Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership with Bright Horizons, discusses how leading employers are enabling working parents to maintain that elusive dream of work-life balance during the summer holiday.

Got plans for the summer? You can be sure any working parents in your workforce have plans. With a whole 6-week (or longer) marathon of school summer holidays stretching ahead, chances are they even have a spreadsheet for it.

For many couples, summer means using up annual leave in a tag-team effort to give their children attention, rather than real family time-out altogether. For single parents, there’s even less leave to go round. And for most families, it’s a time-consuming patchwork of pieced together favours and fillers.

Our 2024 Work+Family Snapshot research with 1,801 of Bright Horizons clients’ employees shows parents want to combine satisfying family lives with a real commitment to career success. Among parents up to age 34, 60 percent this year say family has become a higher priority than before.  Nearly 4 in 10 (39%) of this group also say their career ambitions are stronger now.

We know too, from recent Peer Council breakfast roundtables with our clients, that employers’ top concerns include talent retention, wellbeing and productivity. How can we, as employers, balance all this and keep our talented people on board as they navigate the annual obstacle race?

Let’s explore three areas where the best employers empower their working parents to maintain work-life balance when one of the key struts in their infrastructure disappears for a month and a half.

  1. Subsidise Access to Care and Education

In the 2024 UK Modern Families Index when asked what would help them be physically present in the workplace, three in ten working parents said help with childcare costs, while two in ten said they needed help with holiday cover to have any office presence at all. This aspect of the cost of living is an issue for many and the available options can be limited. For families relying on an au pair, live-in workers are now entitled to the minimum wage in place of the previous ‘pocket money’.

There are many ways employers can support employees all year round with the costs of high quality, reliable care and education. This of course includes onsite or near-site nurseries with salary sacrifice schemes. For the school-age population, the magic is found in making sure your back-up care provision includes access to school holiday clubs. You may think of back-up care as a provision that helps staff sustain their work performance when care breaks down unexpectedly. But it is also a mainstay of planned summer cover.

HRreview readers who follow the publication’s Inside HR webinars will remember Kellie Wade, Benefits & Wellbeing Manager – EU at Sidley Austin describing in a June 2024  webinar how the firm’s back-up care includes access to holiday clubs and summer camps.

Kellie commented that employers need to be thoughtful about communicating available supports in all the right places. It may not otherwise be obvious to busy families that this provision is in place. She says: “In order to increase engagement we’ve used digital signage and internal newsletters to showcase different aspects… The signposting must be there at the point of need.”

Sidley Austin’s back-up care programme also includes access to virtual tutoring all year round: another huge cost-saving benefit for working parents. As one of the firm’s people commented: “This has taken a lot of pressure off of me financially as I probably would not have been able to afford a private tutor. Doing it this way has alleviated a lot of stress.”

Is tutoring just needed before the summer? It would be easy to imagine the exam pressure is over and done with for another year, yet for most grammar schools, the 11+ exam occurs during the first two weeks of September; so summer is a time to keep up learning too.

Another great guest on an Inside HR webinar in April 2024, underlining the value of supporting parents to access tutoring for their young people, is Andrei Ursu, EMEA – Benefits Specialist at Bloomberg. Among the many helpful provisions in place at Bloomberg, Andrei commented that providing access to tutoring right through to GCSEs “takes back-up care across the generations”. Speaking of the use of Bloomberg’s back-up care programme generally, one employee had commented: “It makes a real difference and without it I would not be able to come to work. This service makes me feel more valuable as an employee.”

Coming back to the Work+Family Snapshot employee research, those parents accessing virtual tutoring for their children through their employer showed the highest positivity about employer brand. With 83 percent agreeing ‘My organisation cares about my work and home balance’, they rated their employer 18 percentage points higher than the general population (compared with the UK Modern Families Index 2024).

  1. Build a Culture of Inclusion for Parents

Sarah Newton, is a Senior Associate, in the Employment & Compensation Group in the London office at another of our clients Baker McKenzie. In a February 2024 Inside HR webinar, Sarah shared insights into what the firm provides as a leading employer, such as leadership development / talent programmes, wide use of flexible working, such as job shares and annualised hours, back-up care, and more.

Sarah Newton also shared advice for other employers, drawing on her experience of advising in employment law. One tip was to ensure that senior leaders role model a healthy work-life fit, quoting an example of a partner working around taking their child to a swimming gala. “Without this, more junior members cannot see scope for their own progression.”

The Work+Family Snapshot showed 80 percent of those with access to Bright Horizons employer-sponsored early education ‘feel confident discussing family-related issues with my employer’, vs 67 percent in the wider population.

Noting that family-inclusive employers were maintaining positive employer brand while the Modern Families Index showed wider UK employers were losing ground, Emma Willars from the Coaching & Consultancy side of Bright Horizons commented: “the clients we work with are some distance along with creating, maintaining and developing family-friendly workplaces. It’s interesting to hear that post pandemic and bringing our whole selves – and households! – to work on webcams, there now seems to be some ‘compassion fatigue’ in the wider population. Individuals are noting that they are sharing less and less of their wider life commitments.”

  1. Nurture your Networks and Signpost Advice

One way to help working parents stay sane through the summer is to have a network. Again, Emma Willars describes the content usually covered in network events ahead of the summer juggle: “The headline points are generally: 1. Home: planning the time/activities, leaning in to your network, exploring clubs; 2. Work: what’s possible? Flexible options, leave etc and partner/wider family negotiations; 3 Bigger picture – ditching any guilt, having fun, quality (not quantity) time’.

So the easiest lift for an employer just getting starting is to support volunteers to create an Employee Resource Group to share tips and insights.

Whatever else we do, the starting point is to let parents know we understand the extra efforts being made and that we are there with flexibility, a culture of support and some practical solutions.





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Jennifer is the Head of Thought Leadership at Bright Horizons.

For over 20 years, Jennifer has been relentless in pursuit of innovation, identifying, defining and sharing best practice and ‘next practice’ for leading global employers in flexible working, family-friendly and wellbeing programmes, closing the gender pay gap and promoting gender-inclusive parenting. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, conference moderator and consultant on these topics and more.

Jennifer set-up, and for a decade led, the Coaching & Consultancy side of what became Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions advising employers in banking, professional services, STEM and wider sectors on programmes for working parents and carers and evaluating their impact and ROI, as well as developing coaches and coaching capability.

She now focuses on identifying overarching trends through research and through advising employers and translating these insights into solutions and practical actions.