Over the past decade, the landscape of working UK families has seen a significant transformation. The ONS statistics speak for themselves: dual income households increased from 31% to 35%, accounting for 8.1 million families by 2021. On the other hand, single-parent working families remained at 22%, with 2.1 million families in this category.
This shift in family dynamics is now the reality for 57% of British families with children. That’s 9.8 million families – or approaching 20 million employees. However, despite these substantial changes, workplace structures have yet to accommodate this transformation. The traditional breadwinner model, where one parent typically works while the other manages the home and family, no longer reflects the majority of UK families realities.
The mismatch underscores the need for a new paradigm. Now is the time to rethink how work gets done and how we can better support people both at work and at home.
The power of flexibility to improve people lives:
Our research shows how flexibility makes a big difference for working parents:
- Career progression
Flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible hours, enable parents to maintain their professional momentum. They can actively engage in meetings, make valuable contributions to projects, and advance their careers without facing setbacks due to the time constraints that come with parenthood.
- Reduced childcare costs
It’s no secret that childcare can be a major expense. Flexible working can mean fewer hours of childcare required, resulting in substantial savings for families. Instead of relying on full-time daycare, parents can adjust their schedules to take care of their children during certain hours. This not only saves money but also allows for more quality time with their kids.
- Reduced parental guilt
Flexible work arrangements offer a remedy for this guilt by granting parents the freedom to participate in school events, attend doctor’s appointments, or engage in their children’s extracurricular activities. Simply, trusting parents to manage their schedules flexibly acknowledges the occasional instances when their children are unwell, allowing them to fulfil their caregiving duties without compromising their professional responsibilities. This flexibility serves as a crucial lifeline, offering working parents the support and – more importantly – the understanding they require to navigate the unexpected challenges that inevitably arise when raising children.
- Improved retention
Flexible work arrangements are a catalyst for improved productivity and higher retention rates among working parents.
These arrangements empower parents to optimise their work hours, aligning them with their peak productivity times, reducing the stress of commuting, and integrating work and family responsibilities. The result is a more efficient, focused, and satisfied workforce.
Flexible work demonstrates an employer’s commitment to valuing their employees, fostering a sense of loyalty and belonging that contributes to higher retention rates. It also positions organisations as desirable employers, attracting top talent and reducing the costly consequences of turnover. In essence, when done properly flexible work can be a mutually beneficial solution that enhances the work-life balance of working parents while boosting overall productivity and retaining valuable talent for businesses.
How employers can successfully implement flexible working strategies
Flexibility in the workplace can be a double-edged sword, with both advantages and drawbacks. It’s not only defining when and where work happens, employers embracing flexible work arrangements must carefully consider the essential skills their employees need to fully reap its benefits.
At From Another, experience has taught us that granting employees the choice of when and where they work is just the beginning. Our research – with hundreds of employees and line managers – underscores the importance of expanding the interpersonal dimensions within organisations, emphasising empathy and trust. These must exist alongside task management.
Instead of sticking to the old-fashioned idea of “presenteeism,” where being physically present is the focus, employees and managers should shift their attention to building trust, boosting emotional intelligence, and cultivating empathy. These skills are crucial, especially in asynchronous teams or remote work setups, as they ensure productivity can thrive and employees feel motivated and valued.
Transitioning to a supportive flexible work requires more than policy change – it’s about evolving your culture. Here are four key focus areas:
- Invest in your people
Start by investing in your greatest asset: your employees. Provide them with the necessary training and resources to thrive in a remote or flexible work setting. Skills around empathy, equity, and effective communication are vital in this evolving landscape. Equipping your team with these capabilities is crucial for a successful transition.
- Walk the talk
Leadership plays a pivotal role in driving cultural change. When top-level executives lead by example, it sends a powerful message throughout the organisation. Demonstrating behaviours like leaving work early to attend to family needs or setting clear boundaries around work-life balance sets the tone for everyone. Remember, flexibility should start at the top.
- Double down on trust
Trust is the linchpin of any flexible work environment. It’s built on three pillars: ability, intent, and integrity. Understanding the three essential components of trust enables managers and employees to identify gaps in trust and foster psychological safety and trust in the workplace. Employees’ competence, reflecting their skills and knowledge, is critical for role execution, as incompetence can erode trust and hinder productivity and team cohesion. Demonstrating high levels of intent, driven by empathy and compassion, fosters trust among colleagues and clients, while integrity, encompassing values like honesty and transparency, contributes to a trustworthy workplace environment.
- Recognise the payoffs
Building a trusting, empathetic culture requires effort but fuels engagement, innovation, and productivity over the long-term. Engaged employees are more likely to innovate, collaborate effectively, and boost overall productivity. Recognise that the payoffs of this cultural shift extend far beyond mere policy changes.
In essence, don’t just focus on the logistics of flexibility policies; emphasise the human dimension. Build a relational space within your organisation that values trust, empathy, and mutual support as much as it does task management. By doing so, you’ll create an environment where flexible work becomes not just a policy but a way of life that benefits UK families, employees and the organisation as a whole.
Jess Lancashire is the CEO and Founder of From Another, which delivers practical solutions to help organisations, team leaders, and individuals manage flexible work. Jess is the UK's flexible work champion, believing it's key to build sustainable and resilient workforces to solve the productivity challenge in the UK. Having spent 20 years in some of the largest public and private sector organisations such as NHS, AstraZeneca and Department of Health and Social Care, she understands the challenges flexibility presents to employers, managers and individuals.