Back to school and back to work – Why the UK now needs a more flexible working mode
Following the closure of schools six months ago on 20th March, parents up and down the country have been juggling the responsibilities of working from home with keeping their children entertained and ensuring they stay on track with their education.
Despite many parents embracing their new roles and trying to make the best out of an extremely challenging period, by the time lockdown measures in the UK started to ease, Compare the Market’s Household Financial Confidence Tracker found that one in five families with dependent children had felt obliged to take a pay cut, or to reduce their working hours, in order to manage the new circumstances.
As schools finally re-open many parents will be looking forward to some degree of normality returning. However, there will still be a difficult transition period and business should not expect parents to be able to slot back into their old working patterns straight away.
Reduced access to childcare
A lack of breakfast and after-school clubs coupled with staggered start times and pick-up slots means it will be extremely difficult for parents to return to work full time. Already over 40 percent of working mums with children under the age of ten don’t have access to the childcare they need to cover their working hours. And recently there were concerns reported in Wales that a lack of childcare may be preventing parents from returning to work or could even stop their children going back to school.
It goes without saying that this continued disruption to the labour market will have additional knock on effects as the UK grapples to adjust to this new phase of the COVID-era, particular for working mums who are often impacted the most during an economic downturn. For example, a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) showed that British mothers were 23 percent more likely to have temporarily or permanently become unemployed during the pandemic than fathers.
Therefore, it is crucial that the Government and businesses work with parents to understand the daily pressures they are facing to ensure families feel supported and to find the best solutions available amid the current economic turmoil.
Employers need to get creative
This pandemic has undoubtedly changed the way companies are run and has shown that many jobs can and are being done remotely, part time or with compressed hours – and with great success. For example, despite the unprecedented circumstances and additional responsibilities, businesses have noticed an increase in productivity, with employees working on average an extra four hours per week from home than in the office.
Moreover, a survey released by the thinktank Autonomy (24 July) highlighted that a four-day working week could create 500,000 new jobs in the UK, which would significantly help to mitigate against the rise in unemployment predicted over the coming months.
Although unexpected, the past six-months have brought about the largest test case for flexible working and it has shown businesses that employees can work effectively when supported with flexible arrangements.
As the nation embarks on the transition back to school and back to work, it’s important that businesses continue to adapt to a flexible working model. For example, companies that are having to consider making job cuts could instead move some of their employees to work on a part-time basis in order to retain talent and protect jobs. In addition to this, offering freelance contracts based on project work and job-share schemes can help parents to find a role that suits their schedule, which will help plug the growing unemployment gap in the UK labour market and accelerate the nation’s recovery.
Government must play its role
The government must also play its role by encouraging and incentivising more part-time work to help create and retain job opportunities. The flexible furlough scheme was a great example of how this can work in practice, but it must be rolled out more widely and in other iterations beyond the scheme’s end in October.
It is without doubt that the UK job market is going to look very different in twelve months’ time and, in order to accelerate the road to recovery, businesses need to transition to a more flexible model that opens up alternative opportunities for all employees.
Unfortunately, the current economic situation puts working parents at particular risk, especially if they require flexibility from their employer. But this shouldn’t be the case. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that as many parents remain in work as possible. Therefore, now more than ever, employers need to get creative with how they approach and retain these talented individuals who can play a vital role in the country’s economic recovery.
Louise Deverell-Smith, Founder of Daisy Chain
Louise founded Daisy Chain after she saw first-hand how many parents were missing out on securing jobs because employers weren’t taking their childcare needs into consideration. She set up the business, an online recruitment platform matching parents with flexible job roles, to bridge this gap.