Coronavirus has highlighted an issue that’s been present for years: employees are concerned about being negatively judged for needing working adjustments to accommodate their children. But what will the knock-on effects be and why do we need to act now to support working parents?
We take a look at the ongoing issues that working parents face, outline your legal standpoint and discuss what ‘reasonable’ adjustments can be made as society faces a modern-day childcare crisis.
UK Childcare Crisis
Childcare has been a hot topic since schools shut in March – exposing a lack of support for over 13 million working parents in the UK. That’s about 40% of the working population.
However, this is an ongoing issue. With entire year groups having to isolate and schools being forced to shut, this isn’t a problem that’s going out of the spotlight any time soon. So, why should employers get on board?
The UK is experiencing a childcare crisis – with a recent survey revealing that a lack of childcare played a role in almost half of female layoffs since the pandemic hit. Furthermore, even our keyworkers felt the strain with 67% forced to reduce their hours due to a lack of access to childcare.
It seems unlikely that any working parent will avoid childcare difficulties at some time over the coming months. So, let’s take a look at some of the issues contributing…
Issues of being a working parent
Lack of support for working parents
Have you ever felt concerned to admit to childcare issues or felt worried that you’d be met with a negative response? Well, you’re not the only one.
In fact, of those working mothers that did experience a lack of childcare during the pandemic, over half reported that they were met with negativity from their employer. Moreover, it’s likely that this fear will increase as we head into a recession and the peril of redundancy grows within society.
The lack of support goes beyond the employer, however. At current, accessing support is more difficult than ever. Whilst grandparents may be isolating or friends are unable to mix bubbles and pitch in together, many are looking to paid support in the form of nurseries or childminders.
Yet, they’ll be met with a nasty struggle – as many working parents may have found. Only 56% of local authorities have enough childcare for parents working full-time, meaning that childcare spaces are hard to come by, especially at such short notice.
Despite the need for childcare to be seen as economic infrastructure, the investment simply doesn’t match and prices for childcare are snowballing out of control, as one of the most highly-regulated sectors push prices up year-on-year.
However, parents are left to brunt the cost of this regulation. In 2020, parents are paying an average of £6,800 for a part-time nursery place. That’s 5% more than last year – well ahead of inflation which sits at 1.50%.
Therefore, with childcare costs becoming an increasing strain on the family unit, it’s concerning to see that families are opting to reduce their groceries in favour of childcare, or feel forced to cut their hours to access tax-free support.
A backstep for equality
The role of a mother has shifted from a stay at home mum to working a triple shift – looking after the home, the family and a job.
As the primary caregiver in the UK, it appears that working mothers are perhaps the worst-affected by the childcare crisis, with a recent study revealing that 72% have been forced to reduce their hours (capping their earning potential) due to a lack of childcare.
But what will be the long-term affects of a mother having to put her career second?
- Higher levels of female unemployment
- Less women in senior roles
- Reduced diversity
- Increased gender pay gap
With 46% of working mothers stating that childcare was a deciding factor in their redundancy since the pandemic broke, this issue cannot be ignored any longer.
Therefore, in order to avoid taking a step back into the 40s, we must act now to support working parents as a whole.
An employee is entitled to take reasonable time off as “dependants leave” but only in specified circumstances. There is no statutory obligation on employers to pay the employee for the time off and what is “reasonable” is not mandated.
An employee also has a separate entitlement to take unpaid parental leave of up to 18 weeks (per child), at any time until the child is 18; but advance notice must be given (whereas time off for dependants is designed to deal with emergency situations). One type of leave could transition into the other.
For more information about the rights surrounding work and childcare, download our detailed 9-page explainer in our Return to Work Toolkit.
In addition to dependants leave and unpaid parental leave, anyone who has worked for 26-weeks continuously has the statutory right to submit a formal flexible working request.
The request can include possible changes to work arrangements, such as:
- Reduction or variation of working hours
- Reduction or variation of the days worked
- Working from a different location, eg home.
Employer Support – Going The Extra Mile
With all that said, what can employers do above the legal minimum to make the lives of working parents better? Well, here are just a few things to consider:
Normalise Working Parents
Everyone knows THAT news segment where the toddler broke in during an interview on BBC. But, have you seen how they handled the more recent interview with Dr Clare Wenham and her toddler’s unicorn? Normalising parenting can go a long way to reducing anxiety around childcare.
