Time to Care: parental and caregiver policies in the time of Covid
By Annie Makoff on 23 October 2020
Lockdown has made it necessary for employers to develop flexible and family-friendly workplaces. As unprecedented numbers of people now work from home, flexibility to reflect caring responsibilities has become the norm.
In so doing, the pandemic turned the flexible working evolution across UK workplaces into something akin to a revolution, demonstrating in no uncertain terms that it’s entirely possible to foster a collaborative and productive working environment with disparate teams.
“Lockdown has shown that flexible working can be undertaken beyond what was initially assumed and this has given the issue new momentum,” says Susha Chandrasekhar, lawyer at the Government Legal Department. Passionate about inclusion and flexible working opportunities, Chandrasekhar told d&i Leaders employers ‘cannot afford’ to miss out on or ‘under-employ’ talent due to the lack of parental and caregiver support.
“Inclusion is so important for optimally harnessing the skills of every person, which benefits both businesses and society as a whole,” she explains. “There are already many policies in place which can assist with the pandemic and its fallout, such as the right to request flexible working, shared parental leave and time off for dependents. A greater take up of these existing policies can create better working and personal lives.”
In the past, flexible working requests made under the Children and Families Act 2014 were not always granted: a TUC report last year revealed that 1 in 3 flexible working requests were turned down, but now it will now be harder to reject such requests.
This is good news, not just for working parents, but for those with eldercare responsibilities. The flexibility piece has moved on from a ‘nice to have’ to ‘essential’: employees may need to self-isolate, leave suddenly to collect their child from school who is displaying symptoms or they may need to care for an elderly relative in their support bubble. And beyond Covid-19, too, the flexibility trend will be a permanent one.
Indeed, two-thirds of employer respondents to a Working Families survey plan to continue with flexible working options and other family-friendly policies post-Covid after they saw a rise in productivity levels.
Online education provider, Courses Online offers inclusive workplace policies for parents and caregivers. Including paid leave allowance for both primary and secondary carers and additional leave depending on length of service, the policy has enabled employees to maximise their productivity and helps reduce stress.
“We offer an industry-leading policy,” says Sarah-Jane McQueen, general manager of Courses Online. “We want to ensure that employees are never having to choose between family needs and work commitments.”
Shared parental leave (SPL) too, although renowned for its low take-up figures, has met with success at drinks brand Diageo, who offer all their UK employees 52 weeks’ parental leave with 26 weeks fully paid, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The scheme applies to either biological or adoptive parents. Aviva also offer employees 26 weeks fully-paid parental leave and provide a supportive culture for fathers wishing to take leave.
Support for carers
From a carers perspective however, Alison Taylor, chief executive of UK charity Carers First, says there’s a ‘mixed picture’ of workplace support. There are five million working carers in the UK who are juggling work with caring roles and while some are able to undertake demanding jobs successfully thanks to workplace support, there are many more who can’t.
“There is growing evidence about the financial and non-financial benefits to employers in providing more support and flexibility for carers,” Taylor says, pointing to a recent project by Business in the Community which emphasised the clear business case of providing support for carers, in terms of increased retention, improved productivity and reduced absences overall.
But the pandemic has created added pressure on carers, many of whom have now lost informal and formal respite from their role, Taylor adds. The onus is therefore on employers to step up to the mark. “Employers need to proactively encourage staff to identify as carers and offer flexible working opportunities, paid carers leave, employee support networks and counselling support,” she says.
Trust and understanding
Digital marketing agency Xpand takes an altogether different approach – their family-friendly and caregiver policy is entirely based around trust and understanding. In doing so, its entirely inclusive to all, including carers.
“When you think about a policy you often imagine a large document full of dos and don’ts which employees must read, adhere to and sign,” says director Jag Panesar, “but our policies at Xpand are far from that: we have an understanding that if circumstances arise out of an employee’s control, there will be no negative consequences for them. As long as work is done to meet demand, where and how it’s done is irrelevant. Life gets in the way sometimes and it’s no reflection on anyone’s commitment to work.”
For Panesar, it’s not about opting in and out of certain schemes, it’s about being flexible at any given moment. “Each of our employees know they can come to me with concerns and I’ll do my very best to find a solution. After all, flexibility and the ability to respond and adapt to change is important, now more than ever.”
d&i Leaders is a global community of senior diversity, inclusion and HR focused professionals, looking to collaborate, network and accelerate their workplace inclusion strategy.