From parents not taking up benefits to equal parental leave: this week’s HR round-up

This week’s HR news covers parents failing to take up workplace benefits for fear of being judged, childcare issues, fire and rehire, equal parental leave policies and everything in between.

working dads support from employers


Parents failing to take up benefits at work

Many working parents do not use the policies, support and benefits available to them because they fear being judged negatively by colleagues and managers, and worry about the consequences of doing so on career progression, according to a new report.

‘The priority actions for boards to drive equal opportunities for working parents report by WOMBA (Work, Me and the Baby), in partnership with Hult International Business School (Ashridge) is a result of more than two years’ research into the experiences of working mums and dads as they transition from worker to working parent*, and the barriers people leads (HR, DEI, people management and working parent leads) and organisations face as they strive to create equitable and inclusive workplaces.

The report shows that many mums are concerned about how their parenting responsibilities will impact their career. During the interviews, mums shared their fears of being judged as ‘less than’ – for example, less capable and less committed. Many said this often results in them hiding their parental identities and responsibilities at work. Dads were also worried about the impact on career progression. The report calls for more to be done to encourage a feeling of psychological safety so parents feel they can take up benefits that will make their working lives easier.

Alison Green, working parent champion and director of WOMBA, said: “Our research with working parents and UK people leads is strong evidence to suggest that building a culture with psychological safety at its foundation will help to break down the barriers to equality in the workplace.

“Key to ensuring all parents can continue to progress their careers is for employers to invest in considered, family friendly policies, such as equal and enhanced parental leave, structured hybrid and flexible working, and specialist support. But to create tangible progress for working parents, investment must be underpinned by an aligned culture so all parents feel they can use support and arrangements designed for them, without detriment to their careers.”

Report finds wide benefits of 4-day week

Nearly 90% of employers who took part in a large UK pilot of the 4-Day Week on full pay have decided to stick with it one year on, according to a new study.

A report by independent think tank Autonomy and researchers from University of Cambridge, the University of Salford and Boston College in the US,  found that of the 61 organisations that took part in the six month pilot in the UK, at least 54 have confirmed they are still operating the policy one year later (89%). In addition, at least 31 have made the change permanent – representing 51% of all participating companies.

The report also found that 96% of surveyed staff members reported a positive impact on their personal lives and 100% of consulted project managers and CEOs said that the four-day week had a positive impact on their organisation, with 55% saying the impact was “very positive”.

When asked what the shorter working week had changed in their organisation, 82% reported positive impacts on wellbeing. In addition, 50% saw positive effects on reducing staff turnover and 32% said it noticeably improved job recruitment.

Some 46% of organisations also described positive change in terms of ways of working and productivity, leading to maintained or increased overall performance.

Fire and rehire reforms announced

The Government has announced proposed reforms to the law when it comes to firing and rehiring employees, but has stopped short of banning the practice.

Instead it is focusing on best practice by proposing that the Code of Practice on dismissal and re-engagement be updated. It also says Employment Tribunals should be allowed to raise compensation by up to 25% if an employer unreasonably fails to follow the Code.

In addition, it is advising employers to contact ACAS at an early stage before raising fire and rehire with the workforce and says the risk of threats of dismissal should no longer be used as a way to pressurise employees to accept changes.

It has also proposed amendments that encourage a dialogue between employers and employees and trade unions and says ‘fire and rehire’ should only be used as a last resort. Employers will now have to explore alternatives to dismissal and re-engagement in order to reach agreed outcomes.

Working Families welcomed the changes as far as they went, but said it is vital that the Government continues to assess if the code is robust enough to deter the process from happening again in the future. It also urged the Government to direct funding towards services which ensure those most at risk of having their employment rights infringed are aware of their rights and entitlements and how they can access them, given that the upholding of the code is something that will be decided by an Employment Tribunal.

Report highlights poverty trap of low income households

An average low-income family where every parent was already working full time would need to squeeze in an extra 19 hours a week to escape the breadline – equivalent to working an eight-day week, according to new research from Action for Children.

Its research shows around 300,000 families with children are living in poverty in the UK despite every parent being in full-time employment.

As well as looking at the number of extra hours needed to escape poverty, the research looked at earnings. It found the average (median) low-income family where every parent worked full time would need a weekly pay rise of £168 (£8,736 more a year) to clear the poverty line – and over a quarter (28%) would need to earn more than £300 extra a week (over £15,600 more annually).

The report say factors such as low pay and job quality, ethnicity, geographic location and housing and disability are to blame. Nearly a quarter (24%) of parents affected are self-employed. The analysis shows nearly eight in 10 (78%) self-employed parents working full-time below the breadline are earning less than minimum wage.

