Let's End The Zero Sum Game For Parents At Work

16/01/2017 13:30

We've heard a lot about 'just about managing' families in recent months, but what's it really like to be a working family in 2017? Together with Bright Horizons, we surveyed 2,750 families across the UK to find out how families are balancing work and care.

In the time that we have been running this survey we have seen changes in the ways that families are organising themselves, with a real shift towards fathers and mothers both sharing care. Younger fathers especially are playing an active role - more of them are at the school gates than ever before.

Has the workplace followed suit in making changes?

All employees who have been in their job for 26 weeks have the right to request flexible working, whether they are parents or not, helping to make different working patterns mainstream. But we found that traditional, gendered attitudes are proving difficult to shift - twice as many fathers as mothers believe flexible workers are viewed as less committed to their job and more than twice the number of fathers believe working flexibly will have a negative impact on their career. Presenteeism seems to be alive and well in 2017.

Unsurprisingly this 'flexibility gap'; between what working parents want, and are entitled to ask for, and the culture and attitudes they come up against in the workplace breeds negativity. Overall more than a third of parents told us they felt resentful towards their employer about their work life balance. Nearly half of fathers have lied or bent the truth at work about their family responsibilities.

This clash has the potential to damage parents' career and earning prospects for the long term. Eight out of ten mothers and seven out of ten fathers told us they would assess their childcare needs before taking a new job or promotion. So we are in a position where both sexes now feel they might have to downgrade their careers in order to care for their families. Are we at risk of creating a fatherhood penalty, alongside the persistent motherhood penalty?

Only one in five families told us they've got the right balance between time and money. The recent findings from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation around the steep rise in families in in-work poverty needs urgent redress - half of the parents in our survey said it has become financially more difficult to raise a family over the last two years.

But we mustn't forget about the impact of time poverty too. Seven out of ten parents work at home in the evenings and at weekends and some parents are putting in an extra five weeks a year in unpaid overtime, effectively wiping out their whole annual leave allowance. We know that work-related stress erodes family life which, in turn, spills back over into workplace stress.

And why is this happening? The number one reason is burgeoning workloads. This is compounded by unrealistic expectations: half of parents aren't comfortable raising the issue of their hours or their workload with their employer.

Too often time and money feel like a zero sum game for families. We need sensibly designed jobs that fit in the hours allocated to them, and to recognise that making people work ever harder isn't going to solve the UK's productivity problem. In fact, all the evidence suggests that the opposite will happen.

Read the Modern Families Index 2017

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