite of family-friendly policies including additional support for parents whose children are born prematurely, paid leave to support through the IVF process and paid leave to support people through miscarriages.

Not all companies will be in a position to offer such generous policies, and a careful cost analysis would need to be carried out, however there are more cost neutral options, such as flexible or agile working arrangements, home working and job sharing that could be of huge help to working families. Even giving more thought to the culture and attitudes to work life balance could have a significant impact on how ‘family friendly’ your workplace really is.

Research also shows that creating enabling and flexible environments can enhance productivity, creativity and wellbeing in staff. Some studies have also been able to demonstrate that family friendly policies have led to a reduction in absenteeism and a lower turnover of staff, meaning cost savings for employers. These findings reflect that having flexible and family friendly policies can help in building and maintaining a sustainable business.

There is increasing talk of ‘the new normal’ when it comes to working practices once we start to emerge from the strictest phase of the current lockdown, with many predicting that work culture could change dramatically. Perhaps some of the family friendly policies mentioned above will become part of that ‘new normal’, but there is still plenty of room to think creatively if businesses want to mark themselves out as a family friendly employer. LexLeyton can help businesses to create strategies for developing and maintaining if you family friendly policies to benefit culture and sustainable growth. Contact us for a free consultation and to discuss how we can help.

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