It’s 7pm on Tuesday evening. Your husband has just arrived home from work 20 minutes later than planned, the children are fed, bathed and bickering about bedtime stories and you’re heading out the door to do a food shop. Sainsbury’s is a few minutes away but it’s too expensive, you can’t afford that anymore, neither of you got a pay rise or bonus this year, childcare costs are crippling you, so to say you’re feeling the pinch would be an understatement.
So, you take the longer drive to a cheaper supermarket on the other side of town that you know will save you some precious pennies. Armed with your shopping list, meticulously planned with every meal you’ll cook for the next week – so not to waste anything – you enter, clutching your phone in hand, ready to calculate the cost of your shop as you peruse the aisles. It’s much less embarrassing to use those scanners as you shop, then no one knows you’re calculating the cost as you go along. But they don’t have those in the supermarket across town.
Unfortunately, fruit & veg is thin on the ground, due to the time of day. You spy a lonely looking bag of spinach and a bunch of bruised bananas which go in the trolley. Providing healthy, nutritious food for your young children is important to you, so naturally you’re disappointed the fact you had to work today sabotaged being able to buy all the vegetables needed for at least two of your planned meals this week.
45 minutes later and at least 5 minutes spent having to resist hot cross buns in favour of fishfingers and sandwich fillings, you’re loading shopping into the car and trying not to think about fact that Louise at work is allowed to work flexibly, meaning she must always be able to go food shopping during the day.
On the drive home an email that flashes up from your colleague is a reminder that you heard he earns more than you do, doing the same job. You gulp back the tear that threatens to escape, as much down to the sadness of not being able to afford a 4 pack of Speciality Hot Cross buns as it is that Paul earns at least £10k more than you do.
You walk through the door to find the children clambering over the sofas like two creatures from the Jungle Book and your husband resembling someone who has encountered a herd of buffalos and lost spectacularly.
Shopping unpacked you put the children to bed, check your emails and slump on the sofa. Time with your husband is a rarity, as is any time for yourself. You both go to bed, feeling miserable, deflated and desperate to step off the hamster wheel.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. According to the latest Modern Families index you’re amongst the 49% of families and 69% of single parents who are feeling the strain due to ‘the financial pressures of family life combined with a demanding work environment.’
Spinning all the plates, desperately trying to keep them all in the air, hoping that one won’t fall to the ground, shattering loudly is a way of life for many working parents. Childcare costs, an increase in the cost of living combined with companies unwilling to acknowledge the impact and value that flexible working can have on working parents is causing difficulties across many households in the UK.
The Modern Families report also stated that ‘just under half (49 per cent) of parents worked flexibly: 47 per cent of fathers and 51 per cent mothers. Younger parents were slightly more likely to work flexibly than older colleagues, and self-employed parents were especially likely to work flexibly (86 per cent).’ Would flexible working pave the way for a slightly better balance, thus giving parents the ability to deal with financial strains and childcare challenges better?
Anna Whitehouse, founder of Flex Appeal and pioneer for flexible working for parents says “‘Businesses have to look at what people are doing, not where they’re sitting. If everyone got on-board, the UK economy would be £156m richer per year – the evidence shows that if you release the shackles, people actually do more. It’s about changing the culture and showing that flexible working isn’t a nice-to-have, a bonus or something just for mums.” Anna is right, and whilst flexible working won’t answer all the problems for families with financial struggles in the UK, it’s a step in the right direction for addressing the needs, wellbeing and balance of parents.
Fighting the war for working parents is a long journey and a battle that’s far from won, but perhaps businesses should view flexible working as a way to future proof their organisations. We have a long way to go, and resistance to change will not get us there.
By Michelle Gyimah
Michelle’s unique understanding of employee engagement and workplace challenges enables her to embed practical application into her consultancy.
In addition to working with employers, Michelle is also a passionate advocate for enabling women to get equal pay and close their pay gaps. She does this by supporting their equal pay investigations and teaching women workplace negotiation skills.
Michelle has over 10 years’ experience of working at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and holds a Masters in Human Rights from The University of Manchester.
Michelle is a regular contributor to numerous national business magazines, international conferences and lives in Manchester, UK.