From falling support for working mums to SMP rates: this week’s HR news digest

From concerns about falling support for parents at work, particularly mums, to calls for the SMP rate to be doubled, WM People presents a digest of this week’s HR news on family-friendly, inclusive working.

Child hold woman's hand at a table. She has her head in her hands and there is an open purse on the table with just a few pence spilling out of it.


Support for working mums dropping

Mums are shouldering significantly more of the mental load of parenting than dads, are more likely to be concerned about burnout and feel less able to progress their careers at a time when they perceive employer support for parents is dropping, according to a new survey.

The Bright Horizons 2024 Modern Families Index shows 72% of all parents said their employer is supportive of family, but this has dropped by five per cent since 2023. It has always increased in previous years.

The annual survey of 3,000 working parents shows 74% of working mothers surveyed say they carry the mental load for parenting, compared to 48% of working dads, with 53% of women worried about the cost of living compared to 36% men, and 31% of women concerned about burnout vs 19% of men.

Working mothers also feel less able to progress their careers while working flexibly than working fathers do (63% vs 71%).

When it comes to support at work for emergencies at home, 67% of working parents say they have taken an average of four days off at short notice in the last 12 months, with over three in 10 (32%) needing five or more days off.

Read more here.

‘Over half of UK professionals would seek a new job due to flex issues’

53% of UK professionals would start looking for a new job if their employer told them they’d have to work more days in the office, according to a new survey.

Over two-fifths (46%) said costs associated with returning to the office is a key deterrent.

The findings are from a recent poll of 2,000 UK professionals conducted by specialist international recruitment company Robert Walters.

Over two-fifths of professionals think decisions regarding hybrid & flexible working arrangements is the number one issue influencing workplaces in 2024. 36% state that working more days in the office helps with their weekly routine while almost three-quarters of company leaders state that they wouldn’t issue a full return-to-office this year.

Meanwhile, a survey by Unison found three in 10 women working in schools, hospitals, care homes, town halls, police stations and other key services who have asked to work flexibly have had requests denied.

Unison says the findings – based on responses from just over 44,000 women working in the public sector – suggest employers are being ‘inconsistent, rigid and unimaginative’ by denying individuals the flexibility they need.

This week, a LinkedIn poll of nearly 2,000 people by People Management found three quarters (77 per cent) of employees say flexible working is more important to them when considering a new role than a pay rise. This compared to 23 per cent who said they would prefer a pay rise.

And a survey of 2,000 parents by online platform REC Parenting found just 14% of working parents feel supported by their employee benefits package, with only 20% of working parents receiving specific parenting support in their benefits package.

Record number of new companies started in 2023

A record number of companies were incorporated in 2023, including 164K companies with all- or sole-female directors, according to a report by Beauhurst.

The New Startup Index says the number of companies incorporated is an 11.8% increase on 2022.

The first quarter of 2023 saw the most companies incorporated out of any quarter in 2023, with subsequent quarters slowing.

Of the female-founded businesses, 89% were solo director companies, compared to 87% for male-founded businesses. The report says: “While sole director companies can be positive contributors to the economy and may offer flexible working structures and opportunities to leverage individual expertise, they are more likely than multiple director companies to be consulting or personal service companies. This suggests that while there is a growing presence of women within the UK’s entrepreneurial landscape, many of the companies will be operating on a small scale.”

Between 2019 and 2023  the number of all-female or solo female director teams has grown by 26.2%, although the report says year on year the proportion of  companies being incorporated by female directors is stable over time. The majority of new companies incorporated in the UK have entirely male boards. For example, in 2023, all-male directors incorporated 68.7% of all new companies. 31% of companies incorporated in 2023 have mixed gender boards.

Recent insolvency figures show the number of companies that went bust last year in England and Wales hit a 30-year high, with more than 25,000 insolvencies registered in 2023 – the highest number since 1993.

High numbers of long-term sick recorded

The number of people off work due to long-term sickness in the UK has reached a record high of 2.8m, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the week that the UK entered a ‘technical recession’.

The figure is part of the 9.3m economically inactive individuals in the job market, with the inactivity rate remaining at 21.9% in the final quarter of last year. Experts warn that the strain on health services and long waiting lists may cause this number to continue rising. The Resolution Foundation highlights that the UK is the only G7 economy yet to return to pre-pandemic employment levels due to the high number of economically inactive individuals. The Institute of Directors (IoD) has described the record long-term sickness as a “particularly worrying sign of structural issues” in Britain’s jobs market.

Meanwhile, new figures from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation show the number of active job postings for Early Education and Childcare Practitioners in January 2024 was up 146.2% on pre-pandemic levels, showing the extent of the recruitment crisis in the sector ahead of the expansion of the Government’s childcare plans.

Environment charities lag behind on racial diversity

Workers at environmental charities have expressed their frustration with the lack of action on diversity and inclusion, despite public statements from employers.

A survey of the sector from the Race Report campaign shows that only around one in 20 workers identified as an ethnic minority, compared to one in eight in the wider UK workforce. Three-quarters of workers of colour reported they felt they belonged in their organisation – compared with 84% of white identifying workers. The research also found that the senior leadership of environmental organisations lacks diversity.

Call for doubling of SMP rate

The government should increase statutory maternity pay to £364.70 a week so new mothers are not forced back to work too early, according to UNISON and Maternity Action.

Both organisations are concerned some women are cutting short their maternity leave, skipping meals and making other difficult choices because they cannot afford to live on the current statutory weekly amount of £172.48.

UNISON and Maternity Action are urging ministers to more than double the payment at the very least so women receive the equivalent of the national minimum wage of £10.42 an hour.

A recent survey by Maternity Action on behalf of UNISON shows a quarter of women on maternity leave say they have gone without eating – sometimes all day – so they can afford to feed their families.

Read more here.

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