How can work best support families?

By J&C Team

What do parents think makes for a family friendly employer? It’s an important consideration given that most employees will at some point start a family.’s recent annual survey showed offering flexible hours for full time jobs was rated the most important factor for a family friendly company, followed by allowing regular work at home, offering part time jobs, offering more flexibility during school holidays and allowing holiday days to be taken at short notice to deal with sick children and other emergencies. Interestingly, these were all significantly more important than extended maternity pay periods, networking and support groups, parenting courses and childcare help such as offering creches or childcare vouchers, although the latter still rated fairly high.

We hold our Top Employers Awards every year to highlight the best practice in flexible working, women’s career progression, family support, talent attraction and support for dads and to show what the business benefits are. Family Support is a popular category and every year the judges are interested to see the different ways organisations are thinking through what they offer to mums and dads. Dads are an increasing focus, with Shared Parental Leave casting a spotlight on changing attitudes to the gender balance at work and at home.

Family support embraces a host of policies and practices which aim to make it easier to balance work and family life. These include emergency childcare provision; creche facilities; support for employees looking after elderly parents or relatives; family outings or activities that include the family; provision of term-time working, annualised hours or other innovative working policies which help with holiday childcare; and support with finding or paying for childcare.

Winners in the past have included Barclays which was commended for its policy on carers, an area which is climbing up the priority list as more and more families delay having children, making them more likely to be looking after both young children and elderly parents at the same time.

Barclays’ support for families in all their forms and at all stages of family life has seen its return rates for women on maternity leave rise to around 90% and it says women are now more likely to stay longer in the company than men. That support has been modelled by senior leaders and its employee networks, including a working family and carers network, have fed directly into policy. The networks host events which cover all life phases and are very popular. A session on stress and work life balance, led by My Family Care, for instance, drew around 300 people and interestingly, all the questions were from men. The networks are backed up by internal social media forums where employees can share advice.

Various business areas within Barclays also provide additional support such as coaching for new dads, maternity and adoption coaching, and paid transition days leave in the first two years of new parents returning from maternity or paternity leave. These transition days, offered for employees of Barclays Wealth, can be used for anything from settling children into nursery to inoculations. More widely, line managers are also offered coaching in how to help new parents transition back to work. Once parents have returned to work, they are eligible for childcare vouchers and up to six free emergency care sessions a year via My Family Care. Barclays’ Emergency Assistance Programme and other support programmes signpost them to a range of other support, including legal help and financial assistance. There is also an annual Bring Your Child to Work Day which again spreads the message about work life integration.

Other award winners have focused more on whole family support. They include paternity workshops and strong working dad role models, often from senior leaders who work flexibly. For many family support is part of their overall health and wellbeing programme. Other innovative ideas include maternity buddy schemes whereby returning mums – and in some cases dads – can be paired up with those who have already been through the process.  Emergency childcare support and subsidies for holiday childcare are also proving popular and many of those asking for them are dads. Surveys show holiday and after school childcare is a big concern for the majority of parents even though government policy seems to focus mainly on early years childcare.

Some employers are also offering more events related to family life, such as sessions on how to support children through GCSEs, and also direct access to experts on a range of family-related issues. They are not doing this just out of the goodness of their hearts, though. They clearly see the links between family support and productivity. As one of our winners, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, says: “We believe that we should provide as much support as we can to allow our employees to combine their career and family commitments successfully to ensure consistency and peace of mind.”

Another winner is Danone. It says it is vital that its internal image matches up to the brand identity which is all about family health and well-being.

Danone’s family support encompasses an adoption policy, flexible working for all, family days, retirement policy, grandparent leave, surrogacy leave and stress and well being. Family days were introduced a few years ago to recognise significant life events such as christenings, important family birthdays and the like.

It also provides emergency childcare, a childcare search and support services and counselling on issues including financial problems. In addition it operates a flexible reward scheme on its intranet site which allows employees to buy and sell benefits such as extra holiday and choose what they need tailored to their own circumstances. This includes childcare vouchers and additional healthcare. There’s a portfolio of benefits to choose from and employees can change their selection at a couple of points in the year, unless there is an emergency. This is all backed up by an agile working culture.

These family friendly firms say they reap the rewards in terms of engaged, motivated and loyal staff.

Kevin Smith knows how important it is to have a supportive employer. He is Resourcing Project Manager at Vodafone, having moved from another role in the company where he had been involved in implementing and communicating Vodafone’s new global maternity policy in the UK.

Kevin is more aware than most how important the ability to spend quality time with your children is. His wife died just over two and a half years ago and since then he has been a single dad to their two children, now aged nine and seven. Vodafone were very supportive when he first told them about his wife’s illness and allowed him to reduce from full time to four days a week almost straight away and gave him time to attend treatment with his wife. At the time he was in sales, but soon after he moved from a customer-facing role to a more internal-facing one.

When his wife’s health got worse, he was put on sabbatical. His manager even rang his wife up to reassure her that Kevin was a really valued member of staff and that Vodafone would look after him. “It was an incredible thing to do and put her mind at ease that her family would be okay,” says Kevin.

After her death he returned to work on two days a week and then built up to three and switched from sales to HR. Whilst he has been in HR he says his managers have been very supportive and understood that he might have bad days. “My first manager in HR knew when all the important anniversaries were,” he says. “Those little touches meant a lot.”

Kevin says that Vodafone’s flexible working policy has helped him a lot and meant he can be around for his children. For that reason he is happy to be flexible back and to work more hours when needed. “It has been so important having jobs that are fulfilling and keep me engaged so in the future when I get to a point where I want to push my career again I can rescale it,” he says.

He adds that being in work has helped give him stability. “I have been fortunate to benefit from so many different types of flexibility and from amazing managers and this has definitely increased my loyalty and commitment to Vodafone,” he says. “I have not even the slightest thought of moving on. There is no reason to leave.”