Every year Working Families and Bright Horizons publish the results of their extensive research into what life is really like for working parents in the UK. This year’s results are drawn from more than 3,000 responses. Here’s our take on the most worrying findings:
- The number of parents working flexibly has actually stalled
58% worked flexibly in 2015 versus 55% in 2020. Only 51% women think flexible working is a genuine option for them, and 46% for men. There is still demand for flexibility, however, with 77% of parents who don’t work flexibly, wanting to. However, despite the publicity and drive for more flexibility over the last few years and the information and pressure to make more jobs flexible – around half of parents are not seeing this as an option. Why not? Could part of the answer be linked to points 2 and 3 below?
- When parents are working flexibly, it’s not always making their lives easier…
48% working parents believe that working from home has actually increased their workload. Could it be that parents have tried to work flexibly but realised that expectations around what can be achieved are too high? Are these self-expectations? Or are they driven by managers, workload and organisational culture? It could also be down to poor job design or lack of headcount, and what we hear in our coaching work with working parents is that it is actually often a combination of all these factors. To work flexibly successfully actually takes a lot of organisation and communication, which isn’t always recognised – our blog here may help provide tips on this.
- Flexible working may actually be making some parents feel trapped…
The good news is that 78% of working parents who feel that their organisation cares about their work/life balance are happy in their current job, with no plans to change. So, efforts are not going unnoticed and unappreciated. However, getting managers to agree to a flexible working arrangement is such a priority for many working parents that by the time it has been signed off and trial periods have been successful, in the longer term, parents can feel almost grateful for the ‘opportunity’ that has been given to them. This in turn can make them feel they can’t leave their job or their team or organisation in fear of not being able to get the flexibility that they need in order to work. This feeling not only stifles individual career progression, creativity and potential; it also gives us the clear message that flexibility is still being viewed and treated as ‘something special, different and limiting….’
Working Families have identified these recommendations on the back of their research:
- Support fathers with 12 weeks of extra pay and leave
- Create family-friendly workplaces by being transparent about flexible working and parental leave policies
- Support working parents with childcare
- Publish carer’s policies
- Take a ‘lifecycle’ approach to flexibility – don’t just support those with young children because all parents need flexibility
- Improve job design for flexibility and work/family balance
- Better manage technology to support the work/family balance and encourage senior managers to role-model this
See our messages from last year’s Index results for comparative purposes.
Our thanks, as always, go to both Working Families and Bright Horizons for producing these findings.