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Working fathers frustrated by lack of flexible working

New research has found that it is not just mothers who are looking for flexible working solutions that fit in around family life. Georgina Probert finds out more.

While it has traditionally been the mother who takes maternity leave and is the primary carer, the way parents are raising for their children is changing. Campaigns such as Flex Appeal and ♯Workthatworks are empowering people to ask for more flexibility at work and encouraging companies to offer better options, from shared parental leave to working hours that fit in around family life – be it flexi-time, reduced hours or the ability to work from home.


This is a particularly important issue for globally mobile families, who put their children’s welfare and education high on their list of priorities when deciding on whether to take a domestic or international assignment.


It is often assumed that the mother is the parent most affected when going back to work after having children, but the results of a new survey have found that many men feel frustrated in their jobs and discriminated against at work.


Mental health concerns for working parents


Results of the annual survey by workingdads.co.uk and workingmums.co.uk show that men come up against the same issues that have dogged women’s careers for years. And the evidence suggests men’s mental health is suffering as a result.


One in four dads said they’d had time off work due to mental illness, with a third of those citing the stress of balancing work and home life. Around half of working dads said their career had stalled since they became a father. Almost 70 per cent admitted they feel stuck in their current role because they fear they wouldn’t be able to find another job with the amount of flexibility they need.


That’s hardly surprising given the survey found that two in five men who applied for a flexible working arrangement were turned down and a quarter felt their line manager did not understand the pressures of juggling work with family life. One in 10 said they’d quit their job after having a flexible working request turned down. One in five of those with a flexible working arrangement felt discriminated against by managers and co-workers.


James Millar, editor of workingdads.co.uk and author of the book Dads Don’t Babysit, says, “These results show thousands of dads are suffering and frustrated at work. Yet the answer seems very simple. If more employers embrace flexible working it would improve the lives of all parents by giving the option to find the right balance between work and life.


“More parents are researching what family support is available at the application stage when looking for work. And a growing proportion will change job in search of the right working conditions. Employers who want to attract and retain the best talent must offer flexible working if they want to thrive in the workplace of the future.”


Only 36 per cent of dads have work flexibility


The survey of nearly 3,000 parents from across the UK showed most fathers are working dads; 46 per cent of respondents work full time and a further 36 per cent said they work full time with some flexibility built-in.


For mothers, the most common pattern was working part-time. However, men want more flex. Around half said they don’t have enough flexibility in their current role; 42 per cent cited more flexibility in their workplace as the single thing that would boost their career development.


A four-day week was seen as a potential game-changer. Nine out of 10 dads said a four-day week would help them to balance work and family life better. The same proportion of mums agreed.


Younger parents rate job flexibility highly


The results of the survey also showed younger parents taking more interest in what employers offer families before they apply for or accept a job. Around a third said they researched flexible working before applying for their current job and a similar proportion said they’d done the same before accepting their current role; 27 per cent asked about flexible working at interview. Remarkably, those figures almost exactly match the figures for mums doing the same.


While one in 10 men said they’d changed job because an employer had refused flexible working, for women the figure was much higher at 45 per cent. And parental leave remains a big point of differentiation. While most mums took between 7-10 months of leave after having a baby, nearly a quarter of men didn’t even take the two weeks off they’re entitled to by law.


Gillian Nissim, the founder of workingmums.co.uk and workingdads.co.uk, says, “Our survey shows how significant flexible working is becoming in job searches. The employers we work with recognise this and have been looking at ways to challenge existing working patterns in order to attract and retain the best talent. As skills shortages become larger in many sectors, employers should take note of the demand for flexible working and the push for greater flexibility, taking into account all the many forms it can come in.”