Employers are increasingly encouraging their workforce to ‘bring their whole self to work’, but do they really mean it? While in theory, they recognise that embracing a wide variety of people into their organisation brings fresh ideas and different perspectives, are they ready to embrace it in practice? Are they following up their words with actions?

Employees want to create a work/life blend that suits them, regardless of what their life is like outside of work. Whether they are single, in a partnership, living in a family unit or with friends, people want to devote time to the things they love. This is especially true for the younger members of the workforce, who are far more attuned to the idea of “work to live”, rather than “live to work.”

Despite an uncertain economic outlook and a recent rise in the unemployment rate to 4.3%, there are still more than 950,000 job vacancies in the UK. This means many employers are still battling to fill positions. If they are going to attract and retain the best possible talent, they need to put initiatives in place that meet employee expectations.

Top on their list is genuine understanding that they have a life and commitments outside of the workplace. They want to be open about their whole life and be confident that they won’t be penalised for it. Employees want to know that there is the opportunity to grow and develop, to explore different areas and to stretch themselves, whatever their circumstances may be. They want to know that taking time off to work, for example to look after children or to travel will be supported and there will be no detrimental impact on their career.

However, the question remains: are employers following through on their messaging and branding with real action. Are they putting plans in place that support an employee’s entire life? The evidence from our recent survey with working parents with dependent children suggests there’s still some way to go.

One in five respondents said their employer provided no employee benefits at all. This means a significant proportion of workers have no access to valuable services supporting their physical, emotional or financial wellbeing through their employer at a time when public services are under a huge strain and many are struggling to cope with rising costs. Access to online therapy and support can be enormously beneficial and means employees can get the help they need at a time and in a way that suits them.

This surely must be a short-sighted approach given the sheer volume of employees who have responsibilities they need to fit around their work. Around 40% of the workforce have dependent children and one in seven employees are carers. This means that most employers will have someone who falls into these categories.

Acknowledging that at one time or another, every employee is likely to have something important they need to deal with outside of work is hugely important. This may be temporary, or it could be longer term but adopting a flexible mindset in how employees work and are supported is the key.

As well as providing a variety of benefits that employees can select depending on their current circumstances, giving line managers the knowledge and tools that will allow them to offer the right kind of support is vital.

This desire came through loud and clear in our survey. 83% of respondents want their manager to be aware of their parenting responsibilities. This is just as true for fathers as it is for mothers. They want to be open about their lives, what is important to them and have a manager that understands that there might be times when they need additional support or flexibility.

73% would like line managers to receive training on how to effectively support parents. This kind of training would not only benefit working parents and carers, but it also has the potential to help every single employee. Building open cultures where people feel comfortable and confident to let their managers know if they have a personal issue they need help with, will vastly reduce stress levels, the leading cause of work-related sickness in the UK.

With the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 due to come into effect in 2024, which will allow employees, no matter what their circumstances are, to request flexible working from day one of employment, finding ways to make that work will be vital.

To make it a true success and become an employer that welcomes those with caring responsibilities, it needs to be supported and believed in throughout the whole organisation. Everyone needs to understand why it is important, how it can benefit the business as well as individuals. It needs to be supported through line manager training and tangible employee benefits such as life stage support and online therapy, demonstrating the commitment is genuine.

Companies that provide an exceptional employee experience, where each employee feels valued, included and listened to will be the ones that thrive. Creating a workplace that embraces every type of employee including working parents and carers will be one that appeals across the board.

Ana Aznar
Dr Ana Aznar
Founder at REC Parenting

Dr Ana Aznar is the founder and CEO of REC Parenting. She is a child psychologist, lecturer, researcher, author, and speaker. She holds a BSc in Psychology (The Open University, UK), an MSc in Applied Child Psychology, and a PhD in Developmental Psychology (Kingston University, UK). Ana specialises in parenting, family relations and children’s socioemotional development. She has four teenage boys.