Fathers would like more work-life balance

Posted by Rebecca Ireland on
Fathers would like more work-life balance
A report by Working Families, Modern Families Index, found that 47% of working fathers would like a less stressful job to better balance the demands of work and family life and over a third would be willing to take a pay cut to achieve a better balance. For young 'millennial' fathers, the figures increase to 53% wanting a less stressful job and almost half (48%) willing to take a pay cut for a better work/balance.

Rebecca Ireland, partner in the Employment law team at Blake Morgan commented, "These figures make interesting reading as they come less than two years after the introduction of Shared Parental Leave (SPL), a new type of flexible family leave which enables fathers and mothers to take leave at the same time or different times in the first year after a child's birth. However the findings indicate that SPL has barely scratched the surface in providing the right solution to enable fathers to spend more time with their children.

"Recent figures indicate that only 1.5% of eligible parents have taken SPL (the Government's original estimate was 2% to 8%). One of the main factors affecting whether or not to take SPL, for over 80% of those surveyed, was whether their employer paid more than the statutory payment of £139.58 a week. One potential conclusion is that, whilst fathers might be prepared to take a pay cut for a better work/life balance, the all-or-nothing nature of SPL – both financially and in terms of the time off, which must be taken in blocks of complete weeks – just doesn't cut it for new fathers. Although SPL is designed to allow discontinuous periods of leave, generally employers do not have to agree to this.

"Not surprisingly fathers may be looking for a balance that is longer-term to ensure they are involved in their children's lives as they grow up. It is also more palatable to accept a smaller reduction in pay to achieve this, rather than what is sometimes a cliff-edge drop onto the statutory rate, even for those on an average salary (which in April 2016 was £28,200 p.a.). Whilst 18 weeks of EU-derived 'parental leave' is available per child until the child is 18, this right is to unpaid leave, which many working fathers cannot afford.

"All employees with 26 weeks' service already have the right to request flexible working, and while an employer may refuse the request, it must be dealt with in a reasonable manner. As less than 10% of those surveyed had had a flexible working request refused, the logical conclusion is that for a number of reasons fathers are not making these requests.

"The Modern Families Index report shows that many parents felt unable to work flexibly because of their job, manager or the workplace culture. Men were twice as likely as women to think that flexible working would have a negative impact on their career. Additionally, many parents felt unable to discuss family and work-related issues with their employer (41% said they had lied to their employer about family life conflicting with work).

"The report suggests that many employers may still be working on the outdated presumption that men should be working full time and that they are not committed to their careers if they do not. Today's report shows employers should be focussing on the benefits that can come from employees being allowed to work the hours and in the way they want. The benefits are happier employees, who are more loyal, more motivated, perform better and have less absence – whether for sickness, stress, or other reasons. This in turn crucially reduces the turnover of good staff.  Moving away from a stereotypical view about women in the workplace (see our previous article here on the barriers women still face) must be accompanied by a corresponding change in attitudes towards the working patterns of men.

"As well as individuals and the Government playing their part, it's important that employers pay attention to the changing dynamics of families and changing views about what a good work/life balance looks like if they want to retain talented, healthy, and motivated staff. They should ensure the right message is sent from the top down and is backed up by the support and understanding of individual managers. Some managers need to be encouraged or even trained to accept a shift in workplace culture. HR can play a key role in getting across the message that it is not only women who want and need a good work/life balance." 

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Photograph of Rebecca Ireland

Rebecca is a highly experienced employment lawyer, having specialised in the area over 21 years ago, and is also a qualified mediator.

Rebecca Ireland
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