Dads ‘silently struggling’ with work-life balance

28 Jul 2017 By Emily Burt

Men suffer the same stresses as women but feel less able to discuss them, global study finds

A global study of 250,000 participants has found that men are struggling to juggle work and family life just as much as women, but feel less able to talk about the issue.

The research, by the University of Georgia, revealed that the majority of working fathers are plagued by the stress of balancing their work and home lives, but fear they will suffer negative career repercussions or threats to their masculinity if they try to discuss it.

Lead researcher Kristen Shockley described the findings as “contrary” to the public perception of women struggling more with balancing their professional and personal lives. "I do think it's harming men, who are silently struggling and are experiencing the same amount of work-family conflict, but no one is acknowledging it," she said.

Part of the problem could be that it is considered more socially acceptable for women to discuss work-life balances, the study suggested, because they are still typically perceived to be children’s primary caregivers. “Women hear that other women are struggling with this issue, so they expect they will experience greater work-family conflict. There also is some socialisation for it being OK for women to talk more about it than men," Shockley said. 

According to Office for National Statistics figures covering January to March 2017, 92.6 per cent of married or cohabiting men are employed, compared to 74.7 per cent of married or cohabiting women. However, the gap narrows for those without dependent children, at 72.8 per cent for men compared with 70.8 per cent for women.

“If you are a primary caregiver you can’t take on more work without being more flexible in your working life but, despite evidence of more men taking these roles on, the numbers show there are still more women talking about flexibility, because they are still delivering the bulk of the care,” Ben Black, director of My Family Care, told People Management. “Some men are starting to work flexibly, but at this stage doing so still means your career takes a back step, something women have been dealing with for far longer.”

CIPD diversity and inclusion adviser Dr Jill Miller said employers need to think more innovatively about job design. “Flexible working has traditionally been associated with women and childcare responsibilities and, although the extension of the right to request flexible working has moved beyond parents and carers, attitudes are taking longer to catch up,” she said. “Organisations need to work hard to ensure that all staff know how to request to work flexibly and that employers focus on outputs rather than time spent at desks.” 

Parental rights for working fathers made the legal spotlight last month, when a tribunal found that a male employee was discriminated against when his employer refused to let him take additional paternity leave at full pay, after his wife was diagnosed with postnatal depression. The ruling highlighted the greater role men are being encouraged to play in caring for their children, and noted that the “caring role [the employee] wanted to perform was not a role exclusive to the mother”.

However, research by First4lawyers published in June suggested that new fathers were being let down by parental leave provisions, with the UK lagging behind 28 countries in the allowances offered to new fathers.

“Organisations should be encouraging men to take time off when their children arrive, ensuring their careers don’t get compromised in the interim and, ultimately, we need to aim for a level playing field where both men and women can work flexibly,” Black said. “This will lead to all mothers and fathers pushing for better work-life balance opportunities.”

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