Employers still not doing enough to support working parents

Working Families and Bright Horizons have launched a new report which focuses on flexible working and the reality of flexible jobs from the perspective of working parents in the UK. According to the report, the experience of parents shows that flexible working is widespread, although patchy in some sectors and for some workers. It is beneficial in helping parents get a better work life fit, although it is not a panacea. Issues around job design, workloads and organisational culture undermine some of the benefits of flexibility, and proper management of flexibility to ensure it works is, for many parents, missing.

The Working Families Index report for 2019 claims that part-time work negatively impacts promotion and affects more mothers than fathers – for every man in the Index working part time, there were 10 women. The intersection of hours and pay is also well documented, with the part-time pay gap widening to 30 per cent by the time a child is 13. When organisations value presenteeism, reduced-hours workers are at a disadvantage. Too often, being visible and working late are still the best way to get on at work.

The Modern Families Index is an annual study exploring how working families combine work and family life. It looks at how parents are experiencing life outside of work through the lens of their employment and asks parents what needs to change for them to better manage the demands of home and work. In 2019, the study was based on a survey of 2,750 working parents with children under 13. The sample is drawn equally from across 11 UK regions and nations to help achieve a balanced picture of working arrangements, types of employment and income.

The report sets out a number of ways employers might better support working parents

  • Immediate: Challenge assumptions that reduced hours means reduced commitment. Start tracking performance appraisals to ensure that flexible workers, and in particular part-time workers, are not penalised by a workplace culture that values long hours and presenteeism
  • Medium term: Assess the career opportunities for part-time workers. Are there clear routes of progression to senior levels for staff that work part-time? Demonstrate it is possible to truly progress whilst working part-time
  • Long term: Develop strategies to ensure men understand the part-time and flexible working options open to them and encourage them to use them.


Employers must embrace flexible working

The Index claims that flexible working is an important recruitment and retention tool with both mothers and fathers reporting that they would stay in their jobs because of the flexibility they had. Parents said that flexibility is also a great tool for boosting employee happiness (68 per cent), effort (51 per cent) and performance (55 per cent).

However, flexibility can also act as a trap, confining parents to jobs because they are unable to find new roles that will allow flexibility. In some cases, parents are downgrading to find the flexibility they want. Employers must recognise that flexible working can only succeed where human-sized jobs are the norm and where work-life balance is promoted.