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Modern Families Index is published today

Published: 27 Jan 2015

27 January 2015

The Modern Families Index is published by Working Families and Bright Horizons today

Survey reveals that family is the highest priority for parents and that young fathers are more involved with childcare

The Modern Families Index aims to capture an annual snapshot of how working families combine work and family life. Taking over 1000 working families across the UK, the Index asks parents to describe the arrangements that they use to navigate everyday working life with dependent children, and how they feel work and family life is shaped by this combination. It looks at the factors these families negotiate every day: work and working arrangements, and care for children. It also examines the effects of these arrangements on family life. The effects on parental health and stress are also explored, along with parents’ attitudes and satisfaction with their employer when viewed through the lens of work-life balance. There is no one size fits all pattern for family life: different families will have varying priorities and aspirations according to their circumstances. But however they configure their work and caring arrangements, families need the twin currencies of time and income to enjoy a reasonable quality of life, and the time away from work to do this. Where income is too low, or working time too long then this imbalance can result in a negative overspill into the home and into the workplace.

Getting it right for families, means getting things right for society. But does this mean developing a family-friendly economy or economy-friendly families? It is a balance between the two that is required, and this is evident from the families in the Modern Families Index.

The responsibility for a good work-life fit for families is not only the concern of parents. It is a joint one, between individuals, their employers and government too Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive of Working Families, said: “The study underlines the value to mothers and fathers of dependable childcare, which is often the hidden glue helping to hold busy family lives together. For mothers in particular, dependable childcare is crucial to advancing their careers. Workplace culture is also very important to working families, and we strongly encourage employers to work with the grain of family life, so that parents can give of their best at work and at home.” Key findings

  • Parents want dependable childcare, and would make sacrifices to get it. Women in particular are having to think carefully as they consider promotion opportunities because of childcare issues.
  • There is a clear role for employers to be more involved in the provision of childcare. Childcare breakdown is a significant issue, and has high work impacts in terms of disruption
  • Parents are putting in extra hours just to get the job done. This is a combination of work pressure, jobs growing too large to be done within ‘normal’ hours and workplace cultures that still value presenteeism and long hours. Fathers are putting in the longest hours.
  • Family is the highest priority for parents, whilst work is lower. Policy makers and employers should recognise this reality: working with the grain of parents’ values is likely to create happier, more effective employees. Practices like long hours and presenteeism, although believed to be productive, may have negative effects if they conflict with values about family life.
  • Fathers appear to be more involved. For example, young fathers are dropping off at school in greater numbers (and more frequently than mothers in the under 25 age group). However, fathers generally are more resentful towards their employers about their work and family balance, and this is more pronounced in younger fathers. Younger fathers are more involved with their children, and want to be even more involved but are finding workplace culture is out of sync with this. In addition:
  • Social structures are set up to recognise mothers. Although fathers are more visible at the school gate, mothers are still the first port of call when a school needs to call a parent.
  • The workplace expectation is that mothers are ‘on call’, not fathers. Both mothers and fathers agreed that it was easier (and more acceptable) for women to take time off work for family reasons.
  • Workplace stress is significant and not abating. It is likely that the results of workplace stress spill over negatively into family life, and also back into the workplace. Forty-one per cent of parents said that work life is becoming increasingly stressful.
  • Work is impinging on family life. This affects both the time that families can spend together, and partner relationships. Home is an essential ‘buffer’ against work, giving employees the chance to re-energise and remain mentally and physically healthy. If work demands eat into this buffer, then there will be negative effects within families and eventually within the workplace too.
  • Working time is affecting health. Work is eroding the time parents have to make healthy choices, such as having time to exercise or to cook properly. Public health policy is focussing on improving wellbeing and diet. Working arrangements need to be configured to support working families in leading healthy lifestyles, not working in ways that impinge on their time to live healthily.
  • Time off for family reasons and discussing family at work is increasingly acceptable for fathers, and more feel confident doing it. But discussing workload and putting boundaries upon work is something that fewer men are confident about.
  • There are mixed attitudes towards shared parental leave (SPL). Parents favour more equality in caring responsibilities, but there are also strong gendered beliefs about the importance of the role of the mother. There is potential for these beliefs to come into conflict with each other within families. The effects of this are difficult to predict, but might lead to families eschewing SPL in favour of more ‘traditional’ patterns of leave.
  • Two in five (39 per cent) of parents anticipate that they will become a carer in the next 10 years.

Read the full report here Modern Families Index Report 2015