Working parents 'pushed to breaking point' by long hours culture

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New research suggests that parents are having to turn down promotions and stall their careers because the UK's long hours culture is putting a strain on family life.

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The 2018 Modern Families Index finds that parents are struggling to balance work and home life

Based on responses from 2,761 parents with children aged 13 and under, the 2018 Modern Families Index finds that in order to achieve a work-life balance:

  • nearly one in five parents have deliberately stalled their career;
  • more than one in ten have refused a new job;
  • one in ten have rejected a promotion.

According to the annual survey, which is published by the work life charity Working Families and nursery group Bright Horizons, the stress of the modern workplace is pushing parents to ‘breaking point’, with many having to work more than their contracted hours due to increasing workloads or because they feel it is expected of them.

It finds that of those parents contracted to work 35-36 hours per week, 40 per cent are putting in extra hours, of whom almost a third are outing in an extra seven hours – the equivalent to an extra working day each week.

Working Families and Bright Horizons claim the extra unpaid hours parents are putting in adds up to an average of £2,429 a year, which doubles to £4,858 for a family of two full-time working parents. 

Of those parents contracted to work 25 hours per week, a third (34 per cent) said that they are working extra hours, with 30 per cent of these putting in enough hours to qualify as full-time workers, doing around 35 hours per week. Over a year, the extra hours are worth an average of £1,927.

Most parents said they were either unable to work flexibly or if they did, it hadn't made much improvement to their work-life balance - one reason was that they don't have control over their start and finish times.

The index reveals the impact working extra hours is having on parents including feeling burnt out, missing out on seeing their children before they go to bed or helping them with their homework. More than a quarter said their work leads to arguments with their partner, while 38 per cent said it means they eat less healthily and for 42 per cent it limits the amount of exercise they do.

Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, said, 'For mothers and fathers, becoming a parent looks like a bad career move. Because the norm for people who want to get ahead is still to show up early, leave late and be on email out of hours – and parents have less time to give, putting them at a disadvantage.

'Parents are responding to the pressures on them by acting – deliberately stalling and downshifting their careers. With more than 11 million working parents in the UK, our economy can ill afford this "parenthood penalty". Our findings should be a wake-up call for UK PLCs. 

'We need a more widespread, genuinely flexible approach to work. But on its own, flexible working is not enough if all it delivers is the flexibility to manage a bumper workload. We need human-sized jobs that allow parents to fulfil their labour market potential and give families back the time together they need to thrive. This should be central to the Government’s forthcoming review of its right to request flexible working legislation.'

James Tugendhat, international managing director at Bright Horizons, added, 'The Index highlights that the UK’s long hours culture is putting severe strain on family life in the UK. Many parents are working unsustainable hours to make ends meet, returning home stressed and exhausted.

'There is great opportunity for families, employers and Government to work collaboratively and find successful solutions which enable working parents to thrive both at home and in the workplace. We have seen fantastic examples of leading employers already addressing this important issue, however for those yet to do so we urge them to take action sooner rather than later. Families must see these practices embedded at all levels to feel confident in creating a work-life balance that truly works for them.'

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