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Majority of working parents taking on unpaid overtime to keep up with workload

5 Feb 2019 By Lauren Rebecca Brown

Experts urge employers to consider flexible working as part of job design and say parents need more ‘human-sized jobs’

A majority of parents in the UK say they have to work unpaid overtime to deal with their workload, research has found, leading to calls for employers to tackle poor job design and offer more widespread flexible working.

A survey of 2,750 working parents found four out of five (78 per cent) were working beyond their contracted hours.

Of those, 60 per cent reported doing so was necessary to deal with their workload, while more than half (52 per cent) said working extra hours was part of their organisation’s culture. 

The findings were part of the 2019 Modern Families Index, an annual report compiled by the charity Working Families and childcare provider Bright Horizons Family Solutions. 



Julia Waltham, head of policy and public affairs at Working Families, said the results highlighted the need not only for more widely available flexible-working arrangements, but also for jobs to be more “human-sized”. 

“We don’t want to see employers just taking a full-time job which is already over-wieldy and stick the flexible working logo on it,” Waltham said. “We want them to not only advertise jobs flexibly but really rethink job design to tackle the problem of overworking. Parents need more human-sized jobs.”

The sentiment was echoed by Jane van Zyl, chief executive of Working Families, who added: “Employers need to start properly considering job design, evaluating what tasks the role requires and how these tasks can be completed in the allocated hours, before determining what kind of flexible working is possible.”

The results of the index suggested that although 86 per cent of working parents wanted to work flexibly, only 49 per cent of those surveyed did. 

In January, the CIPD launched a campaign urging employers to advertise jobs with the strapline “Happy to Talk Flexible Working”, after research revealed uptake of flexible working had not increased since 2010.

However, the Working Families report recommended employers consider flexible working as part of job design prior to advertising the role. It added this was “crucial to parents’ progression at work, their wellbeing and ability to spend time with family.” 

The report also recommended organisations develop a genuinely supportive workplace culture, focusing on the role of line managers who are “crucial to ensuring that parents have some genuine control over their work lives”.

“Employers should understand their workplace culture and what needs to change, and invest in support for line managers to ensure both fathers and mothers have access to genuine flexibility at work,” it said.

Claire McCartney, CIPD diversity and inclusion advisor, said: “This research highlights the need for employers to rethink their approach towards flexible working given the unmet demand for it.

“It also underscores the need for employers to think more creatively about flexible working. Other options, like job shares and compressed working hours, could support better career progression.” 

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