As with all change, ensure your leadership get on board and lead by example – being a parent and being a professional should not be a paradox.
As the pandemic escalates the shift away from ‘traditional’ ways of working, it’s important to carefully consider your employee’s requests and try to be as accommodating as possible. Failure to do so will likely push them towards a decision of ‘work or home’ – meaning that you could lose out on quality talent.
Download our free flexible working request form and flexible working methods explainer here.
Simple and effective: showing compassion and understanding to working parents can reduce the fear surrounding this widespread issue.
In such stressful times, employers should be making it as easy as possible for working parents to follow the rules and government guidance. For example, if an employee is concerned that they will lose their job if required to care for children forced to isolate, they may be encouraged to illegally break the isolation period to hide issues from their employer. This will put your workforce as a whole in jeopardy.
To combat the negative experiences of many, we must establish a safer, more understanding environment where employees are able to be transparent about the issues they face – without fear of an adverse reaction.
Putting formal policies in place to protect both the employee and employer can help establish a more collaborative approach to problem-solving. For example, by having a homeworking policy in place, employers can feel in control of individuals who seek to work from home on a more permanent basis.
Download our free policies here, including:
- Homeworking policy
- Health and wellbeing policy
- Flexible working policy
Gender Pay Report
Whilst it isn’t legally required by all businesses, publishing an annual gender pay report can help employers to become conscious of inequalities within the business.
Consider checking in on the differences between genders in regards to pay, promotional opportunities and recruitment. The first step of righting a wrong is identifying it, after all!
Need more help?
During these testing times, the team at Crosse HR are trying to do their bit – supporting small businesses by providing free templates to help time and resources go further.
However, if you require further expert HR support and consultancy, please get in touch. Contact Crosse HR for shrewd, sensibly priced HR solutions you can rely on.
Settle Status: EU Workforce
Do you have employees from the EU working within your business? Changes to the law may mean that they have to reapply to secure their residency status with the new EU Settle Status.
To make this transition period easier, we’ll be stepping you through what you need to know as an employer to support the welfare of these employees in such indefinite times.
What is the EU Settle Status?
On 31 January 2020, the United Kingdom officially left the European Union. Although no official deal has been agreed upon yet, changes have started to slowly filter through – one of the largest being ‘Settled Status’.
But what is settled status and why does it matter?
Settled status is the term for being a resident in the UK without any immigration restrictions on the length of your stay. There are two types of status in the EU Settlement Scheme:
- Settled status
- Pre-settled status
EU citizens who are granted settled status are permitted to stay in the UK as long as they choose; they can also apply for a British citizenship if they are eligible.
Pre-settled status – which is usually granted to those who have not lived in the UK for five continuous years – allows inhabitants to stay in the UK for a further five years from the date they are granted pre-settled status. After this period, individuals can reapply for full settled status.
The deadline for applying is 30 June 2021.
It is free to apply to the scheme through the government website.
Before beginning the application process for settlement status, applicants should have ready proof of identity and residency. It may also be worth double-checking that applicants have not already received pre-agreed settle status here.
What does this mean for employees?
Citizens of the EU, EEA or Switzerland can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021. Without confirmed settlement status, these citizens will not have the assumed right to:
- Work in the UK
- Use the NHS for free
- Enrol in education (or continue studying)
- Access public funds, such as benefits (if eligible)
- Enter the UK without a visa
Employees that do not have settled status face the potential risk of having paperwork refused, being unable to work legally in the UK and even deportation – uprooting their family, career and life.
Therefore, it is important to support your EU workforce through their application to ensure there is no disruption to their legal right to work or live in the UK after this deadline.
How can employers help?
Importance of application:
As employers, there is no legal requirement to inform your workforce of the impending deadline but it’s a good idea to ensure there are no legal hiccups (and it also feels like the right thing to do).
Employers do not require proof that employees have applied but getting status through the scheme will protect their future rights, so it is very important that they apply if you want them to continue working for you.
There are a few practical steps you can take to encourage your employees to apply.
