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Wednesday 22nd March 2023

PR employers: don't forget childfree staff

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Fiscal events haven’t been a lot of fun in recent years, even for political obsessives like me. 

From emergency pandemic budgets to catastrophic Autumn Statements, they have been more likely to provoke heads in hands than sighs of relief.

But last week’s Budget may have been an exception, at least when it came to one announcement: 30 hours of free childcare for under-fives.

I’ll leave it to others to debate the shortfalls and practicalities of this particular policy. But at least we now have an acknowledgement that the failure to take childcare seriously has been a drain on Britain’s economy, families and, in particular, women – and that it needs to be fixed.

Particularly in the PR industry, where women make up two-thirds of the workforce, any serious employer has long been competing on its offer for parents.

But there is another trend that employers forget at our peril – the increasing numbers of childfree people. A 2021 Pew Research Center study showed 44 per cent of non-parents aged 18 to 49 don’t think they will have children, up from 37 per cent in 2018. This sentiment is growing across the rich world and, however good parental policies are, it’s probably here to stay.

“Fiscal events haven’t been a lot of fun in recent years, even for political obsessives like me.”

The fraught period of lockdown gave some signals that this group doesn’t always feel it gets the attention it deserves. Tech giants like Facebook, Twitter and Salesforce all faced criticism when they tried to make life easier for parents, with some childfree workers protesting that they had been left to pick up the slack. What these disagreements showed is that culture is everything, and any sniff of double standards can have a real impact on workplace harmony. 

It’s still rare to hear about employers specifically accommodating the needs of childfree staff. Whether it’s working remotely to be with partners or other family members, pursuing further education or developing their skills by other means, opportunities to genuinely invest in the people you work with can reap enormous benefits for any business.

“By making room for the people I’ve worked with – and making that flexibility a core part of how I run a business – I’ve been repaid many times over in the form of exceptional people who want to build something amazing.”

I’ve had mums of newborns and adults working flexibly for me from all over the country. However, I’ve also supported workers by giving them time for everything from taking dogs to the vets and caring for elderly relatives to taking a month to pursue once-in-a-lifetime work opportunities they’d been denied by the pandemic.

By making room for the people I’ve worked with – and making that flexibility a core part of how I run a business – I’ve been repaid many times over in the form of exceptional people who want to build something amazing.

The notion that prioritising health and wellbeing can drive staff retention isn’t new, and recent data from McKinsey shows the effects can be remarkable. But it’s more than that. Businesses like small PR agencies depend on commitment, tenacity and creativity from everyone they employ. These are qualities that can only be improved if we give people the tools to reach their full potential as individuals – whether they have children or not.

The latest Budget has opened a door to making working parents’ lives easier. It will be up to employers to ensure their childfree staff aren’t left behind.

This article first appeared in PR Week.