Champion flexible working to improve parents’ work-life balance

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Support for flexible working should be visible from leadership level to help create “human-sized” jobs that enable a greater work-life balance for parents, a report has urged.

According to the The 2019 Modern Families Index: Employer Report, published by campaign group Modern Families and nursery chain Bright Horizons, flexible working will only bring benefits for working parents if it is complemented by a supportive culture and is managed correctly.

For example, staff might receive less satisfaction from working flexibly or part time if pressure of their jobs “limit” the benefits of being able to work flexibly – they might check emails outside of working hours, for instance. Similarly, flexible working will not deliver in organisations where culture “emphasises the value of long hours and presenteeism”.

The report challenges employers to make sure that flexibility is visible at the top of the organisation and staff are aware of how these leaders progressed into senior roles while working flexible hours and caring for their children.

James Tugendhat, managing director, International at Bright Horizons, said: “Employers must ensure that part time and flexible working is embraced in a gender-neutral way. We need the workplace to keep pace with parents’ ever-greater need for agile working patterns.

“With communications technology enabling anywhere, any-time work, sticking to rigid schedules and locations is no longer necessary and could be counter-productive. It is time to dethrone the full-time model and recognise that work doesn’t need to fit into a five-day-a-week package.”

The report highlights a number of priorities for employers, including:

  • ensuring their flexible working policies are up to date, available and transparent, and that all employees know that they have this right
  • considering whether working practices supportive of work-life balance
  • looking at how flexible working arrangements are monitored and managed and whether it is delivering a better work-life balance
  • understanding the culture of the organisation and whether it is set up to meet changing expectations of parents: the Index shows that younger parents have different values when it comes to parenting and balancing work and family.

Earlier this year the organisations published their Modern Families Index 2019, which suggested that properly paid, standalone period of extended paternity leave is likely to see better take-up among men than shared parental leave.

Although simple reforms to SPL – such as making it a day-one right and extending it to self-employed parents – should improve take-up, bolstering paternity leave policies would make more of a difference and help tackle inequalities like the gender pay gap, the bodies suggested.

The index revealed that 41% of mothers and 5% of fathers work part time. Part-time workers were half as likely to have received a promotion in the past three years than full time staff, while on average mothers (both full time and part time) had not been promoted for six-and-a-half years, compared with four-and-a-half years among fathers.

Two-thirds of part time workers said they found it increasingly difficult to raise a family, while only a quarter of the 2,750 working parents and carers that took part in the study reported finding the right balance between work, family life and income.

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