Why not start by sending a letter to all your EU employees? It doesn’t have to take much time with letter templates already drafted up and ready to go. You can also ensure visual cues help prompt their minds by displaying informative posters.
Remember: although you can encourage people to apply, as an employer, you cannot ask them whether they have or about the outcome.
Supporting the process itself:
The process itself was designed to be as seamless as possible. However, with the added complication of coronavirus, a few spanners have been thrown in the works.
Due to many businesses being shut for a number of months and international travel complications, employees may have struggled to renew expiring passports. Therefore, workers may require flexible hours or additional holiday days to address this before their application.
Further, it may be useful to make your facilities available for support. For example, at this time, many printing shops and internet cafes are shut due to the pandemic. Therefore, pre-granting access for your employees to use your scanner, printer or work phone for their application may aid their progress.
Finally, although it is not standard procedure, if the employee requires any documentation to support their application then provide this in a timely manner; holding this process up will cause additional stress for the employee, distracting them from their work and prolonging indecision.
The uncertainty formed in the last few months has had an impact on everyone. However, we must consider those who experience further doubt about their rights within the country compassionately.
Managing stress and keeping a close eye on employees is essential at all times. Look out for key indicators of deteriorating wellbeing, such as:
- Reduced engagement
- Missed deadlines
- Lower morale
- Increased tiredness
If you notice a significant shift in their wellbeing, it may be time to check in; look out for tell-tale signs of poor employee mental health and be ready to act.
Where possible, refer employees for additional support and be compassionate towards their situation. It may be worth considering ways you can support employees with stress outside of work with flexible working, duvet days or even a shift in the workplace culture.
The charity MIND has some great, free resources to help individuals manage stress – at work and home. Could sharing some of their best resources equip your taskforce with more resilience?
Considering your current employees is a great first step, but what about future employees?
If you are planning on recruiting before the settlement deadline, it’s important that you don’t sit on your hands.
Speeding up your recruitment process will allow your business to:
- Beat the deadline;
- Widen your search for talent;
- Allow the successful candidate (if from the EU) to apply for settlement status in time.
As an employer, you have a duty “not to discriminate against EU citizens in light of the UK’s decision to leave the EU as both a prospective and current employer”.
That means that you cannot make an offer of employment, or continued employment, dependent on an individual having made an application. However, consideration should not stop here; ensure you address workplace discrimination at all levels for a safe working environment for all.
- Checking your processes and procedures for bias
- Educating employees on how to report discrimination
- Including EU citizens in your diversity reports
- Reminding employees of the fine line between ‘banter’ and discriminatory harassment
- Ensuring you have the processes in place to address hostility appropriately
Right to work checks:
It has been confirmed that there will be no change to right to work checks until 1 January 2021. That means that job applicants can continue to prove their right to work using any of the following:
- their valid passport or national identity card if they’re an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen
- their valid biometric residence card if they’re a non-EU, EEA or Swiss citizen family member
- their status under the EU Settlement Scheme using the Home Office’s online right to work checking service.
You will not be required to undertake retrospective checks on existing EU employees. Therefore, changes will only apply to applications in the new year.
For more information, read the official right to work checklist here.
For official support on how employers should support the EU Settle Status scheme, GOV have created an ‘employer toolkit’ here.
However, if you require expert HR support and consultancy, please get in touch.
Clarity Beats Uncertainty
Remember that round: ‘What Happens Next’ from a Question of Sport?
At the moment, we are all asking that question constantly…
- What changes will there be to lockdown restrictions?
- Will any uptick in revenue stall?
- Will people be able to pay me for work done?
So, to combat all this uncertainty we can at least ensure that we have clarity of where we need to be and the impact of missing or achieving those targets. This way, we can act fast to address any issues – being proactive with cost-cutting, additional funding or growth planning, as required.
When meeting regularly with my clients we look at certain key targets to help them know where they need to be. Let’s take a little look at what these are.
Understanding breakeven will highlight a good from a bad month.
If you are making profits it will trigger a need to ring fence monies for future corporation tax. If you are making losses, then you need to understand the impact on retained earnings (i.e. the profits you have built up over the years).
