It is that time of year again, when Working Families and Bright Horizons publish their annual study of how UK working parents are managing their parent/professional balance.
It was the topic of discussion at our team meeting this week, as we debated the extent to which we are seeing the issues raised resonating in our own coaching work with parents and what we can do about it. Studies like this can really help us to understand what the average working parent in the UK is facing – however the conclusion we reached in our team meeting was that unless leaders in organisations fully grasp the daily challenges, change will not be instigated.
So, here are our top 3 messages which need to be escalated to make a difference:
- Pressure of unrealistic workloads coupled with financial strain is too much for long-term sustainability
- Working flexibly is an amazing retention tool – but should not rule out progression and development
- Strong leadership skills make the biggest difference
We are all seeing and feeling more and more of this – shrinking headcounts but increasing workloads. Many teams are at breaking point – formal maternity cover is often not sourced and instead existing team members taking up the extra workload; objectives are not being revisited for part-time hours; and perhaps the most damaging of all – personal expectations and fear of not being seen to be working – is at an all-time high. The Index found that 60% of all parents had to work extra hours to deal with their workload, and 72% for more senior roles: ‘jobs are simply too big.’
The Modern Families Index highlighted that 65% of mothers agreed with the statement ‘I will stay in my job because I won’t be able to get the flexibility I have now elsewhere’ – this is in line with our experience that the majority of working parents (in particular those with young children) favour flexibility over promotion. However, this can only work in the short-term, and the key is to ensure there are always options for progression and development. P&P’s dad’s facilitator, David Willans, says ‘My experience is that millennials in particular are favouring opportunities for experience and development over the traditional promotional options.’
It has been said that People don’t leave their organisations; they leave their managers. P&P’s coach, Mythily Bhageerutty says:
‘I think it’s key behaviours that make a difference, not focus on policy. I’ve noticed a strong manager will flex the rules to make sure their team is cared for, and some places have the most ‘family friendly polices’ where the worst discrimination takes place - either the manager has unfair expectations or the employee imposes unfair expectations on themselves.’
Leadership skills, particularly in the area of leading a flexible team, need to be stronger than ever. ‘Leading by example’ is a phrase which everyone talks about but it is absolutely not consistently happening. Are leaders telling their teams they can leave at 5pm and switch off their phones, whilst at the same time working until late at night and emailing on a Saturday? The impact of day-to-day behaviour creates the team culture.
‘Treating individuals as individuals’ is also a crucial leadership skill. The Index highlighted the impact of the ‘technology creep’ – the blurring of work/home boundaries. What was most striking is that some employees like the flexibility that checking emails when kids are in bed affords them – but some feel more stressed by it. Some returning parents hit the ground running on day one of return, seeking immediate opportunities for advancement – and many more need a few months to adjust.
Sarah-Jane Butler, founder of Parental Choice and our partner in childcare for working parents attended the Working Families discussion of the findings and summarised:
"Flexible working should be available to all, but making flexible working really work is dependent on a supportive workplace culture and in particular, supporting line managers so that flexible working is actually genuine. Coaching and childcare support is part of what employers can provide to achieve that goal."
So how are we helping the parents?
Whilst leadership messages are escalated, we continue to coach individual parents to ensure their boundaries are strong and that they don’t lose sight of the importance of the mental and physical wellbeing. 32% millennial parents (the worst affected) reported they felt their wellbeing was poor most of all of the time. In addition, our partners Parental Choice are working hard on the Index recommendation that ‘employers should consider how to support their parents with childcare.’
For the full and summary reports click here. Our thanks go to both Working Families and Bright Horizons for producing this report.