As the school holidays approach, working parents all over the UK will be faced by the same dilemma: what to do with the kids? On average, a working adult has five weeks of holiday compared to thirteen weeks for school-age children. Add to this that different schools have different schedules and the whole thing becomes a logistical nightmare. Parents may be required to tag-team holidays to ensure the period is covered, call in relatives for reinforcement, or pay out extortionate fees in childcare to supplement the difference. Of course, if you’re a single parent or don’t have friends and family with time to spare in the area, the options are even tougher.
With only one in five families saying they have the right balance between time and money to support their family, and a third saying they don’t have enough of either, the summer holidays serve to underline the daily struggle that many working parents face. As more and more of the working population is affected by these challenges – 48 per cent of couple families and 57 per cent of single parents work full time - it’s becoming increasingly important for companies to talk about how to redress the balance.
In light of this, we decided to speak to a section of our employees to find about what challenges they faced and to see how they felt Lorien was performing.
Whether it’s booking holidays a year in advance to avoid the hiked up costs of travel agencies, storing up annual leave or scheduling in friends and family to help out, being a working parent means keeping an eye on the calendar. For one parent whose child has special needs requirements, this can mean planning up to six months in advance to find the right care, with placements being both scarce and highly competitive during the high season.
Calling in the troops
Many of the employees interviewed use a mix of different support systems to help out over the summer holidays. Whether that’s friends and family, a partner, holiday camps, afterschool groups or childminders, it’s clear that there isn’t one single ‘fix all’ solution for child care over the summer holidays.
Money, money, money
Some of our employees felt that the summer holidays were a financial drain. Costs for childminding have risen in recent years, leaving some to speculate whether parents are actually paying to work. According to LV’s Cost of a Child Report, the summer holidays can cost parents an eye watering £660 per child. For our employees, expenditure also affected different families in different ways. For instance, children at public schools had longer school holidays, while faith schools ran on different timetables. Some parents were able to rely on nearby friends and family to soak up some of the cost by helping out with care, while others were solely reliant on childcare schemes.
For our focus group, overcoming guilt was one of the biggest challenges. That guilt went in both directions – guilt for not spending enough time with their children and guilt for not spending enough time at work. Criticism of ‘working mums’ online and in the media is endemic. Meanwhile, according to research, only a third of parents manage to leave work on time every day and 72 per cent are obliged to catch up on work at home in the evenings or at weekend in order to meet demands. And one in five parents put in an extra five weeks of work a year in unpaid work, just to keep up. It seems like a parent’s work is never done.
Facing down stigmatism
A selection of working fathers felt more pressure to work the same hours during school holidays, irrespective of whether their partner worked or not, and some working mothers felt more likely to be expected to reduce working hours even if they also worked full time. According to research, even though one in five fathers now share parental care, mothers still remain the first port of call when alternative childcare isn’t possible by a factor of two to one.This stigmatism – the same one that means 29% of people think men with children are more committed to a job, while 46% of people think women are less committed – is dangerously at odds with reality. According to research, 69% of men would consider childcare arrangements before taking a new job or promotion, 47% want to downshift to a less stressful job and 38% would take a pay cut to achieve a better work-life balance.
What about Lorien?
So what are we doing to address some of these challenges? We asked a selection of our employees how they felt about Lorien’s approach to working parents and whether we were giving them the support they needed. Thankfully, the answers were positive! We thought we’d share some of their responses.
If there was one buzzword that came from the session it was this: flexibility. For the employees in our focus group, the importance of a flexible business could not be understated. School holidays impact upon the working day in more ways than one – as pick up/drop off times change, so can commutes, travel times and availability. The ability to negotiate working hours, work part-time or work from home was central to our employee’s happiness with their work/life balance and they felt that Lorien created a workplace culture where asking for flexibility wasn’t taboo.
This is in keeping with the market, as research has shown flexibility ranked highly on a working parent’s wish list. Parents stated that they would leave employers who could not provide a balanced work culture and said that employers who did deliver were more likely to get motivated, loyal and productive employees.
The cross-section of our employees interviewed were unanimous in their belief that Lorien was a supportive and compassionate business (always nice to hear!) and they stressed how valuable this was for working parents. Our implementation of the innovative and employee-centric Openblend platform was cited as just one reason behind this belief. Openblend enables employees to select and rank different priorities – including health, fitness, family, friends, fun and career – to provide an insight into how each different worker’s mind functions and how best to motivate them to meet their unique needs.
In practice, this means that our workers are given the opportunity to speak about subjects that are important to them and to ask those questions that they might not otherwise be comfortable asking. According to studies, almost half of parents are worried about discussing work and family related issues with their employers and 41 per cent have lied or bent the truth to employers about family life conflicting with work. It also gives our managers an insight into their employee’s lives outside of day-to-day business to create a dynamic that extends beyond the purely corporate and brings topics such as school holidays to the forefront of their mind.
Cutting the costs
As any good recruitment business ought to, we pay competitive market rates to our employees, including meeting the annual living wage as a minimum. Of course, we try to help out fiscally in other ways where we can. We provide childcare vouchers as part of our benefits scheme to try and alleviate some of the cost for our working parents. For one working parent, who uses the vouchers to help with costs for childcare holiday camps over the summer, access to childcare vouchers was an important part of planning for the summer holidays.
The employees we spoke to felt that their colleagues were conscious of their responsibilities and were generally very supportive of any adjustments that needed to be made. We understand that being overworked can put an unnecessary strain on family life, so it’s important to recognise when enough is enough. Almost a third of working parents believed work pressures were responsible for partnership issues, while a quarter believed it led to rows with their children. Meanwhile, 29 per cent of working parents reported feeling “burnt out” often or all the time, with many taking annual and sick leave to cope. As a result, in addition to encouraging employees to speak up and using the Openblend approach to encourage two-way conversation, we are also looking to put a mentorship scheme into place and introduce ‘courageous conversations’ to ensure that overworking isn’t going unheard.
Naturally, we’re pleased to hear that the selection of employees we spoke to feel like we are supporting them as working parents. However, we know that it doesn’t stop there. Our working parents still face daily struggles and this is only amplified over the summer holidays. So we promise that we will keep on striving for a stronger, fairer and more flexible working environment. Crucially, we’ll keep on listening and we’ll keep on adapting. We understand that the working parents of Lorien have two jobs, two responsibilities and one priority – and we’re okay with that.