Everyone enjoys a good celebration. But not everyone will be popping the champagne corks to welcome in 2024. Ex-government ministers trying to circumvent the rule of law probably won’t be!
Yes, there are always reasons to enjoy what the New Year might hold, but there are also plenty of issues still to be resolved: from a stuttering economy to mortgage interest rates which are still high, and for families the increasing burden of childcare costs, assuming they can find childcare at all.
There are probably a dozen or more critical issues that we could be discussing, all vying to be at the top of your in-tray. So when it comes to supporting your employees as the New Year arrives, what should be the first ones you need to act upon? What benefits are really going to make an impact?
Focus is important. We’re hearing a lot from law firms worried that benefits have become too fragmented in the last three years. Covid meant that many have invested in innovative ways to support wellbeing, and not all of them have hit the spot. “Benefits overwhelm” has become a real problem: now’s the time to crystallise what we offer to where we can really make an impact.
Here are the four areas that we at Bubble feel should be highest on your Benefits 2024 agenda.
1 Make people feel better about their financial status
Because inflation is still likely to be with us, interest rates are still likely to remain relatively high, and the impacts will continue reverberating throughout next year. For both individuals and families times will continue to be tough.
Even those who might appear well off are finding the going tough. The need to improve salaries will lead many of your best people to look for better paid positions, with a subsequent impact on recruitment costs, to say nothing of the loss of talented employees who will take their knowledge and experience with them to pastures new.
Whilst we can’t keep boosting salaries, there are other levers we can use: financial planning, money saving schemes, childcare care subsidies and commuting support are all ways to make your workforce feel more confident at times when money is a source of stress.
2 Give people certainty about how & where they are expected to work
Anyone else feel like we are going around in circles here?
There is a growing feeling among CEOs that a return to full time office working will happen next year. But while two thirds of CEOs are in favour of getting employees back to the office, one third of employees say they’ll quit their jobs if forced to do so. In the UK 63 per cent of CEOs want pay and promotion linked to workplace attendance.
The legal sector is no exception. Major law firms such as Knights, Herbert Smith Freehills, Latham & Watkins, and Covington & Burling, are all on record mandating at least three days a week in the office
Leaving aside the potential for legal challenges to such changes, which could very well happen, there is little assessment of the possible impact this might have on Diversity, Equality, Inclusion (DEI) goals. If you need your employees back in the office, this needs to be addressed and that might also benefit from a carrot or two rather than a potentially confrontational stick. So, what benefits could you provide to ease that return? For those with young families, childcare is one benefit likely to score highly if you are asking employees to give up their flexible options and return to the office.
3 Help women navigate the missing rung
We know this is an area where the legal sector is struggling to make progress
Two good trends that have emerged this year are the increasing number of women returning to work, particularly mums.
Frustratingly, while the number of women in work is rising, there is no sign that this is leading to more women in higher level positions. According to McKinsey rather than more women moving up the career ladder, the opposite is happening. In fact, senior women are leaving at a higher rate than ever before – and at a higher rate than their male counterparts. So while there is a drive to see more women in senior roles, the talent is draining away: what McKinsey calls ‘the missing rung’ (and what we at Bubble sometimes call the “sticky floor”).
For law firms (especially Top 50 law firms) the gender pay gap is, consequently, often larger than the UK as a whole. In one notable case, the gap is a staggering 63%.
The two biggest areas where employers are making progress are with better menopause awareness and support and providing tangible care benefits. Both are key to enabling women to remain in position for longer, and to return to the workplace after starting their families knowing they have the support they need, should they ever need it. As a result your business keeps their talents and skills for longer, which is good for them, but a boost for any business as well.
4 Remember good mental health starts at home
Three years ago mental health support benefits exploded, yet we are still seeing levels of burn-out and absenteeism increase. It’s time to evaluate mental health support with a different lens to make sure you’re really able to help those in need.
Caregivers are particularly vulnerable. You need to be aware of those of your employees who are in this category without being too obtrusive. By making people aware of the range of support you provide, and who to access this, should help.
In their 2022 report, Women in the Workplace, McKinsey identified subsidised childcare as ‘an emerging practice’ for any business looking to achieve its DEI goals. Taking care of the caregivers clearly makes a difference.
Above all accessibility is critical. No matter how much support you provide, if it’s not incredibly easy to access, or if an employee doesn’t have the bandwidth to access it, then it’s wasted. You need to ensure that technology is in place to enable you to deliver the support, advice and answers needed, when they are needed. Remember too there are organisations who can help in this. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but instead tap into the support networks which already exist and have a proven track record.
This support makes a significant difference to the bottom line. Investing in such areas as childcare is a benefit which in ROI terms pays back handsomely. To find out more you can download our whitepaper using the link at the end of this article.
Yes, there are other issues which will have an impact in 2024. We’ve not touched on AI, for example – although we’re unlikely to crack what this means for us in the next 12 months. Our focus has been on employees at work and the issues which impact them most strongly. Let’s face it, it’s going to be some time yet before AI can break off a meeting and rush down to the school to pick up a sick child.
By focusing attention on just four areas we are being selective, but for a good reason. The pressures on both individuals and families in particular will continue to be significant next year. Now is the time to step back and take a good look at both what you are already doing to mitigate those pressures, and what fresh steps you might be able to take. Whatever the targets you may be setting or have already set, be those for retention or your goals in areas like DEI, by examining the options now you’ll be far better placed to provide the most beneficial support to every one of your employees.
Naturally, we believe that childcare is an essential benefit which ties together so many of these challenges and provides a wide reaching solution to each of them. If you’ve not already done so, we think it’s worth taking a closer look at the impact it can have across the board, and not least the business benefits it can provide.
There will be other challenges in 2024, some of which we may not even be aware of just yet. But offering support which helps bridge the financial gap, encourages employees to come back to the office, aids the career development for so many women, and provides vital support to those who care for others has got to be something that should be high up on any employer’s agenda whatever the future might hold.
To discover more about just how childcare support can boost your business and employee wellbeing in 2024 book a chat today.
A version of this article first appeared on the HR Magazine website on Monday 13th November.