Dads demand more flexible working
Not a week goes by without a report on flexible working. You'd think the evidence was pretty conclusive: employees want greater flexibility - by which they mean more control over how, when and possibly where they work. A lot of this demand comes from parents who make up a significant proportion of any workforce - whether currently or in the future. In the majority of families both parents are now working which puts huge time pressures on them in an age when full time working means much more than the 9-5. It is little wonder that many employers are struggling with mental health and retention issues as a result. It's not a recipe for a sustainable workforce strategy.
In the past flexible working has been seen very much as a favour for women. Many employers still see it as such, but more and more dads are feeling frustrated that they are missing out on family time due to long and inflexible hours. Workingmums.co.uk's annual survey shows 59% of mums say their partner doesn't work flexibly and only 4% say their partner works part time, while a separate survey of dads shows overwhelming demand for flexible working among men with 73% saying they are considering seeking it, but 72% fearing their employer's reaction if they do.
It's not only the dads who are dissatisfied, though. Many women who work flexibly, particularly those working part time, feel their careers have been put on hold.
Some 49% of working mums say flexible working has held them back in their career while 54% of part timers say they miss out on career progression opportunities. Yet there is a big demand for greater flexibility, particularly flexible hours, and 56% worry their flexible working will be taken away. Flexible working is not a nice to have; it's a basic necessity for working families.
There has been a lot of focus in the last year on the gender pay gap. A huge part of this is down to the lack of women in senior positions. Promotion often occurs around the time that women start families. More employers need to focus on ways to ensure women don't drop off the progression track as a result of working flexibly and much more needs to be done to make it easier for dads to share parenting duties more equally by enabling them to work flexibly.
Not addressing this issue is not an option. Social attitudes are shifting fast and employers need to keep up. A new book, Dads Don't Babysit, calls for dads to push for change in the workplace; to push through the resistance to them working flexibly or taking Shared Parental Leave [SPL].
The authors, David Freed and James Millar, believe employers looking to engage more with dads need to be careful about how they brand and promote events for parents so they are inclusive. They cite events about SPL that are organised by women’s networks, for instance. It is not surprising few men turn up, they say. Even events that specify parents may exclude men because the underlying assumption is that parents equal mums. They believe targeted dads event may be the bridge to more inclusive parenting events.
The book is symptomatic of a lot of the recent surveys around flexible working. Change is happening now. An ad hoc approach to flexible working - responding to requests as and when they occur - will not work. A more strategic approach is needed. There is a growing cadre of employers who are addressing this. They are in all sectors and finding out what they are doing, how they are unpicking processes and procedures from recruitment onwards, can provide useful ideas and food for thought on an issue which is not going away any time soon.
Mandy Garner is managing editor of workingmums.co.uk and workingwise.co.uk. workingmums.co.uk is a jobs and news site on issues relating to gender equality and family friendly working and workingwise.co.uk focuses on over 50s.