Employers need to do much more to support fast-changing families

Employers need to do much more to support employees experiencing dramatic shifts in family life, new research published today (Wednesday, December 2) by the charity FASTN shows.

FASTN polled 3,000 UK respondents who have been in their job for at least a year and asked them about how their families have changed, how supportive employers have been and what they would hope for from a future employer.

Astonishingly, over 70 per cent of respondents said that their family situation had changed whilst in their current employment – one in three (32 per cent) said it had changed a lot.

The figure was even higher for younger people aged 16-24, where 83 per cent said that their family situation had changed.  Yet, just under one in five respondents (19 per cent) believed their place of work had policies in place that recognised the realities of family change.

Over two thirds of all respondents (69 per cent) said that a future employer’s track record on supporting families to thrive would be important to them. That increases to 76 per cent of surveyed single parent employees.

FASTN chief executive Catherine Hine said: ‘Today’s families are complex and diverse. People want their home lives recognised. Covid has imposed additional changes on employment, not least more working from home. ‘WFH’ has created pressures on shared living spaces, blurred the distinctions between work and home and transformed chosen life partners into reluctant work colleagues.

‘Pre or post-Covid, it is clear from these results that employers have a key role in supporting the healthy, dependable relationships that help people thrive at home and at work. The extent to which employers support families to thrive will be a core part of how the performance of employers are judged in the future.’

(The summary of findings is below the fold)

Summary of Findings

This research co-financed by an RSA Catalyst grant and Oglesby Charitable Trust set out to investigate the generalisability of qualitative research on employer support for families. This was achieved by polling 3000 respondents in the UK who had been in their job for at least one year.

Key Findings

The results of the polling data clearly show several key areas of focus. These include:

  • Dynamism in family situations resulting in shifting strains and priorities which are not recognised by employers, and consequently not adequately addressed.
  • Huge diversity in family types resulting in a wide range of concerns, also not appropriately recognised or addressed by employers.
  • The value placed by employees in employers’ track records in supporting families to thrive.
  • The role which job position plays in the level of support felt by employees, with those in lower-level positions feeling less supported.

Dynamism

Notably, over 70% of respondents said that their family situation had changed whilst in their current employment, yet only 19% agree that workplace policies recognise such change. For example, 1 in 11 respondents had gone through a divorce or separation while in their current employment.

Bereavement in the immediate family was one of the most common family situations, yet less than a quarter of those who had experienced this felt that employers recognised family situations changing

Family Diversity

The results clearly demonstrated a huge range in family structures with varying priorities.

Few felt their employers recognised differences in family types, despite feeling this was important. For example, while 1 in 11 respondents have experienced being single parents, less than a third agreed that their employers offered a living wage and secure contracts recognising family commitments.

Alternatively, those living with adopted or fostered children were likely to say flexibility to alter their working hours without impact on promotional prospects is most important to them at work, however only 37% agree that this applies in their current employment.

Clearly, there is a need to prompt conversations among employers regarding the variance and complexities in employees' concerns and priorities and therefore the breadth of organisational practices not often considered that can support families to thrive.

Employer Track Record

Well over half (69%) of all respondents say that an employer track record on supporting families to thrive would be important to them if they were to look for future work.

While this was not at the very top of the results list of priorities among respondents when compared with other policies, the high score provides valuable insight into employees’ attitudes and priorities towards family sustainability, and should hopefully provide employers incentive to behave in a way which encourages families to thrive in order to attract talent and in turn encourages other organisations to act similarly.

Job Position 

A recurring pattern across job levels indicates that those in higher and more secure positions feel their employers are more likely to support their families to thrive. Those on zero-hour contracts were least likely to say their employers gave explicit consideration to how workplace decisions impacted family lives.

Less than half agreed that their employers' actions supported their family’s ability to thrive, while this increased considerably among those on permanent and fixed-term contracts. There was a similar trend across job levels about employers supporting a family’s ability to thrive and expecting managers to understand family pressures and seek to reduce these.

Going forward, this may mean that FASTN encourages organisations to look beyond economic and legal conduct regarding family sustainability and move toward more ethical and responsible practice in order to bring consistency to employees' experience.

Other Areas to Investigate

Gender

Men are at least as likely to cite workplace policies recognising that families change as most important to them in a place of work. There is also little variation in the percentage of men and women who say that employers reviewing employees’ priorities while experiencing family pressures is most important to them.


It is clear that men value policies impacting family life and are likely to feel equally as strongly about changes in family circumstances and employers should be encouraged to consider how this translates into effective practice.

Employee Expectations

A recurring theme across the findings is that employee expectations on how much support an employer can provide are low. This is illustrated in the way some answers to different questions posed contradictions; by low expectations, employers are doing okay in providing support, however, when respondents were asked to select supportive policies applied to their employment, responses were low for all options.

This may be due to reluctance of employees to admit to their employer that they are struggling or need support and thus being unaware of policies, which prompts the question of how much support employees expect from their employers.

Alternatively, this may reflect high expectations from employers who fail to recognise the strain that family circumstances place on employees in the workplace.

Older People

65+ year olds surveyed are most likely to disagree that their employer’s actions or behaviour have supported their family's ability to thrive, and over half say their family situation has changed in their current employment. Perhaps in line with this, only 1 in 8 of all respondents are in regular contact with grandparents, indicating a possible lack of regard for connections between ‘wider’ family.

Limitations

1 year

We are aware of the limitation that the requirement for respondents to have been in their current employment for at least a year may have set in providing an even wider range of responses as those not in employment or with more brief experiences may have had more varied experiences.

However, we remain convinced that this was the best way to ensure respondents could provide an informed judgement of their employers’ practice. Going forward, it may be useful to look at those not in employment or in shorter-term employment to understand their experiences and what can be done to support them.

Self Definition

It may be the case that different interpretations of keywords (i.e. ‘significant’, ‘regular’) used in response to options may have influenced how respondents answered questions, and therefore impacted findings. However defining this for respondents may have proven to be too limiting as situations can greatly vary, and even further clarification may have been open to interpretation.