20 Jan 2017, Catherine Gaunt
The 2017 Modern Families Index, published by work-life balance charity Working Families and nursery group Bright Horizons, found that nearly half of working fathers are keen to work less in order to mitigate the effects of work on their family life, while many workplaces fail to support their aspirations for a better work-life fit.
The report captured a ‘snapshot’ into the lives of 2,750 working parents across the UK – with equal numbers among the sexes.
The study identified that family is the highest priority for fathers, with seven out of ten fathers (69 per cent) working flexibly to fulfil their caring responsibilities and considering their childcare needs before taking a new job or promotion.
However, it was also revealed that fathers now face the same barriers to their career progression that mothers have faced for decades, as a problematic workplace culture is often unsympathetic about childcare and family related responsibilities.
Tellingly, twice the number of fathers compared to mothers believe that flexible workers are viewed as less committed and that working flexibly will have a negative impact on their career.
Nearly one fifth of fathers reported that their employer expected no disruption to work because of childcare issues, while 44 per cent of fathers have ‘lied or bent the truth’ to their employer about their family responsibilities.
Nearly half of the respondents reported that work demands prevent them from taking enough exercise and eating healthily, with 30 per cent of parents saying they feel burnt out regularly – rising to 46 per cent among millennials.
More than half of respondents said that having a flexible and family-friendly employer would make them happier, more likely to stay with their employers, more motivated and more productive.
Denise Priest, director of Employer Partnerships at Bright Horizons, said, ‘It’s clear that the reconciliation of work and family life is now a priority for both mothers and fathers.
‘Leading employers are those that protect their employees from parental penalties and provide optimum work and care arrangements.’
Fathers said that their workload and stress levels were so high that they wanted to look for a role more combinable with their caring responsibilites: nearly half of working fathers (47 per cent) want to find a less stressful job to tackle the demands of work and family life better, whilst 38 per cent of fathers said they would accept a pay cut to achieve a better work-life balance.
The study suggests that this ‘increasingly complex reality’ risks creating a ‘fatherhood penalty’ – with more fathers compromising career-wise, following a career that is below their skill level and reducing their earnings.
The risk of a rise in fathers willing to pay a price for becoming a parent is even bigger among millennials, with 53 per cent of millennial fathers wanting to downshift to lower roles at work in order to reduce stress, and 48 per cent admitting they would take a pay cut for more time with their families.
Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, said, ‘To prevent a ‘fatherhood penalty’ emerging in the UK – and to help tackle the motherhood penalty - employers need to ensure that work is designed in a way that helps women and men find a good work-life fit. Making roles flexible by default and a healthy dose of realism when it comes to what can be done in the hours available are absolutely vital.
‘A game-changing first step would be Government creating a new, properly paid, extended period of paternity leave - sending clear signal that government recognises the aspirations of modern fathers and is serious about tackling the motherhood penalty that blights the working lives of so many women.’
The Women and Equalities Select Committee has launched an inquiry into fathers in the workplace amid concern that they may face discrimination around part-time or flexible working.
Maria Miller MP, chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, said that sharing caring responsibilities equally between mothers and fathers was the key to reducing the Gender Pay Gap, whilst admitting that the government’s flagship policy of Shared Parental Leave is likely to have little impact as it is predicted to have a take-up rate of just two to eight per cent.
‘We are now launching a new inquiry into fathers and the workplace to look at whether fathers are getting the support they need in the workplace to fulfil their caring responsibilities,’ Ms Miller said.
‘We look forward to hearing from Working Families and others as we conduct this inquiry.’