Working parents grapple with long-hours culture

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Working parents are penalised for working part-time in jobs that force them to work extra hours, with just under half blaming work for restricting their ability to read or play with their children.


Many more parents want to work part-time and flexibly than are able to

The findings come from the Modern Families Index 2019, a joint annual report from the charity Working Families and Bright Horizons, which also finds that while nearly 9 in 10 parents want to work flexibly, for more than a third of parents surveyed, flexible working isn’t available to them. This is despite all employees having the statutory right to request flexible working.

It reveals that parents who work part-time, most of whom are women, have just a 21 per cent chance of being promoted in the next three years, compared to 45 per cent for their full-time counterparts. (Of the part-time respondents to the Index 92 per cent were mothers and 8 per cent were fathers.)

More parents who used formal childcare said that they had received a promotion in the last three years (69 per cent) than those who used informal childcare (56 per cent).

Having a child under two meant it was less likely that parents received a promotion, which applied almost equally to mothers and fathers.

More than 2,750 working parents and carers took part in the survey who have at least one child 13 or younger who lives with them most of the time.

The report said, ‘Given the evidence that formal childcare supports parents’ progression at work, both the Government and employers should consider the benefits of investing in a childcare system that ensures every parent is better off working, including options to bridge the childcare gap between the end of maternity and parental leave in the first year of life.’


In 2019 the Government is due to evaluate both the Right to Request flexible working and Shared Parental Leave.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • The Right to Request flexible working should be strengthened. Making it a day one right would support the cultural shift towards normalising flexible working across workplaces, including among less senior staff.
  • Bringing the right to shared parental leave in line with maternity leave and extending the scheme to self-employed parents would allow more parents to benefit. Employers that can afford to do so should go beyond the minimum pay for SPL.
  • Employers should consider how to support their parents with childcare - workplace nurseries, for example, provide families with high-quality, dependable care and help create a culture in which parents feel confident taking up support where it is offered.

Jane van Zyl, chief executive of Working Families, said, ‘This year’s Index shows the sad reality that very often, part-timers aren’t able to progress at work because a higher value is placed on full time work—and there is simply more of it. Compounding this problem is the fact that parents are often saddled with jobs that require them to work well beyond their contracted hours. 

‘Both the Government and employers have the opportunity to break down the barriers to progression for part-time workers, and to ensure that parents aren’t under pressure to work extra hours.'

She welcomed the Government’s consultation of its proposal to create a duty for employers to consider whether a job can be flexibly and to make that clear when advertising new roles.

'This will challenge the persistent notion that full-time working is the optimum pattern, changing how part-timers are viewed in the workplace. 

‘At the same time, employers need to start properly considering job design - evaluating what tasks the role requires and how these tasks can be completed in the allocated hours -before determining what kind of flexible working is possible.’

James Tugendhat, managing director, International at Bright Horizons, said, ‘The Index shows that parents trying to juggle work and family commitments are getting a raw deal. The UK’s part-time stigma and long-hours culture renders them exhausted, stressed and unable to climb the career ladder. This applies especially to mothers.

‘Encouraging pledges on flexible working have been made but the approach to date, however well intentioned, hasn’t lightened the load for working parents. Addressing this would have the potential to narrow the gender wage gap significantly. Companies’ fortunes are based on their ability to attract and retain the best and brightest employees. It’s time we wave goodbye to an office based 9-5 culture and embrace a more human-sized, agile approach.’

  • A summary of the report can be downloaded here 
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