From a flexible working APPG to paternity leave: HR news round-up

This week’s HR news round-up ranges from the inaugural meeting of a new flexible working All-Party Parliamentary Group to the launch of a campaign to promote returners.

A woman working on laptop at phone at a desk


Flexible working APPG holds inaugural meeting

A new parliamentary group aims to start a national conversation about flexible working not being just a nice to have, but a necessity for many employees.

The All Party Parliamentary Group [APPG] on Flexible Working held its first meeting today in advance of  new legislation coming in in April which allows employees to request flexible working from day one in the job. Currently they have to wait 26 weeks before they can put in a request. The meeting was chaired by Yasmin Qureshi MP, whose Private Members’ Bill has led to the new legislation.

Jan Van Zyl from Working Families, which provides the secretariat for the APPG, outlined the cost of not providing flexible working with progression pathways. She said Working Families’ research shows 37% of mums work part time [compared to 11% of dads], but many are locked into jobs where they are not using their full potential. Working part time in lower paid jobs leads to women earning a fifth of the pension pot of men.  She also spoke about inequities in the parental leave system, due to the low rate of statutory pay which means mums in lower paid jobs are taking around 23 weeks of maternity leave compared to the average of nine months – and that many dads don’t even take their statutory two weeks’ allowance.

Read more here.

Workplace mental health service firm faces investigation

Claims about one of the UK’s biggest providers of workplace mental health services are to be investigated by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 programme has heard allegations that calls from vulnerable people to Health Assured were not always handled properly. Health Assured refutes these allegations.

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) are intended to help employees deal with personal problems that might affect their wellbeing and performance at work. According to the UK Employee Assistance Programme Association, three-quarters of the UK working population (almost 25 million people) have access to an EAP through their employer.

File on 4 has spoken to 15 current and former employees of Health Assured, an EAP that provides support to 13 million workers in the UK and Ireland, and whose clients include NHS trusts, universities, and police forces. Counsellors and team managers at Health Assured described low morale, high staff turnover and a frequent struggle to keep up with demand.

One in five UK adults is not looking for work

Office for National Statistics data out this week shows that more than a fifth of working-age adults in the UK are deemed not to be actively looking for work, with the economic inactivity rate between November and January coming in at 21.8%.

This means 9.2m people aged between 16 and 64 in the UK are not in work nor looking for a job. Until recently economic inactivity had been falling in part due to more women staying in work after having children.

The ONS says the increase seen in economic inactivity in the latest quarter and on the year was mainly driven by those inactive because they were students or because they retired early, but long-term sickness accounts for a third of overall cases. The quarterly increase was partially offset by falls in those looking after the family or home and those inactive for other reasons. The number of those inactive because they were long-term sick fell on the quarter, but remains higher than estimates a year ago.

Parker Review shows progress on ethnic minority directors

Progress has been made on boardroom diversity, with 175 of the FTSE 250 now having at least one ethnic minority director on their board, according to a new report.

The Parker Review monitors leading companies’ success in meeting the target of at least one ethnic minority board member by December 2024 for FTSE 250 companies. In December 2023, 175 of the 250 companies met this target, up from 149 in 2022.

The report says that, in the FTSE 100, ethnic minorities now hold 19% of all director positions, an increase of one percentage point from last year. There has also been a rise in the number of companies with more than one ethnic minority director from 49 in 2022 to 56 in 2023.

There are now 12 ethnic minority CEOs in the FTSE 100, an increase from seven in 2022, and seven Chairs, an increase from six in 2022. In the FTSE 250, ethnic minorities now hold 13.5% of all director positions in the 222 companies which provided data; this is a rise of two and a half percentage points from the 2022 comparative of 11%. The number of ethnic minority Chairs in these companies has increased from five to eight while the number of ethnic minority CEOs is unchanged at 14. The report, however, points out that there is still work to do in terms of the breakdown of ethnic minority representation, with Black representation being lower than the national average.