Read more here.

Surveys show capacity issues for nurseries over childcare extension

Most nurseries, pre-schools and childminders planning to offer the new expanded childcare provision for two year olds will be unable to increase places to meet demand, with a notable proportion considering opting out of offering the extended funded hours completely, according to a new survey.

The survey of 1,196 early years providers by the Early Years Alliance comes ahead of the Budget and on the same day as one by Pregnant Then Screwed which shows over a third of parents (34%) who are eligible to receive the new childcare funding for two year olds, are now considering leaving their jobs or reducing their hours due to increased childcare costs.

The Early Years Alliance survey found more than half (55%) of all survey respondents are already full with a waiting list, while a further 13% are full with no waiting list. Just 3% of respondents said they had a large number of spaces available.  The new policy is to be rolled out from April.

Read more here.

TUC highlights gender pay gap

The average woman effectively works for free for nearly two months of the year compared to the average man because the gender pay gap stands at 14.3%, according to analysis published by the TUC.

The analysis also shows that at current rates of progress, it will take 20 years – until 2044 – to close the gender pay gap.

Gender pay gap reporting was introduced back in 2017. However, the TUC analysis shows that – some seven years later – there are still big gender pay gaps in many industries, even in sectors dominated by female workers. This is in part because women are more likely to work part time and because they tend to be in lower paid jobs than men.  It points out that in education the gender pay gap is 21.3% while in health care and social work it is 12.6%. Education is also the sector that the TUC identified as having the most unpaid overtime. The biggest gender pay gap is in finance and insurance where it is 27.9%.

Read more here.

TUC analysis shows how long many are stuck in zero hours jobs

Two out of three zero-hours contract workers have been with their current employer for over a year, according to analysis by the TUC, which says this shows how workers are being trapped in low-pay and insecurity.

The analysis, based mainly on the Labour Force Survey data 2023 Q4, shows almost half (46%) of zero-hours contract workers have been with their current employer for over two years, with 12% having been with their current employer for over 10 years.

Only a minority of zero hours contract workers are on the precarious contracts as a stop gap, temporary measure, says the TUC. Just 7% of zero-hours workers have been with their current employer less than three months.

TUC polling in 2021 showed that by far the most important reason that people take zero-hours contract work is because that is the only work available. Almost half (45%) of respondents said that this was the most important reason for them being on zero-hours contracts while 16% said it was the typical contract in their line of work. Just 9% cited work-life balance as the most important reason – and the TUC says many in this group would prefer the opportunity to work flexibly within a secure job.

Read more here.

How to improve WFH

A one-size-fits-all approach to working from home is impractical as a large-scale study and review of evidence finds mixed results, with positive health and productivity benefits for many.

The study, Experiences of working from home: umbrella review, by the Health Defence Agency and King’s College London involved a large-scale umbrella review. Published reviews of studies that used a systematic process, were focused on working from home populations, and detailed factors that could be related to the personal experience of homeworking (including barriers, facilitators, advantages and disadvantages) were included. A total of 1,930 records were screened and six review articles were included. Nineteen themes were considered, ranging from working environment such as workplace design and personal impact such as career impact to health.

The study, published in the Journal of Occupational Health, found mixed findings for nearly all included themes, highlighting the need to consider individual and contextual circumstances when researching working from home.

Read more here.

EHRC issues guidance on menopause in the workplace

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has issued new guidance on the menopause in the workplace, setting out employer’s legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

The new guidance from the EHRC aims to clarify employers’ legal obligations and provide practical tips for employers on making reasonable adjustments and fostering positive conversations about the menopause with their workers.

In addition to sex and age, it says that if menopause symptoms have a long term and substantial impact on a woman’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, they may be considered a disability. Under the Equality Act 2010, an employer will be under a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments and to not discriminate against the worker.

The EHRC is encouraging employers to carefully consider the guidance and adapt their policies and practices accordingly to ensure fairness and inclusivity in the workplace.

Read more here.

London Stock Exchange enhances parental leave

The London Stock Exchange Group [LSEG] has announced an equal parental leave policy of 26 weeks’ paid leave.

From 1st July, all LSEG employees with more than 12 months’ service will be offered 26 weeks of fully paid leave when they welcome a child into their family, regardless of the parent’s gender, how they become a parent or where they are located globally.

This period of leave can be followed by an eight-week phased return to work, working 80% of normal hours at full pay. LSEG is also introducing enhanced leave to support families whose children require neonatal care.

Read more here.

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