Schools out for summer! Well almost. And, along with impending teacher strikes come sighs from stressed-out parents looking for ways to juggle their work commitments with childcare.
How will this affect your business and your employees? Will it be business as usual or do you run the risk of managing a pre-occupied workforce or one where people feel they have to ‘throw a sickie’ in order to take time off to look after their children?
A large proportion of the working population is made up of parents who experience increased pressures relating to childcare provision, both before and after school and during the school holidays. The key issues they face are those of time – especially when hours of care available don’t cover the whole of the working day – and the ever-rising costs of childcare. Employers who factor in these considerations at a strategic level by offering flexible working and help with childcare costs tend to reap the benefits of:
- increased performance
- high levels of motivation
- increased loyalty and staff retention
- reduced absenteeism
- all of which offer financial savings both for the company and its employees
Flexible working is high on the agenda at present. This is due in part to changing needs from a changing UK workforce with more women in the labour market along with an ageing population (often needing care from relatives). Technological advances have made remote working a viable option and many businesses are finding a need to operate outside ‘normal’ working hours in order to provide a 24/7 (often global) service. In addition, there has been an increased demand from employees to achieve a work/life balance in their lives.
Many employers have recognised the benefits of flexible working – both to themselves and their staff. In fact, research has shown that those with flexible contracts tend to be more emotionally engaged, more satisfied with their work, more likely to speak positively about their organisation and less likely to quit.1
There are a wide range of flexible options either based on time or location depending on business needs and the needs of the individual. Common forms include:
- part-time working
- job sharing
- term-time working
- compressed hours
- staggered hours
- annualised hours
- shift swapping
- time off in lieu
- regular homeworking
These can be offered on either a formal or informal basis and may or may not be incorporated into an employee’s contract. Practices such as homeworking/mobile working are also subject to the same Health and Safety requirements as those applying to office-based workers.
Whilst 91% of employees reportedly have access to some form of flexible working, the Government has also made statutory provision to ensure workers have a statutory right to apply to their employers for flexible working practices. At present, those eligible are employees with at least 26 weeks continuous service who have parental responsibility for children under 17 (under 18 if disabled) or responsibility to care for certain categories of adult.
Under the law, employers must seriously consider applications and only refuse on legitimate business grounds. Employers are free to also consider requests from those who don’t have a legal right to apply. In fact, the Government is currently proposing extending rights to all employees in a bid to modernise the UK workplace.
Local Authority dates for School holidays
|Summer holidays||25th July – 31st August 2011|
|Autumn half-term||24th– 28th October 2011|
|Christmas/New Year||19th December 2011 – 3rd January 2012|
|Spring half-term||11th – 19th February 2012|
|Easter holidays||31st March – 13th April 2012|
|Summer half-term||4th – 8th June 2012|
|Summer holidays||19th July – 30th August 2012|
Note that independent schools dates may vary slightly from the above.
Help with childcare costs
There are a number of options to help firms offer employer-supported childcare. The main ones are:
- Salary sacrifice – where employees agree to reduce their salary by an agreed amount in payment for childcare provision.
- Childcare voucher schemes – these can be administered by an external childcare voucher provider or in-house through a self-administered scheme.
- Directly contracted childcare – where employers pay the employee’s childcare provider direct for a place or part-place or provide a workplace nursery. This is exempt from National Insurance Contributions for employers and from tax and NIC for employees (assuming they are basic rate tax payers) but the scheme must meet the requirements of HM Revenue and Customs. It can also provide for instances when emergency or back-up care is needed, for example in cases where schools are closed due to training days, teacher strikes or other special circumstances and the usual childcare arrangements are not available.
Strategic not ad hoc
With the pressure on businesses to provide support for working parents and pressure on parents to be part of the labour market, it makes sense to recognise that the modern workplace is one where flexibility from both employers and employees is now the order of the day. As such, taking a strategic approach and incorporating issues of flexible working and childcare support into company policy means that time off for childcare can be largely planned for rather than dealt with as a problem of ad hoc absenteeism during the school holiday season.
For further information, request our employer guidance sheets ‘Employee Rewards and Benefits’ and ‘Managing Sickness and Absence’ by emailing email@example.com.
For help and advice on implementing flexible working practices or to discuss how you could benefit from being flexible during school holidays, contact Justine on 01743 453170.
1 TRUSS, C., SOANE, E. and EDWARDS, C. (2006) Working life: employee attitudes and engagement 2006, Research report. London: CIPD