The growing interest in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing is pushing organisations to evolve how they operate to meet stakeholder expectations.
For the ‘Social’ aspect of ESG, there are clear opportunities available for organisations to do more on addressing diversity, equity and inclusion, and especially how their working conditions are impacting employee health and safety. Employers must strive to be Socially Responsible Workplaces that understand their role in supporting employees to balance their paid work with the care and family responsibilities they have outside of work.
So how can and should they do this? Since launching Family Friendly Workplaces two years ago, we’ve assessed 345 employers – including some of the biggest employers in Australia – against key benchmarks of being family-friendly.
These are organisations that have approached us with a demonstrated interest in addressing just how their policies stack up against the fundamentals of what it means to be family-friendly in Australia in 2023. Although just a third have now met such benchmarks, a willingness to see how they stack up against best practice principles should be commended.
Of those 345 orgnisations measured against the National Work + Family Standards, 104 have now been certified or are currently in the progress of being certified.
What this shows is that most organisations that open themselves up to be benchmarked against these standards find that they have work to do, and – in many cases – they are willing to make the changes required to meet the requirements.
Increasingly, we are seeing more small to medium-sized businesses stepping up to determine how family-friendly they are and what they can do to achieve certification. This is an excellent sign, as the majority of Australians work for these businesses, and typically they fall behind larger employers on workplace policies like paid parental leave, flexible work, and other areas.
Launched in partnership with UNICEF Australia in 2021, alongside other corporate and community advocates, the Family Friendly Workplaces standards and certification program measures employers against the National Work + Family Standards, to provide a benchmark of minimum and best practice guidelines.
Two years later, and now with employers of all sizes across almost all industries having been assessed, we now have valuable data to learn how employer priorities on creating family-inclusive workplaces are shifting. We published the first of this data in our Bridging Work and Family Divide Report in 2022, with an update on this data released today.
Our latest data reveals positive trends on how workplaces are creating more family-inclusive environments.
One such trend is that flexibility is continuing to be supported and normalised, with more than 95% of organisations providing their employees with guides and training to embed flexible work practice in action across the organisational hierarchy, job types and location. That’s up from 88% from our previous data, covering the 2021-22 period.
Also positive is that paid parental leave is becoming less gendered, with 86% of organisations promoting gender-equal access to PPL in this year, compared to 74% previously. And almost 50% of PPL policies include paying superannuation on parental leave.
However, this past year of assessments also highlighted a number of key challenges that remain.
We see an opportunity for caring policies to be formalised and better communicated, given just one-third of organisations formally include caring needs as part of the HR and Diversity and Inclusion agenda. We also see significantly more opportunity to address mental health and wellbeing policies, with just 42% of companies having no formal family mental health and wellbeing policy. And there are opportunities for employers to offer support for caring needs. For example, less than 22% of organisations assist employees with searches or referrals to providers of childcare, disability, or aged care services, and only 12% provide backup or emergency care options.
So what trends can we expect moving into year three of the Family Friendly Workplaces? There are hints in some of the leading and more innovative family-friendly policies being offered by employers, as well as new legislation and government-led initiatives.
One year since the Albanese Government was elected, this Labor government continues to place more expectations on employers to be more socially responsible. It’s notable that last week’s Budget outlined a $2 million investment to create new workplace regulations that will support the management of psychosocial hazards at work. This follows the government’s extension of the paid parental leave scheme and calls from the prime minister for “enlightened employers” to see it as a “foundation” for a wider system.
Increasingly, we see just how critical leadership is to embed family-friendly work practices. It’s not enough to simply write or update a policy, leaders must actively live and demonstrate such policies – as they are the ultimate enablers in driving the cultural change required.
We have seen huge shifts in the number of Australian workers covered by policies that aim to support victims of domestic and family violence, with nearly double the number of employers compared to last year, committing to extending their Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) policy of framework. This powerful shift in government legislation to extend paid DFV leave, and extension of such policies across the public sector.
Also essential is taking the next step on flexible work offerings, and ensuring that those working flexibly are fully supported. Over the past year, we saw a massive increase (from 68% to 81% in organisations committing to enhancing such support mechanisms, including by providing examples of flexible work in action, and formalising hybrid work practices, and developing policies and examples for teams to create their own approach.
Meanwhile, feedback from employees can be difficult to hear – but is ultimately essential in knowing if efforts to be more inclusive are actually making a difference. From the employers, four in five (81%) are now committed to seeking increased feedback from employees, while the same amount are also committed to improving how they measure the effectiveness of their practices.
While the standards help employers close gaps that are holding back their equity and inclusion progress and support their overall ESG goals, it’s the impact on employees that are most important.
What we’ve found is that organisations that get certified signal to their team members that their wellbeing matters. They demonstrate the value of well-being and family as fundamental to business operations.
It’s encouraging to see how much can change in just a year when it comes to employers stepping up to provide Socially Responsible Workplaces. They know it’s not merely a matter of meeting ESG obligations or the expectations of stakeholders, but also that it makes good business sense. Protecting the wellbeing of employees is critical for enabling a productive and happy workplace, and those employers that actively highlight what they offer and why, get a much broader range of talent interested in their opportunities.
By Emma Walsh, CEO and Founder, Family Friendly Workplaces
First published on Women’s Agenda