Dads want greater flexibility at work

Jan 13 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

British working culture prevents fathers from being more involved with their children's lives, even though they want to be, according to a new report published by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).

The report, Working Fathers: Earning and Caring, carried out by Margaret O'Brien and Ian Shemilt of the University of East Anglia, found that British dads do approximately a third of all childcare but don't get the flexibility they need at work to help them do more.

Both fathers and mothers are keen on better work-life balance. However, fathers have lower expectations of family-friendly working practices being available to them personally and are less likely to take advantage of those that are in place.

Nearly two fifths of fathers usually work more than 48 hours a week and around one in eight usually work 60 hours or more. Satisfaction with work-life balance is much lower for these fathers than for those working more reasonable hours. The time fathers spend with their children accounts for approximately one third of the total parental childcare time, but the long hours culture prevents a more equal sharing of caring.

"Many dads are spending far more time with their family than their own fathers did,” said Julie Mellor, Chair of the EOC, “but it is difficult for them to do more while they work such long hours. The knock-on effect is that women often have little choice about how they balance work and family.

"However, dads are already doing around a third of all childcare and the vast majority of all parents believe everyone should be able to balance their work and home lives in the way that they want. The new right for parents of young children to ask to change their working hours seems certain to be welcomed by many men as well as women."

The report draws attention to the higher involvement of fathers whose partners work full-time, or whose partners have a high income, which suggests that cash v. care negotiation happens in many families.

Evidence from other recent EOC research reinforces this, showing that because women earn less, couples often decide it makes economic sense for the woman to give up work or cut her hours so she can care for the children; and so women continue to earn less and the caring role is still seen primarily as a female one.

Julie Mellor added: "Employers can help break this cycle by making sure they promote their family-friendly working practices to all their employees, as well as reviewing their pay systems to ensure they are paying women fairly. This is in employers' interests and the interests of the economy as a whole, as it can boost morale and productivity."

From 6 April 2003 employers will have a legal duty to consider requests for flexible working from employees who are parents of young children. To be eligible to make a request, employees must have parental responsibility for a child aged under six or for a disabled child aged under 18.

This research also cites the experience of the Nordic countries where governments have found that fathers are more likely to take parental leave under four key conditions: where it includes a quota designated for fathers, where there is high wage compensation, where there is flexibility in the way leave can be used by couples and where male provision is publicised through government awareness campaigns.

Other findings
In the mid 1970s fathers of children under 5 devoted less than quarter of an hour per day to child-related activities, compared to two hours a day by the late 1990s.

Eighty per cent of fathers and 85 per cent of mothers, compared to 62 per cent of employers, agreed everyone should be able to balance their work and home lives in the way they want. However, fathers' expectations about whether they would have access to specific work-life balance practices were lower than mothers'.

Fathers did have higher expectations about being able to take paternity leave or have time off if a child was sick – expectations not matched by the actual availability of leave. Fathers' use of flexible working is lower than mothers' in every category except shift work and working from home.

Eight out of ten employers felt work-life balance practices fostered good employment relations and two thirds agreed that they improved staff motivation, commitment, retention and turnover.

But despite this, more than half of employers did not offer any form of flexible working.

Less than 10 per cent of fathers had access to a crèche, subsidised nursery place or financial help with childcare. More than half had access to workplace counselling or stress management advice.

61 per cent of fathers with a child under the age of one had taken paternity leave in the last year. Fathers in non-manual occupations were more likely to take paternity leave.

Satisfaction with work-life balance dropped to 60 per cent for men working more than 48 hours a week and to 50 per cent for those working more than 60 hours a week.

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