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Pebble’s Parent Survey Shows That Flexibility is More Important Than Ever (But Employers Aren’t Listening)

Mobile phone on a red background with crayons surrounding it, showing an email draft on the screen of the phone
Mobile phone on a red background with crayons surrounding it, showing an email draft on the screen of the phone

Oct 19, 2023

Oct 19, 2023


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The juggling act of parenthood and work continues to intensify. And the effects of a full-time return to the office – even after the benefits of flexible and remote working were brought to light during the pandemic – are hitting parents hard, not just because of the demands on their time, but financially too.

At Pebble, we have always championed flexibility, knowing that childcare needs to fit the schedule of busy parents. We wanted to understand the true cost of a lack of flexibility in the workplace, and how that was affecting working parents, so we carried out some research. Here’s what we found…

The cost of inflexible working is higher than you’d think 

Our research made national headlines after our parent survey revealed that, when it comes to childcare, flexibility and affordability are more crucial than ever. 

We asked 2,000 parents how they were being impacted by return-to-office mandates and rising childcare costs.

We found that more than half of these parents, whose children are nursery and primary school age, are under growing pressure to increase the time they spend at the office.

On average, employers are requesting an additional two days per week. With the childcare needed to cover these days, families are worse off to the tune of more than £660 every month on average.

Add to this the cost of travelling on these additional days – extra time in the office means employees have to spend around £98 more each week on travel costs, or £132 for Londoners – and the figure rises to more than £1000 a month.

This is another unwelcome pressure that families are facing, amid the rising prices of food and energy that are compounding the cost-of-living crisis here in the UK and around the world. But the more that working parents have a voice, the greater the incentive for employers to change – so we were glad that our findings – and parents’ real stories – were featured in The Guardian and on Sky News.

Employers should be listening to working parents

Parents make up a huge proportion of the workforce. The most recent data from the Office for National Statistics shows that more than 75% of mothers in the UK are in work, and over 90% of fathers.

Yet, an alarming number of employers aren’t listening to the voices of working parents.

One parent in our survey, Sarah (not her real name), works in financial services in Scotland. She told us she is struggling with the cost and logistics of childcare after her employer ordered all staff back to the office for four days a week, up from the previous three-day mandate.

“Nobody is happy about it, never mind working parents,” she told us. “It doesn’t make sense as the evidence shows working from home is very productive, while the extra time with the family was a no-brainer.”

Sarah and her husband live in a rural area with no family nearby and limited childcare availability, the cost of which she described as “horrendous”. She is now looking for a job offering more home working.

“People reckon the company is going in the direction of five days in the office and I just can’t do that with the many years ahead of me with children in primary school,” she told us.

The childcare cost crisis – a problem for families and for employers

In response to the findings of our research, Pebble chief executive Lance Beare emphasised the need for employers to fully appreciate the obstacles parents are facing: “The fact that working parents are actively changing jobs in order to manage childcare costs is simply unacceptable, and it’s costly for businesses too. Families need more flexible childcare options and more employers that recognise the challenges of juggling work and home life.” he said.  

“When you ask employees to be in a certain place at a certain time, they need to line up childcare – and this comes at a cost. Without childcare in place, parents can’t work.

“Employers need to look at their company benefits and reassess what people need support with today. On-site yoga and pizza lunches are nice, but what about supporting the childcare needs of parents so that they can afford to keep working instead?”

Demand for change is on the rise

Our research clearly shows that families want employers to take more notice of the challenges surrounding childcare and increased office hours. 

Advocates for change are gaining momentum. Campaigning charity Pregnant Then Screwed is dedicated to ending the ‘pregnancy penalty’ (also known as the motherhood penalty), a term used to describe the disadvantages and discrimination women in the workplace face when they become mothers, from being perceived as less competent to the massive discrepancies in benefits and pay.

Pregnant Then Screwed is campaigning for changes to the law in order to end the motherhood penalty. They also run free educational programmes and support services for women.

In October 2022, they organised the March of the Mummies, a national protest where 15,000 parents marched across 11 cities in the UK to demand Government reform of childcare, flexible working and parental leave. They recently commissioned their own research into the cost of being a parent today. Their data revealed that 1 in 5 households earning less than £50k are leaving the workforce due to the cost of childcare.

Flexible and affordable childcare is more important than ever

We are acutely aware of the pressures parents are under, and we will continue to share your stories and voice the need for change – because, for everyone’s sake, making and keeping childcare accessible and affordable is now more important than ever.

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