National Work Life Week: balancing the parental equation at work
Published: 12 Oct 2020
Han-Son Lee is the founder of DaddiLife – a parenting website for dads and a community of over 150,000 Millennial Dads.
This week is a chance for us to reflect on the type of work/life integration that best fits our lives and goals. I’ve written here before about how modern day fathers want a different type of work life – one that fits around their day to day parenting goals that have gone through a generational shift in recent times.
The effects of COVID-19 and lockdown have brought into sharp focus the pressure on working parents, who have been placed under enormous strain in trying to balance work, home-schooling and new ways of life.
This has already had unfortunate consequences for women returning to work, with as many as half of working mums saying childcare during COVID-19 has damaged their career (as cited below from Pregnant Then Screwed), while the impact on mental health across the whole family has been even more profound.
The effects are already starting to be seen:
- The Institute of Fiscal Studies found in April 2020 that working mothers have been able to do only one hour of uninterrupted paid work for every three hours done by men during lockdown.
- Pregnant Then Screwed surveyed over 3,000 working mums in May 2020 and found that more than three-quarters (78%) found it challenging to manage childcare and paid work during lockdown. As a result, 57% thought increased childcare responsibilities had negatively affected their career prospects or would harm them in future.
- Working Families surveyed over 1,000 parents and carers in June 2020 as part of their #flextheUK campaign, and found 61% of respondents said family life had become more stressful or much more stressful during lockdown. Almost half said they planned to make permanent changes to work more flexibly after lockdown.
- DaddiLife conducted research in June 2020 exclusively with millennial fathers and found that even though 76% of working fathers had been more involved in day-to-day parenting during lockdown, 60% had reported that their mental health had been negatively affected during lockdown and 25% were actively considering more flexibility post-lockdown.
It’s clear that for both mums and dads, the parental equation at work needs a significant shift if we’re going to get through these next few months and beyond.
So what should be the next areas of focus?
- Not slipping into constant working hours – even though there are fewer people in office spaces, doing a traditional commute pre and post a “9-to-5,” there is a danger of having more hours taken up by working at home. Working Families’ and Bright Horizons’ Modern Families Index 2020 found that nearly half of parents and carers (48%) think that being able to work from home has increased the hours they work. I hear from a lot of parents who have noticed how it’s fast becoming common practice to have early morning meetings before the official start of the work day, and meetings that carry on well past the end of the work day. COVID has been anything but ideal remote working, particularly when children aren’t in school / childcare either, so employers and employees alike need to be mindful of not slowly but surely actually working more hours than we should.
- Constant reflection is key – This one is a more personal learning, but an important one for me to share if it helps others. After my own son started creating Lego models of me working at a desk as—in his own words—“that’s all he saw me do,” it gave me the push needed to really question what ‘quality time’ I was spending with him. And whether I was truly present. The sad truth is that I wasn’t, but I’ve taken action to fix this. In fact, these last few months, I’ve found that we’ve had more family tent time (in the garden and farther away) than ever before and I’ve made a lot more time to truly reflect on what’s important. As our goals change, it’s important that we are reflecting on what balance is right for us and our loved ones.
- Workplace policy – There is still a lot of workplace policy that speaks to dads like they are a secondary parent. One that I hear of a lot is how some fathers are only allowed to go to two of the three antenatal appointments. I’m sure these sorts of policies have a business case around them, but from a human perspective it makes very little sense to me. Until we can start to regard dads as equal parents at work, we won’t be any closer to the thriving, modern-day families—or the gender equity—that so many of us are striving for.