Need to know:
- Line managers have a pivotal role in engaging working parents with childcare benefits by demonstrating their support and understanding.
- Creation of in-house parent networking groups or family support groups will help increase engagement by encouraging employees to join or participate.
- Childcare provision that is aimed at fathers, as well as mothers, is the most effective way for an organisation to retain its top talent, irrespective of gender.
September 2016 will see the introduction of 30 hours of free childcare in pilot areas of the UK for three and four year olds, and, with childcare voucher schemes being replaced in early 2017 with the government’s tax-free childcare, the topic of childcare benefits is rarely out of the headlines.
Existing childcare voucher scheme members will be able to continue in their schemes but will need to check whether they will be better off under the new arrangement. This is not a simple sum, and employers may need to provide employees with tools and information to help them decide which scheme is best for their circumstances, says Martha How, reward partner at Aon Employee Benefits. “The termination of the childcare voucher scheme marks a point of change in employers’ childcare benefits provision and some employers are looking at their policies anew in the light of the change in government policy,” she explains.
This renewed focus also presents employers with an ideal opportunity to review how they market all of their childcare benefits with the aim of improving engagement and take-up levels.
Employers have more channels available for their marketing messages than ever with social media, email, text messaging, webinars and even video and animation all potentially powerful communication tools. In-house family-friendly network groups can be used to exploit the high level of word of mouth that goes on between parents.
Ben Black, director of My Family Care, says: “The good news is parents talk. If [an employer has] a great back-up care scheme then the parents internally will sing its praises and engagement levels will increase steadily for the first three to four years.”
Also crucial to increasing engagement is making sure care is discussed in the broadest possible sense. “It needs to include parents of older children and it needs to include adult dependant care as well, often for elderly relatives, but also partners of any age,” adds Black.
Arguably, such is the pressure on working parents that some childcare benefits are so prized that they will sell themselves but others can represent more of a challenge. On-site nurseries are relatively rare so tend to have long waiting lists, says Nick Patel, senior consultant at JLT Employee Benefits.
When it comes to emergency childcare, this can be a debatable topic. “While in principle it sounds like an attractive option, in practice the trust factor of leaving a child in the company of a carer with whom the parent has not had an interaction in the past has deterred them from leveraging the facility,” says Patel.
Any communications to engage employees with this benefit should therefore be tailored to address trust as well as any other issues surrounding it.
Target all employees
One of the biggest mistakes employers make when it comes to improving engagement levels is thinking that somehow childcare is only about working mothers, says Black. “If [an employer] really wants a culture fit for the 21st century and one where the best talent, irrespective of gender, gets to the top then childcare needs to be as much about fathers as mothers,” he explains. “In that context overlooking working dads is the worst thing to [do].”
In addition, employees need to see that senior management places a high value on the importance of childcare benefits and any communication must uphold that view.
Line management support is equally important. If line managers are seen to be understanding of employees with children this makes a huge difference to establishing a corporate culture of employee support. “Where employers support the development of an in-house family support group with seminars [and so on] we have seen up to 20% of employees join or participate,” adds How.