New research highlights that, as a result of the pandemic, working parents and carers have very specific expectations of the work model they wish to adopt in the future.

Withdrawing flexible working after COVID-19 could be very problematic for employers, the study warns. 

Bright Horizons, a solutions company that serves global employers in addressing the work-life and dependant care challenges that rise in the workplace, has found that there could be mass discontent amongst working parents and carers if flexible working is withdrawn after the pandemic.

Data collected shows that around a fifth (18 per cent) wish to work completely remotely in the future whilst over half (57 per cent) want to see hybrid-working implemented following COVID-19.

The pandemic has significantly shaped what employees deem a priority with over a quarter of men (28 per cent) and two-fifths of women (42 per cent) stating flexible working is necessary for them in order to meet their childcare commitments.

An additional 14 per cent of respondents stated that they needed flexible working in order to care for elderly relatives – a commitment that is often overlooked by employers.

However, care commitments were not the only reason that employees preferred flexibility when working. A third of working parents (32 per cent) found that this model of working allowed them to complete their job more effectively.

A further fifth said this new way of working would allow them time to “pursue outside interests and hobbies”, highlighting the growing importance of a work-life balance.

The research also demonstrates the importance of actively supporting staff or otherwise risk harbouring a growing level of employee dissatisfaction.

Whilst a quarter of workers (24 per cent) said their employers had given a clear message that flexible working was positively viewed, a third of workers stated that they resent their employer and over half (55 per cent) confessed that their loyalty to their company would be based around on their manager’s reaction to the pandemic.

This could be a cause for concern for many employers as over half of all respondents said their employers were either outright unsympathetic or did not offer practical help with their childcare needs.

Employers may also have to do more to alleviate their workers’ sense of stress and anxiety around job security. Over two-fifths (40 per cent) of those surveyed confessed they are afraid of losing their jobs as the furlough scheme is winding down and employers demand greater attendance in the office.

Denise Priest, Director of Employer Partnerships at Bright Horizons, said: 

In previous years, this survey has shown an increasing desire amongst both mothers and fathers for greater flexibility at work. But 2020 has been truly extraordinary, with staff doing triple time as employees, parents and in-home teachers. As normality returns, there seems to be disagreement between some organisations and their workers about what normality should mean. Employers who have recognised the heightened priority of family life and provided practical support for their staff will retain – and gain – talented employees, while those who do not will lose out.

Currently the pandemic is causing much concern about job security, with accompanying gratitude to be in a job and a reluctance to risk change and rock the boat. The hidden hazard now for employers is that new expectations sit below the surface like an iceberg. This survey strongly suggests that when some degree of economic certainty returns, highly-valued staff will judge their companies on how they supported them during the crisis.


*This research was taken from Bright Horizon’s “2021 Modern Families Index Spotlight“. The MFI Spotlight research was based on a survey of 1,000 working parents in the UK, with children aged 18 years or under who live in the same household as them.

If you are interested in hearing more insights about this research, watch our webinar here where Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership, Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions, discuss the research in depth.