So what are the true benefits of being a family-friendly employer? It’s a good question. There’s lots of stuff written about being “family-friendly” and about how by being nice to your working mums you will somehow help the bottom line. But is that really true? As usual, hard numbers are difficult to come by but here is a very honest and occasionally blunt look at the real reasons it might make sense to be “family-friendly”.

And let me start with an apology. We have lots of large clients with sophisticated HR teams who are a long way down their own version of “family-friendly”. What follows here, is by definition, relatively simplistic.

Family-Friendly – Dreadful Term!

Family-friendly isn’t a particularly useful term. It smacks of all that nice soft stuff that the BBC seems to have spent a long time engaging in. So what are we really talking about? Set out below are three examples of what family-friendly might mean for different employers:

  • Example 1 – City law firm. Senior lawyers are paid very well, they work incredibly hard and client needs will always come top of the priority list. Family-friendly here might mean making sure the working mother has fantastic childcare support so that she really can attend that completion meeting at 2 in the morning… Not that friendly you might think but definitely useful…
  • Example 2 – Large performance driven multinational. Imagine you’re an ambitious and well-regarded young parent. Family-friendly here might simply be a case of recognising that for a few years you prefer getting your head down and not constantly fighting for promotion. The employer that can allow people to take a rest from the daily competition for promotion but jump back on the career ladder a few years later is brilliant for working parents
  • Example 3 – Call centre. Here family-friendly might be simply a case of making sure your shift pattern is flexed around the needs of the working community rather than set in stone irrespective of family commitments.

So, put like that, what we really mean from an employer angle is how do businesses get more (more work, higher engagement, better results) out of any and all employees who happen to have children or dependents?

Let’s Talk About The Business Case

There are five reasons an employer might do something that could be labelled ‘family-friendly’.

  1. Flexible working – it’s a reality. Lots of people work more flexibly and the people who have benefited most are those with families, typically young children. If working flexibly allows your parent population to be more engaged and productive then that is great news. But allowing flexibility without having a strong performance measurement culture can be a disaster. This piece of research from Working Families was fantastic:
    • Fathers in the public sector who worked flexibly were perceived as lazy and were most at threat from redundancy
    • Conversely in the higher performance private sector culture those working flexibly were seen as the best value employees… go figure!
  2. Diversity – it’s now accepted wisdom that diversity is a good thing.  And the easiest way to approach diversity is to have more women at more senior positions. The easiest way to do that is obviously supporting your working mums through maternity so that they are retained and engaged.
  3. Female Leadership – the penny finally seems to have dropped. Half the brains in the world are female and yet businesses are run by white, middle aged men. In these days of flexible working, helping your brightest female talent reach their potential must be good business practice.
  4. Demographics – we’re getting older and people are having children later. It means 2 things:
    • Your working parents will often be a bit older and therefore more senior and valuable
    • And it also means eldercare is becoming a real issue. There will be plenty of people in your organisation who have an elderly parent/dependent to worry about and there is loads an understanding employer can do to make sure they’re not lost to the workforce.
  5. Recruitment – being seen as a family friendly employer can do wonders for the challenges of your talent and recruitment teams. You need to be an attractive employer to working parents these days – it’s what everyone is looking for. Santander generously sponsoring Opportunity Now is not a coincidence!

Let’s Talk About The Costs

Every supplier says this but it is difficult to give hard and fast numbers.  Let me try and make an exception.

Work out why you think helping employees with “families” is important. That means looking at each of the five reasons above and having a clear picture of what you’re trying to achieve. Then as a very ball park figure, full of the usual ‘what ifs’ and ‘provisos’, and assuming you want to go from a position of doing nothing to doing a lot then you’ll need to spend something between £25 and £100 per employee per year.

If you have 500 employees then a bill for £50,000 might seem a lot. But just think about all those easier salary negotiations because you’ve genuinely become a place where people can combine career and family successfully!

Ben Black is Managing Director of My Family Care which provides childcare support to employers at businesses such as P&G, Barclays, KPMG, Deloitte, and IBM. He is also one of the founding members of Tinies which has 20 nurseries/crèches under management and 30 childcare agencies and founded Good Care Guide, the Trip Advisor type site for the childcare industry.

Ben began his career working as a City lawyer. In 2000, he and his brother Ollie bought Tinies Childcare, which went on to become the biggest nanny agency in the UK. In 2005 they founded My Family Care - with the unique proposition of offering clients a complete family friendly employee benefits package.Ben continues to work with Tinies and is also a non-executive director at AnyJunk, the UK's largest rubbish clearance company. Three young children and the occasional marathon keep Ben busy in his spare time.