Over 80,000 reports of sexual harassment in the NHS

Over 80,000 reports of sexual harassment in the NHS were recorded last year, according to the latest NHS Staff Survey for England.

The survey, one of the largest of its kind, asked workers if they had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in the previous 12 months. Ambulance staff, nursing staff, and healthcare assistants were found to be more likely to experience sexual harassment.

Professor Vivien Lees, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, emphasised the importance of gathering data on sexual harassment and called for a zero-tolerance approach.

The survey also revealed an improvement in staff morale, with more staff recommending the NHS as a place to work. However, experts warned that staff morale is still precarious due to persistent pressures. The survey also highlighted instances of discrimination and bullying, with an increase in staff experiencing discrimination at work. The survey was unable to report instances of physical violence due to data quality issues.

Date announced for applications for free childcare for nine month olds

The Government has announced that parents will be able to register for 15 free hours a week of childcare in England for children aged nine months and over from 12th May, although providers are unconvinced on the sector’s ability to deliver due to underfunding and staffing crises.

The offer begins in September, following the roll-out of 15 hours a week free childcare for two year olds in April. By September 2025 the Government wants to see parents of children from nine months old onwards being able to access free childcare for up to 30 hours a week.

Amid concerns about nursery closures and plummeting childminder numbers, the Government says it is also taking steps to increase childminder numbers. A new consultation launched today will ask childminders, parents, providers and local authorities for their ideas on how government can further support more childminders to join and stay in the profession. Proposed changes include local authorities paying childminders monthly if they request it so they can better manage their finances.

Read more here.

Young women opting out of auto-enrolment

Ten per cent of young women in their 20s have opted out of their employer’s pension scheme, despite almost a quarter saying they would be frustrated if they couldn’t retire by the age of 60, according to research from Scottish Widows.

The survey of over 6,000 people found that of those women aged 22 to 29 who opted out of being automatically enrolled into their employer’s pension scheme, 29% said it was because they couldn’t afford to keep up regular pension contributions, and 14% said they would prefer to spend the money now.

Scottish Widows says that, while 19% of men start paying into their pension by age 22, just 14% of women do this. It adds that women are saving less than men toward an employer pension at nearly every point in their lives and acting early is vital, given the pension gap also grows with age, with the difference between pension values of men and women being 10% at age 25, and 50% at age of 50.

The survey also found that 35% of young women don’t know how much income they would need for a comfortable retirement and nearly two in three (62%) are concerned about completely running out of money in retirement.

Read more here.

‘Just 3% of employees happy to return to the office full time’

Employees’ preference for hybrid or remote working remains high, with only 3% saying they are happy to be in the office full time, according to a new survey by McKinsey.

The Morgan McKinley Global Workplace Study by McKinsey, based on over 3,400 professionals and 650 employers/hiring managers globally, found 93% of respondents in the UK expressed a strong preference for continuing in a hybrid or remote work model and that professionals working in hybrid models express the highest contentment with their work patterns, with 51% willing to forego pay raises for desired flexibility.

Yet, despite employee preferences, 40% of companies are urging staff to return to the office more regularly while onsite workers show higher rates of actively seeking new employment opportunities compared to hybrid and remote workers. 56% of respondents who work on site five days a week are actively looking for a new job in the next six months compared to 41% of hybrid employees and 44% of fully remote employees. What’s more three quarters of hiring managers say flexible working is crucial for talent attraction and retention.  The survey comes as Boots is trying to entice employees back to the office full time.

It found that in the UK, one to two days in the office is the favoured weekly working pattern for 52% of professionals, with a further 22% selecting 3-4 days. The survey also revealed that half of employees would even skip a pay increase if it meant they got their desired flexibility.

The survey also found regional differences from companies mandating for employees to return to the office with Hong Kong (91%), Australia (65%), Japan (62%), Singapore (61%), and China (59%) exhibiting higher rates of return-to-office mandates compared to 40% in the UK, 40% in Canada and 42% in Ireland.

Read more here.

