Often we see having very small children as the most challenging time in terms of combining work and family. But actually, this is not necessarily the case. Once the initial maternity/other family leave is over, working with very small children can be relatively simple. Childcare provision for pre-school children is often available for longer days, and available all year round.
Once children reach school age, this all changes. Yes there are of course still childcare options to work around school, but the fundamental main provision for the child is a lot less flexible.
So how can employers support parents with school-aged children, and ensure that talent and experience is retained and encouraged? Here are six ideas to consider:
Term time working
Term time working is where the employee comes to work during school term times, usually 39 weeks a year, and is off work during school holidays, either just the main holidays or half terms as well. Most common in the education sector for obvious reasons, but many other organisations also have term time workers. It sounds as though it wouldn’t work in a role that is currently all year round, but it’s worth having an open mind. Sometimes work can be reorganised so that it can be done 39 weeks a year, with good planning.
In addition, it can be more flexible than just working 39 weeks with nothing at all in the holiday time – you could negotiate a certain degree of availability should it be needed. Also, you can require your term time worker to take all their annual leave during school holidays, so actually the number of weeks they are absent isn’t that many more than your year-round workers.
Removing or reducing the need to find reliable (and usually expensive) childcare during holiday times can really benefit and support parents and should improve employee engagement and retention.
Parental leave during school holidays
Parents are entitled to unpaid parental leave, to a total maximum of 18 weeks per child, an annual maximum of four weeks per child. This must be taken in blocks of at least a week at a time (unless the child is disabled).
If an employee notifies you that they will be taking parental leave (it’s a notification not a request), you can postpone it if you have good business reason to, however, it can be a great way of supporting parents with holiday childcare, and you can also agree to allow them to take more than four weeks per child, if possible.
Allowing parents to reduce their hours to fit around the school day can really help. School hours jobs are very much in demand for obvious reasons, so if you can do this, it is likely to be highly valued by your employees, and result in improved performance and staff retention.
Where reducing hours to school hours only isn’t possible, for some roles you could consider some increased flexibility about how work is delivered. For many employees, it works really well if they work ‘normally’ during the school day, then pick up their children, perhaps spend some time with them, then do a bit more work around the children or in the evenings to get the job done. If the role is being performed well, and objectives are being met, there’s no reason this can’t work. Obviously it is more likely to work with parents of older children who are more independent and don’t require more supervision than someone being present in the house.
Allowing parents to work from home can be an enormous help in reducing the childcare burden. Rather than paying for wrap-around care starting early enough and finishing late enough to allow for a commute, your employee can do the school run, at least at one end of the day.
Annual leave or TOIL at important times
Parents have no control over when things like Sports Day, Christmas plays, or any of the other myriad events that crop up with school-aged children are going to be. So even if it’s a bit inconvenient, if you can approve annual leave requests or allow time off in lieu to be taken for those key events, it will be enormously appreciated by your employees who have children at school.
If you would like any further advice on how you can support parents with school aged children in your business, do get in touch.