Why flexible working for grandparents is essential

When my kids started school, there was a group of people I didn’t expect to see in the playground on the school run: Grandparents. Some granddads and grandmothers collected children every day.

It quickly became clear there was a huge army of working parents relying on grandparents to look after little ones. It also came as a bit of a surprise to see this, possibly because of my own circumstances. My wife and I live hundreds of miles away from our families, so we’ve never been able to rely on grandparents for day-to-day support.

That said, there’s one grandad in our extended family who looks after his grandchildren a great deal. He’s retired and in his seventies but very proud of what he does. It’s always a delight to talk to him and hear what he’s been getting up to with his grandsons.

Support for grandparents in the workplace 

Do grandfathers and grandmothers get the support, help or recognition they deserve? To be honest, the picture seems to be a bit messy. 

Here are a few facts. According to the Usdaw Union, there are 14 million grandparents in the UK, half of whom are under the age of 65 so it’s reasonable to assume around 7million of these individuals are still working. Half of all kids under the age of five spend some time being looked after by grandparents. And 2.2million grandparents look after grandchildren to allow mum and dad to work.

Many of these grandparents are what’s known as ‘sandwich carers’. Us parents may think we’ve got it tough with young children, but sandwich carers are looking after two generations. They’re usually looking after their own parents, while also providing childcare for grandchildren and holding down a day job. 

We often think of parents needing flexible working. As the statistics I’ve quoted above show, the older generations are under just as much pressure than their younger counterparts and in the case of sandwich carers, they’re arguably under even more pressure. 

Do we do enough to recognise the immense contribution grandparents make both as employees and as caregivers? I would say their efforts often go unnoticed and unrecognised and employment law doesn’t always make things easy for them.

Flexible working for grandparents, but it’s not all good news

The good news is that grandparents have the right to request flexible working, just like anyone else. Beyond this, things get a bit difficult for any grandfather or grandmother providing care, especially if its for grandchildren.

Employees generally have the legal right to “time off for dependants” if there is an emergency. The catch is that dependants usually have to live with you. 

Unpaid parental leave is another possibility. The catch? You must have legal parental responsibility for any child you are looking after. Yet this won’t apply to the majority of grandparents. 

The impact of COVID-19 on working parents and grandparents

I have somehow got to this point without mentioning the impact of COVID-19. Various campaigns have sprung up recently calling for parents to have the right to be furloughed because they have childcare responsibilities.

Part of the problem is that some grandparents are having to shield or are simply too nervous about catching COVID to look after grandchildren. It’s creating a childcare crisis and some employers are losing staff as a result. 

Hopefully this is just a temporary blip and we’ll return to the ‘new normal’ once the vaccine has been rolled out. When we do return to normal (whatever that normal is) flexible working has to be a the centre of it to enable employers to recruit and retain the best talent and enable parents and grandparents to keep working if that’s their wish.

Older workers have a lot to offer

If we want to make it easy for employers to recruit and retain the best talent, we have to make flexible working available and acceptable for all employees. This includes grandparents who may have all manner of caring responsibilities. Such as looking after grandchildren while mum and dad work.

We also need to recognise that older workers have a lot to offer employees. One of the most compelling arguments I heard for encouraging older men to stay in the workplace is that they have benefitted from a working culture that excluded women. As they reach the end of their working lives, these men make great mentors for women and have lots of knowledge to pass on to younger women who lack female role models and are starting out on their careers. If we don’t make it easy for these older men to stay in the workplace, that knowledge will be lost and no one will benefit from it.

These grandparents deserve our recognition and our support. They’re doing many of us younger workers a huge favour. Employers may be doing their bit by allowing flexible working for grandparents who are caregivers, but it’s a shame employment law hasn’t caught up.

You can check here to see what the predicted changes are for flexible working for 2021: Flexible Working: Predictions For 2021

Or if you are a someone who is looking for a new job with flexible working hours, you can search our jobs board to find the right fit for you: https://jobs.findyourflex.co.uk/

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