Campaign launched to promote returners

92% of experienced professionals are finding it challenging to return to work after a long career break, with 64% saying it is extremely challenging, according to a report by Career Returners.

Widespread recruitment bias against the CV gap is seen as the greatest barrier (by 40%), followed by loss of self-confidence (32%) and recruiter ageism (14%). 98% of survey respondents were women. The survey also found that:

  • Over 25% of those searching for jobs have applied for 50 or more roles
  • 89% say that being on a career break has negatively impacted their self-confidence
  • Even though 93% believe they have developed valuable transferable skills during their career break, few believe that employers value these skills
  • Almost 70% want to work full time, although a degree of flexibility is key, with 80% preferring hybrid working
  • Three-quarters have taken courses, half have undertaken skilled volunteering roles and the majority have done some smaller-scale form of paid work during their break
  • Supportive returner programmes are preferred by 97%, with an equally split preference for a returnship versus supported hiring directly into a permanent role.

The anonymous Career Returners Indicator research study comes as Career Returners launches an #EndTheCareerBreakPenalty campaign, calling on employers to review current recruitment practices, remove biases and support a high-calibre diverse talent pool. Its action plan ‘10 Steps to become a Returner Inclusive Employer’ lists practical actions that employers of any size can take.

Read more here.

Maternal wage gap widens as few dads are taking paternity leave

Three in five fathers took two weeks or less paternity leave following the birth of their most recent child, according to a Pregnant Then Screwed and Women In Data® poll.

The survey showed less than a third reported being able to access enhanced paternity leave pay around the birth of their most recent child; and nearly half who had access to enhanced paternity pay were still only able to take two weeks or less of paternity leave.

It coincided with the enactment of new legislation allowing dads to split their paternity leave into two blocks.

The Paternity Leave Amendment Regulations 2024 will apply to dads whose children are born on or after 6th April and allows paternity leave to be split into two blocks of one week at any point in the first year after the birth or adoption of their child.

Pregnant Then Screwed’s analysis of Office for National Statistics figures shows that not only did mothers earn 24% less per hour than fathers in 2023 because of the nature of the jobs they are in, but the gap in median weekly earnings was 43%, in large part because mothers are working reduced hours to look after children because caring responsibilities are not equally shared.

Pensioners want automatic pension payments at retirement age

Three quarters of defined contribution (DC) savers over the age of 55 have said they would find it “helpful” if their DC scheme automatically paid them a pension when they reached retirement, according to new research.

A paper from longevity risk management experts Hymans Robertson, Designing decumulation defaults – remember the member, argues that too many members are at risk of poor outcomes through lost opportunities, expensive mistakes and fundamental confusion. It says this is not acceptable and that a default decumulation model is an essential safety net, with flexibility to meet the needs of different members.

The paper suggests designers should identify what data they are using, what assumptions are made and how they may change over time. It also says that they should know their members and what member needs their solution is aiming to meet, now and in the future. And they should set their default design objectives and be clear on what a good member outcome will look like as well as applying a risk lens and conducting scenario analysis and member testing.

The paper comes as research from Standard Life shows around 14% of retired people aged over 55 have returned to work due to insufficient pensions.

Read more here.

Employer fined for mishandling of flexible working claim

A woman whose request to return from adoption leave on reduced hours was refused has won her claim at the employment tribunal.

The tribunal ruled that the woman who had worked for Clean and Tidy Domestic and Commercial Cleaning Ltd from 2008 was unfairly dismissed after she applied to reduce to two days a week following adoption leave.

She was told over the phone that the request had been refused, but the tribunal ruled that the employer had not followed the flexible working legislation and had sought to try and cover her tracks when the woman took legal action.

It found that this was due to the manager’s inexperience in dealing with flexible working requests,  “her failure to understand the need to obtain full information and discuss the request with the claimant before reaching a decision and her desire to cover her tracks when she realised she should not have reached a decision when she did”.

In total, the tribunal awarded her £15,048.18 in compensation for unfair dismissal.

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