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Workplace flexibility is essential

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How businesses can respond to Rishi Sunak’s childcare reform u-turn

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has indefinitely shelved childcare reform plans. The overhaul of the UK’s childcare system was initially proposed by Sunak’s predecessor, Liz Truss.

The overhaul included plans to scrap mandatory staff-child ratios and increase free childcare support by 20 hours a week. Instead, Sunak is preparing his own reform plans on a far smaller scale, which are expected to take months to arrive.

Sunak’s announcement comes at a time when food prices are the highest on record, and parents have unprecedented childcare fees to contend with; the annual fee for full-time care for a two-year-old increased by 171% from 2000 to 2021.

In response, the Confederation of British Industry highlighted the difficulties facing working parents across the country, announcing that £9bn of investment is required to improve the childcare system.

Businesses must focus on improving workplace fluidity by promoting flexibility and granting autonomy to support employees emotionally and financially through rising childcare costs, suggests Nicole Bello, Group Vice President EMEA at UKG.

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 being impacted and introducing measures to address these challenges.

“The childcare reform U-turn is a prime opportunity for business leaders to proactively support staff who are struggling with rising bills. The easiest way businesses can assist the employees affected is to offer a truly flexible model of working, that gives colleagues the 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 device, 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 sending 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 both 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.”

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