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Flexible working policies alone not enough to support parents

23 May 2018 By Miriam Kenner

Report finds part-time mums and dads frequently putting in extra hours

Flexible working policies alone are not sufficient to support parents who are looking for a better work-life balance, a report published today has discovered.

The Modern Families Index, conducted by charity Working Families with Bright Horizons, surveyed more than 2,700 UK working parents to find out what effect family-friendly policies were having on the workforce. The findings revealed that flexible working alone did not improve working parents’ quality of life and it needed to be partnered with better job design, effective management and a supportive culture. 

The study also found that the UK’s long-hours culture was damaging family life, with many working mothers and fathers feeling obliged to work longer hours to meet expectations, even if they worked flexibly. 

A third (34 per cent) on part-time 25-hour arrangements said they put in extra hours – and a third of those said they put in enough hours to be considered working full time. Forty per cent of full-time working parents did extra hours, and a third of those people were putting in the equivalent of an extra working day. 

Four out of five (81 per cent) parents who worked flexibly said they still had to work at home during the evenings or weekends to keep pace with their “unrealistic” workloads. 

A third (37 per cent) of survey respondents said they would like their employer to improve work-life balance at their organisation. 

“While work is badly organised and workplace cultures are unsupportive of work-life balance, the best policies aimed at supporting working parents won’t translate to a better lived experience,” said Sarah Jackson OBE, chief executive of Working Families.

Jackson added that organisations that failed to match their workplace culture to their family-friendly policies “may find that, for parents, they aren’t an employer of choice”. 

Denise Priest, Bright Horizons’ director of employer and strategic partnerships, said: “Employers that create and nurture an environment where it is not only acceptable but expected for individuals to make their needs known and to take up support where it is offered experience a true return on investment in terms of employee loyalty and performance.”

Poor work-life balance also lowers morale: a third (37 per cent) of fathers surveyed admitted that they resented their employer. Millennial fathers felt particularly hard done by, with almost half (46 per cent) agreeing. 

The index also found that almost one in five (17 per cent) parents had deliberately stalled their careers, 11 per cent had refused a new job and one in 10 had declined a promotion in their attempts to rebalance.

Meanwhile, in Deloitte and Timewise’s flexible working manifesto, published yesterday, employers were encouraged to think 'why not' when considering flexible working options.

A survey by the organisations of people who worked flexibly revealed that a third (30 per cent) had less external status and importance because of their working patterns.

The manifesto recommended that leaders provoke change, make flexible working gender neutral, design flexibility into jobs, influence managers’ attitudes and actions, offer tools to support flexible work and collect data to measure success.

It noted how barriers to successfully implementing flexible working included managerial attitudes and behaviours. Even when business leaders sought to accommodate employees’ working needs, a disconnect arose between leaders and daily working life.

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