MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

Childcare Impacting Working Culture And Career Progression, Finds Survey

Childcare costs are causing people to change work hours, hindering careers.
Diverse children playing with building blocks on a play mat.

Working parents across the UK are changing their work hours due to childcare costs, with the majority of women being impacted heavily.

The findings come from a survey of over 20,000 working parents backed by institutions such as Pregnant Then Screwed, Mumsnet, Gingerbread and the TUC, according to the Guardian. One-third of respondents said that their childcare bills were more expensive than their rent or mortgage—a real financial burden for families.

What Is The Impact Of Childcare When At Work?

Stresses around childcare can have an impact on mental health and progression at work.

While having access to schemes such as the “30-free-hour” childcare offering from the Government, parents are still struggling with their mental health. This is due to juggling busy schedules at work and at home and the “guilt” felt when needing to leave the office.

Rachel Beech, founder and CEO of We Are Fetching, a school-run app, describes how she felt when she was in her full-time job: “Juggling wraparound care with a full-time job was such a nightmare that I left work and built an app to enable parents to request help with the school run from their trusted friends and automatically notify the school.”

“Even workplaces that say they are flexible are often not,” she continues. “The guilt you feel as a parent when you walk out before your co-workers to do the school run never goes away.

“I have rarely left work early, but I always tried to get home by 7:00 p.m to do bath time and bedtime—this frequently meant leaving before my colleagues and logging on at 9:00 p.m. to continue working.”

Koru Kids, a childcare service, says that almost half of working mothers in the UK feel trapped in their jobs due to a lack of wrap-around care, with 48% admitting to feeling that this is preventing them from being promoted in their role. Another 45% of mothers say that they are working below their experience and pay grades to fit around school hours.

Rachel Carrell, founder and CEO, Koru Kids explains: “The results from our survey are incredibly frustrating. The school day and working hours just simply don’t add up. Clearly, something has to give, and what’s giving way is mums’ careers and livelihoods.”

Campaigner and journalist, Anna Whitehouse—also known as Mother Pukka and one of the organisations supporting the latest survey shared with the Guardian, says that mums are being asked for “mission impossible.”

“Mums are left legging it from pillar to post, from work to school and back again to paper over the cracks of a childcare system that doesn’t work,” she says. “Quite frankly we’re worn out, and [Koru Kids’ research] shows, we’re stuck. We can’t win.”

Jayne Ruff, occupational psychologist and founder, Parenting Point, says that research shows a relationship between work and home-life demands and negative outcomes: “Many of the returning mothers I support have experienced an emotional tug-of-war between wanting to build a fulfilling career and feeling they’re returning to work just to pay the childcare costs, all at a time when they’re already facing huge amounts of guilt about what this change will mean for their families.

“Research clearly tells us that a relationship exists between work and home-life demands and negative outcomes such as reduced performance, engagement, and physical and mental health, which can be anything from disrupted sleep patterns to increased risk of stress and eventual burnout.”

How Can Employers Help Parents Tackle Childcare?

Flexible working and term-time contracts could be ways to help working parents.

Aside from childcare vouchers, some companies are proactively trying to help working parents with the financial or emotional burden of childcare.

One company, N21, offers its employees fully flexible working hours so they can meet the needs of daily life, including the school-run. CEO, Neil Robbins, says this “particularly benefited” its employees, some of which had young families.

“We have recently taken this one step further and introduced unlimited annual leave for everyone because I felt it was important our people took the time off they needed throughout the year without having to worry about exceeding a set number of days,” he continues. “This gives all of our people more flexibility to take that long-awaited big family trip or to book additional days off around school holidays or family occasions when in the past they may have been more reluctant to do so.”

Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director, Peninsula, believes that the pandemic led to widespread new ways of working and says that workplaces can get creative with adapting working hours and workloads to help working parents manage.

“Other ways employers can help out are subsidised childcare, increased paid or unpaid leave, allowing for time off in lieu so that time can be banked up and term-time only contracts,” she explains.

You might also be interested in this article:

UK Staff Could Gain The Right To Flexible Working From Day One In Their Role