Workplace flexibility is essential to offset Sunak’s childcare reform U-turn

Businesses should not underestimate the toll of the cost of living on employees

In response to the Government U-turn on childcare reform, businesses must improve workplace fluidity to emotionally and financially support employees through rising childcare costs, says Nicole Bello, Group Vice President EMEA at UKG.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has indefinitely shelved plans to overhaul the UK’s childcare system, initially proposed by his predecessor Liz Truss. The former Prime Minister’s bill involved scrapping mandatory staff-child ratios to cut costs for nurseries and increase free childcare support by 20 hours a week. Sunak is preparing his own reform plans on a far smaller scale, which are expected to take months.

The announcement coincides with the highest food price rises on record (the annual food inflation rate jumped to 13.3% in December) as the cost-of-living crisis tightens its grip on household incomes. Alongside inflationary pressures, parents have unprecedented childcare fees to contend with – the annual fee for full-time care for a two-year-old rose by 171% from 2000 to 2021.

Nicole Bello, Group Vice President EMA at UKG, said: “Businesses should not underestimate the mental and financial toll the cost-of-living crisis is inflicting on their staff, and they have a moral obligation to support employees in these trying times. This means engaging with the political and economic climate to identify how employees are impacted and introducing measures to address these challenges.

Childcare reform U-turn

“The childcare reform U-turn is a prime opportunity for business leaders to proactively support staff struggling with rising bills. The easiest way businesses can assist the employees affected is to offer a truly flexible working model that gives colleagues a chance to schedule shifts or office days around childcare demands.

“For example, employers may consider lowering the minimum requirement of days spent in the office per week so that staff can stay home and save on nursery fees. Alternatively, businesses could scrap office rotas and instead let employees decide which remote working days best suit them, allowing colleagues to venture into the office when relatives can offer childcare support.

“Leveraging HR technology and automating ‘People Operations’ are also effective ways of introducing much-needed malleability to schedules and granting staff the autonomy to work around childcare needs. Self-service HR tools allow employees to swap shifts, change their availability or pick up overtime via their mobile devices, making it easy for staff to alter shift patterns and reduce the financial burden of external responsibilities.

“Businesses should also make educational resources accessible through HR portals, as well as send out targeted alerts that update staff when new material becomes available. Doing so provides colleagues with the knowledge to make informed financial choices and notifies them whenever a new measure is introduced with their financial welfare in mind.

“Times are undeniably tough for businesses and their staff, but the organisations that prioritise the needs and wellbeing of employees will be rewarded with loyal and engaged personnel for years to come. It’s important to remember that nobody understands the requirements of the current workforce better than employees themselves, so trusting them with an agile and empowering working environment is the most effective way of offering support,” concluded Bello.

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