This is particularly relevant if you take part of your income as dividends. Dividends can only be taken where there are sufficient retained earnings and repeated losses will erode this and so you will need to monitor your position.
Knowing your breakeven will ensure you don’t get to year end without either sufficient provision for corporation tax or having taken illegal dividends.
2. Cashflow Neutral
The income you require to be cash neutral each month may well be higher than your breakeven. This might be due to loan repayments or if you take some of your income through dividends.
Knowing this straight away will help you understand if your bank balance will start reducing and immediately by how much. Clients may not pay straight away but already you have the insight as to how much your cashflow will be impacted even after all invoices are paid.
We also look at the capacity that the current workforce can deliver in terms of income.
This helps in two ways.
Too much resource:
Firstly, we can understand if we have too much resource for current levels of income and assess how long we can support this.
Not enough resource:
Secondly, and on a more positive note, we can see as the business grows when we will need more resource. We can assess whether to employ or outsource and we can do this in advance of hitting capacity thus ensuring service levels are maintained.
4. Bank Balance
Many clients start off thinking just monitoring their bank balance is sufficient.
I can see why they think this way, but this just tells you the here and now and doesn’t help anticipate the impact of loss-making months now. With many businesses having recently taken out Bounce Back Loans their bank balances are currently quite healthy and can, in fact, be masking issues for later down the road.
So, in summary, to grasp back some of that certainty, ask yourself if you know these three figures. With our environment being so uncertain, you at least know where you need to be and the impact of falling short or exceeding it – because clarity beats uncertainty.
About Helen Fleet:
Helen Fleet of HF Financial Strategy works as a Finance Director and guides companies to deliver their financial and business objectives. This can include cashflow planning, pricing reviews and ways to improve profitability.
For more information about HF Financial Strategy, visit her website here or discover more of her guest blogs here.
Did you attend our presentation earlier this month – designed to help SMEs in the construction industry? Below, we share the slides in case you missed it or you;d like to recap the key points!
More than a band-aid
Six months ago, businesses were forced to migrate to a new way of working almost overnight as we were urged to stay home to contain the virus. Although many businesses adapted well and remote working became commonplace, the process was rushed – driven by panic and spurred by the need to survive.
These fixes were never built to last.
As we look forward, it seems that remote working is here to stay – with many businesses challenging more traditional setups and looking to ditch or reduce their office overheads. But to be successful long-term, more structure and investment is required – particularly in the effort required to maintain a positive employee connection that transcends distance.
So, how can you keep your team engagement and morale high when working conditions are somewhat different to what you’ve been used to? We discuss this and more, with example to the drawbacks and how to address these going forward.
Leading from the front
Winckworth Sherwood found that 78% of employers are planning on “long-term operational changes” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 9% considering closing their offices completely
- 26% considering reducing their office space
- 47% increasing flexibility around working from home
- 38% increasing flexibility around set working hours
With huge businesses such as BT and Twitter making the offer to employees to permanently choose how they work it feels like we’re on the precipice of a huge cultural shift.
But, with change comes new challenges. What are the issues associated with managing people from afar and how can you look after your staff when you can’t see them? Let’s take a look.
Overcoming barriers to remote working
On the surface, remote working sounds great. It can help employers lure in exceptional talent, reduce office costs, chat and distractions and your employees will relish in their newfound sense of freedom – working how and when they work best.
So, what’s with all the reluctancy and why are some so keen to get back to the office?
Whilst working from home is popular right now, there must be some consideration into the long-term consequences that will begin to appear in the not so distant future.
At this time of great upheaval, we’re going to steer you through some of the HR issues that arise when working from home – with some thought-provoking insight and direction on how to mitigate any hurdles. So, let’s dive in.
Negative impacts on employee wellbeing
It is reported that 62% of employees would be “happy” if their offices closed and working from home became a permanent setup. But that leaves a good proportion of the workforce unhappy with this situation.
There are many reasons this may be, as the office can provide benefits for employees including:
- Social interaction
- Support – personally and professionally
- Routine and a change of scenery
- A place to focus without distractions, such as childcare
- Relief from home pressures, such as strained relationships
So, without the face-to-face interaction you’re used to, how can you look after employees? Be sure to look a little closer for the signs of someone struggling, including reduced engagement or participation, missed deadlines or overdoing their hours. These may be an indication that an employee’s mental health is declining.
