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How Should Business Encourage Family-Friendly Workplaces?

By Charlotte Williams, Head of Child Rights and Business – Corporate Engagement, Unicef UK

Family friendly workplace policies, such as paid parental leave, breastfeeding breaks and support for affordable childcare, play a fundamental role in ensuring children get the best start possible in life. But are businesses doing all they can to support parents manage a changing work-family balance?​

Family friendly workplace policies, such as paid parental leave, breastfeeding breaks and support for affordable childcare, play a fundamental role in ensuring children get the best start possible in life. But are businesses doing all they can to support parents manage a changing work-family balance?

A new study recently published by UNICEF shows that some of the richest countries in the world are failing to provide adequate family-friendly workplace policies. The study looked at four key indicators of family friendly workplaces in 41 high and middle-income countries:

  • duration of paid leave available to mothers;
  • duration of paid leave for fathers; the share of children below the age of three in childcare centres;
  • and the share of children between the age of three and compulsory school age attending preschool or childcare centres.
  • The analysis also looked at national breastfeeding rates and policies, as well as the quality of preschool education, where comparable indicators were available.

Sweden, Norway and Iceland come top in the league table of family-friendly policies, with the UK, Cyprus, Greece and Switzerland taking up the bottom four places among the 31 countries assessed with available data across all 4 indicators. However, not a single country ranked highly across every indicator.

Table: A light blue background indicates a place in the top third of the ranking, medium blue denotes the middle third, and dark blue the bottom third. All figures except paid leave reserved for fathers are rounded to the nearest whole number. The blank cells indicate that there are no comparable data available. Countries are ranked on each of the four indicators. Ranks are shown in brackets. Subsequently, the average of their four ranks (column on the far right) is used to calculate the final rank (column on the far left). Only 31 of the 41 countries are ranked because 10 lack comparable data.

Clearly there is significant room for improvement. How many people reading this blog will have also faced challenges balancing their work and homelife when returning to work after parental leave? How many parents wish they could reduce their overtime at work so they can spend more time with their families? How many families struggle to provide adequate childcare and to make ends meet?

So, what more could companies do to protect children’s rights and support families, and why is this important?

By having supportive policies on maternity leave, mothers can recover from birth and spend those first important months dedicated to caring and bonding with their child. It also ensures that women can remain an important and productive part of the workforce by retaining talented employees. Supportive paternity leave policies can also ensure that fathers spend time bonding with their child and ultimately leads to a more equitable workforce as childcare and home commitments are shared between partners.

After parental leave, it is important that parents can access high-quality and affordable childcare so that parents are incentivised to return to work, ensuring that talented professionals are retained by companies. In parallel, mothers should be supported by their workplace to be able to take breastfeeding breaks so that milk can be expressed and stored safely, and they can continue to breastfeed after their return to work.

To support companies wanting to do more, UNICEF has developed 10 ways in which businesses can develop family-friendly workplaces:

  1. Guarantee that women are not discriminated against based on pregnancy, motherhood or family responsibilities – for example, in relation to employment conditions, wages or career opportunities.
  2. Establish a minimum of six months paid parental leave to ensure parents can spend quality time with their children when they need it the most.
  3. Enable breastfeeding at work through paid breastfeeding breaks, adequate lactation facilities and a supportive breastfeeding environment in the workplace.
  4. Support access to affordable and quality childcare to ensure that children have access to early childhood education and can develop the skills they need to reach their full potential.
  5. Grant flexible working time arrangements through work from home policies and other measures.
  6. Beyond legal compliance, promote decent working conditions such as wages that reflect the cost of living for families.
  7. Address the specific challenges faced by migrant and seasonal workers, such as supporting workers to move with their families, and work with governments to support migrant families’ ability to access identification and other basic services.
  8. Encourage positive parenting practices with staff – for example, develop training and awareness campaigns to highlight the importance of early childhood development.
  9. Promote family-friendly policies with suppliers and other business partners.
  10. Raise awareness among consumers and clients of the importance of early childhood development, including through their own social media and other channels.

Why should this be pushed to the top of the business agenda?

Early moments matter for children, and parents need to be helped to care for and nurture their children during the first crucial months of life by the companies they work for. But clearly there are business and societal benefits too.

Investing in family-friendly policies not only supports the next generation, and, our future workforce, it can also lead to a more equitable workforce which in turn will impact the productivity of the organisation, as well as the companies’ ability to attract and retain employees. With more and more scrutiny being placed on companies to address things like the gender pay gap, companies really can’t afford to not invest in making their businesses as family friendly as possible.

Join the movement!

At a summit on 19 July in New York City, UNICEF launched its global campaign on family friendly policies. We are calling for:

  • a move away from maternity and paternity leave to parental leave
  • increased investment in people over infrastructure
  • moving away from individual responsibility and towards co-responsibility for childcare; and
  • reducing parental stress and enhancing family wellbeing

Join us in thinking how your business might get involved! For more information about this campaign or any other aspects of UNICEF’s work, please contact Anisha Patel (An*****@un****.uk).

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