Employers needs to do more to support working families

Tackling unsupportive workplace cultures is crucial in helping parents achieve a better work life balance, according to a new study from lobby groups Working Families and Bright Horizons. The 2018 Modern Families Index: how employers can support the UK’s working families, published by work life balance charity Working Families and Bright Horizons, claims to expose the limitations of policies like flexible working, whilst unsupportive workplace cultures remain in place.  Many parents feel compelled to work far beyond their contracted hours to meet managers’ expectations and to progress in their careers, according to the report. When parents were asked how they felt about their employer in terms of work-life balance, over a third (34 percent) of parents said they felt resentful, with more fathers than mothers agreeing (37 percent vs. 32 percent). Millennials were the most resentful; 46 percent of millennial fathers felt resentful, the highest proportion of any group of parents.

Working parents are taking decisive action. To tackle the trade-off between work and family commitments, parents have stalled their careers, refused a new job or turned down a promotion [4]. This attempt to rebalance is most prevalent in younger parents with 41 percent of millennial parents intending to downshift into a less stressful job, and 36 percent willing to take a pay cut to work fewer hours.

Is flexible working the solution? Whilst the Index found that flexible working affords parents the best means of gaining some control over their working lives, the majority (81 percent) of parents who said they worked flexibly still had to bring work home in the evenings or at weekends [5]. The study found that, for many parents, flexible working can’t deliver work-life balance if they are battling an unrealistic workload. It must be accompanied by better job design, effective organisation and management and most importantly by a culture that truly supports balance.

It found working parents understand this. When asked what employers should do to ensure a good work life balance, the most popular option was ‘make efforts to change the company culture so work-life balance is more acceptable’ (37 percent, which equates to nearly two in five working parents). The next most popular choice was ‘put more policies in place to help balance work and home’ (35 percent). The third most popular was ‘encourage people to use existing policies to help their work life balance’ (28 percent).

Sarah Jackson OBE, Chief Executive of Working Families, said: “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. Parents, particularly millennial parents, are looking for human-sized jobs and supportive workplace cultures that genuinely allow them to combine work and family. Employers whose approach to organising work and underlying workplace culture hasn’t caught up with their family friendly policies may find that, for parents, they aren’t an employer of choice. Tackling workplace culture – for so long the elephant in the room – is a vital to future proofing businesses, unlocking working parents’ potential, tackling the gender pay gap and harnessing the business benefits of family friendly and flexible working.”