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Prejudice still very much an obstacle to flexible working

Helen Smith
health

UK companies are still slow to adopt best practice on issues such as parental leave, caring responsibilities and family commitments; 75 percent of employees find it difficult balancing family commitments with their work, causing an uplift in national stress, and companies are failing to support these employees. Contributor Helen Smith.

Individual prejudices are overriding positive company policies as outcomes for support are worryingly often down to the whims of the line manager. Shocking statistics have shown how the majority of UK businesses aren’t providing enough support to employees with family commitments – an additional blow to a hard-working generation.  The new research by Benenden Health reveals the extent to which current UK working culture is lacking proper employee support to cope with the pressures of modern day family life.

The research shows 75 percent of employees find it difficult balancing family commitments with their work – only 4.2 percent reported not having experienced stress, financial problems, mental health issues or a breakdown of relationships as a result. Mostly affecting millennials and generation x, respondents aged 36-40 find it the most difficult balancing their family commitments with work, with nearly four in five (77 percent) claiming the frequent struggle.

The research in a report by business healthcare provider Benenden Health also shows that one in five (20.1 percent) employees had their request to work from home or work flexible hours turned down. And a lack of flexibility has made more than one in five employees consider leaving their career. Of even greater concern: one in seven (14.3 percent) said that they have been refused time off for healthcare appointments and/or to access mental health support. Case studies used in the report also highlight how outcomes of requests for support are worryingly often down to knowledge, mood or prejudices of the line manager.

Helen Smith, Chief Commercial Officer and business sponsor for wellbeing strategy at Benenden Health, commented: “Our in-depth research across multiple industries showed great concern for working families in the UK. Three quarters of people we surveyed shared that they found it difficult to balance modern day family life with their work commitments. Sadly, this is due to lack of proper support in the workplace.  To ensure the right level of support is given, this has to change; attitudes and approaches to flexible working across industries need to be open to a new way of working.”

Benenden Health’s research showed that employees, under such stress, will struggle to perform at their optimum levels. These affected employees feel pressured to take off an average of 5.37 days off work a year due to family reasons. Based on the national average salary of £29,009, this means that family related absence is costing UK employers £618 for every employee with caring commitments.

With 75 percent of employees find it difficult balancing family commitments with their work; Four in five employees aged 36-40 find it the most difficult balancing their family commitments with work; 86 percent of employees trying to balance their family commitments with their work also suffered with stress; 55 percent of respondents say trying to balance their family commitments with their work resulted in financial problems; 20 percent of employees had the request to work from home or work flexible hours turned down and; One in seven employees have been refused time off for healthcare appointments and/or to access mental health support

Helen Smith said: “It’s important we understand the unique needs of this group and the benefits of creating a more compassionate working environment for them across all business industries, to ensure we gain loyal, less stressed and likely more productive employees. After all, over three million people in the UK now juggle caring commitments for elderly or sick loved ones with work, and almost three quarters of mothers in the UK work part-time or full-time. Times have changed and businesses need to adapt urgently to meet this cultural need.”

Case studies used in the research report also unearthed that while staff understand their responsibilities to their organisations, they often don’t get the same level of commitment back from their employers. The level of support an employee may receive appeared often to be a matter of chance – attitude of the line manager, workplace culture, formal policies and a lack of professional support. This approach to working clearly isn’t cut out for modern family life with 75 percent of employees struggling with family and work commitments.

Successful employers/businesses will be those who better understand the unique needs of these employees and work with them to come up with solutions that fit their circumstances – gaining the most from their employees and retaining a valued set of skills in the workplace that would otherwise have to be replaced. To embrace this change, employers need to adopt a culture which fits with society’s modern day living in order to lead a working culture change in the UK.


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