The typical family structure is changing. Social and cultural shifts throughout the past few decades have slowly evolved the perception of a “normal” family unit. A rise in the number of divorces and couples choosing not to marry, alongside an evolution of social attitudes towards single parents and same-sex couples means that society now has a more inclusive understanding of the family unit.  



During the pandemic there was a significant surge in the demand for family employee benefits due to a need for greater work-life balance. As a result, many organisations now have some form of family benefit in place. However there is a growing recognition by some that a more diverse approach is required. 



There are now more employee benefits options available to employers than ever before. This should mean it’s more straightforward for organisations to provide the right support for employees. However as understanding of the complexities of employees’ needs continues to grow, it’s becoming increasingly clear there are large groups of people who fall through the cracks of a traditional “one-size-fits-all” approach to family benefits. 



Consider family forming options 



Starting a family can be overwhelming for anybody, but especially for couples who are unable to conceive “naturally”. 



Couples who are facing fertility issues, as well as some LGBTQ+ couples, might require support in order to start a family. This can take the form of IVF, sperm donation, surrogacy, or adoption, all of which can be costly and difficult to navigate, whilst also taking a toll emotionally and mentally. 



Employers can enable access to counselling and mental health support, as well as financial wellbeing tools. These could provide vital support for employees, and help to manage the emotional and financial impact for those facing fertility challenges. 



In recent years the employee benefits market has also seen a rise in the number of providers offering specific reproductive health benefits and support services, which offer a wide range of options for couples with a variety of family forming needs including heterosexual couples, same-sex couples, as well as trans and non-binary people.  



Incorporate financial wellbeing 



The financial impact of starting a family can be huge. From essential items and developmental toys and books to the growing cost of childcare; the financial demands of parenthood can affect all couples, even those in a higher wage bracket. 



As the cost of living crisis looms large, for some families the impact is acute, despite additional government support. For single parent families or lower income households, the rising costs of everyday essentials such as food, clothing and transport have become crippling. Whilst families with adoptive or foster children could also face similar financial worries, as household circumstances can change very quickly, putting additional demands on parents’ finances.  



In response to the cost of living crisis, employers are increasingly looking to provide access to a range of financial wellbeing tools such as debt management, financial education and planning, helping employees understand and gain control of their own financial circumstances. This type of support alongside access to everyday savings through a discount portal could make a significant difference for some families facing economic difficulty.  



Additionally, for families where grandparents take full caring responsibility for children, retirement planning and pensions advice is most important, especially where one or both grandparents is approaching retirement. Older couples caring for children might benefit from supplementary savings schemes and retail discounts to cope with and prepare for additional demands on finances, so they can avoid depleting their pension or retirement fund. 



Make space for families with additional needs 



One of the last remaining taboos in society is around those with additional needs. With numerous high-profile campaigns in recent years, attitudes to parenting neurodiverse, disabled, or gender dysphoric children have evolved rapidly in a short space of time. Many employers have altered their working practices and policies to allow more flexibility in this space, whilst placing greater emphasis on the extension of healthcare provisions such as PMI (Private Medical Insurance), Health Cash Plans and Second Opinion Services to support the wellbeing needs of employees’ families.  



For employees who are themselves facing gender dysphoria, or parenting children who are, services such as an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) could enable them to access counselling or advice, whilst more tailored support can be provided through PMI or reproductive health benefits, which increasingly include gender dysphoria within their scope. 



Although attitudes to neurodiversity and disability as a whole are slowly changing, representation of neurodiverse or disabled adults within the workplace is still relatively low. There is also a lack of recognition of the fact that adults with neurodiversity or disability also make up a percentage of the parent population.



It’s clear that employers’ attitudes to family benefits are evolving as a result of societal change, but there are still gaps which leave some families unsupported. The focus on DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) as a tool for ensuring the wellbeing and engagement of employees will only become more prominent in the coming years, as it becomes an essential element of any organisation’s recruitment and retention programme.


A safe space

Finally, employees facing mental health issues need a safe space where they can discuss their concerns. For some this could be a colleague, and for others they may prefer to speak with somebody away from the workplace. Ensure management are trained to effectively handle these situations, especially with knowledge of the various support channels available in the workplace. Services like EAP’s have a traditionally poor take up rate, but for most it may just be that they don’t know what help they can be, let alone how to contact them. Employees need to know these services are on an anonymous basis and can help on a wide range of topics from financial worries through to bereavement and a lot of things in between. Ensure employees know this and have these signposted in a clear a trusted manner.