To combat this, consider:
- Regular team meetings at a coffee shop or co-working space (when safe to do so)
- Making support digital, such as posting self-help and advice on the intranet
- Setting up support groups, buddy systems and social nights
- Encouraging employees to log their hours
- Reminding employees of their line manager
There is some stipulation that the increase in remote working will lead to a more unjust workplace. So how can you play fair in an increasingly competitive environment?
Say there’s a big promotion coming up. Who will be seen more favourably for the leg up: an employee who is frequently present and visible within the office or a team member that may be less well-known working from home?
There’s a great possibility that a two-tier workforce will soon be established – dividing those that come into work and those that don’t. And, with childcare being a key draw for remote working, women are likely to be most affected by this, causing the gender pay gap to be even further widened.
Other concerns include wages being driven down – due to reduced travel expenses, outsourcing and increased competition. Although it’s understandable for businesses to try and reduce costs, this will further suppress our economy and lead your customers to also look for the cheapest option.
Therefore, is leaning towards this remote workforce just a way of shooting ourselves in the foot? Honestly, we can’t tell you how to run your business. However, to stay mindful, take five to contemplate the following…
- Creating a fair criterion for the recruitment process
- Annually publishing your gender pay report
- Actively planning to reduce any variance found [see above]
- Mapping your pay against GDP and inflation
A huge 46% of HR decision makers are concerned that employees won’t be able to carry out their jobs effectively at home. However, almost half this number of employees have the same concern. So why is this?
A great way to measure whether employees can work effectively at home is to determine what ‘effective’ means to you; take some time to document what a ‘good’ job done looks like.
- Outcome-based measurement
- Clear communication
- Realistic deadlines
- Regular reviews
By measuring outcomes, rather than hours spent in the office, you can then begin to measure whether an employee is effectively working at home or not. Be sure to provide clarity on objectives, detail what is expected from employees and what they need to achieve and by when.
If you have not done the role yourself, you may find it useful to have a discussion with employees to discuss what is reasonable within their time constraints. After all, overly ambitious targets often turn employees off and lead to a decline in motivation, job satisfaction and mental health.
Lack of control (trust)
By having employees under their roof, many employers feel as if they can control their employees better. At the end of the day, the issue is: do you trust your employees?
Failure to trust your employees can lead to wasted time on micromanagement, a reluctancy to take ownership of responsibilities and a reduction in engagement and job satisfaction – with employees viewing ‘spying’ negatively. Trust them too much and you risk them feeling lost or taking advantage.
Therefore, it may reassure you to learn that only 12% of employees struggle to motivate themselves. In fact, employees that work from home tend to work harder due to concerns that it will be perceived negatively or that their privileges will be revoked.
To combat this, consider:
- Learning what makes employees tick and ensuring they feel supported
- Checking in regularly to monitor and ensure progress
- Clearly communicating expectations
- Set meetings and PDRs to review progress and rectify any issues.
We anticipate that AI and monitoring will be stepped up in the months to come. In fact, it’s already happening before our very eyes!
Employees can no longer log in early, collect the kids from school and pretend they were working all along. Technology can now determine when you touch your keypad and will alert your manager if you haven’t been active.
Your emails may be monitored too – determining your intentions and engagement by unpicking what and how you word your emails.
So, with monitoring expected to greatly increase, how can we avoid upsetting employees?
To avoid upset, consider:
- Being transparent about how technologies works
- Explaining why it has been put in place
- Outlining how technology will be used (eg, in PDRs)
- Addressing any concerns that employees may have.
Remember: any worker that has been with you for at least 26 weeks automatically gains the right to apply for flexible working. If you deem it appropriate to grant requests and feel this will not impact the individual’s ability to perform, this may provide a more open solution that will stop employees feeling the need to deceive their employer.
Need more help?
If you are considering whether a return to the office is essential, safe and mutually agreed, check out the CIPD’s useful resource here. It helps point you towards some useful resources and raises some poignant questions.
If you need some support adjusting to remote working and require some assistance motivating and engaging your employees, get in touch with Crosse HR.
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