Dads engaging with flexible working: Will this continue post-Covid 19? Part one

This week’s blog is written by Ian Dinwiddy, Founder and Director of Inspiring Dads. 

Why do “business” need dads to be engaging in flexible working?

Here are two important reasons to encourage more dads to be engaged in flexible working for the longer-term.

  1. The Gender Pay Gap

Normalising a culture of dads being active parents is a key part building a diverse workplace and closing the gender pay gap. When we deny the existence of life outside work, we tend to make people who have responsibilities as carers and parents feel excluded.

Equally, those people who don’t want to be tied to traditional hours or people who want to make it to choir practice once a week. Basically, people who don’t want to be or can’t be ‘all in’ for work.

When ‘All In’ becomes the only way to succeed, workplaces lack role models for any other way of doing things. Flexible working or Parental Leave become seen as female ‘perks’ related to childcare responsibilities even if technically they are open to men and women alike.

Flexible working for dads has a key role to play in creating diverse and inclusive workplaces, not just by changing the narrative within individual workplaces but also broader benefits of improving gender equality in the home. Increasing (or ‘maintaining’ post-Covid-19) dads’ overall engagement in caregiving and household work supports improved opportunities for women more generally, with mental and physical unpaid domestic labour being spread more evenly through society.

  1. Mental Health

DaddiLife found that “Three in four dads feel stress trying to juggle work and family life,  (while) nearly two-fifths say they feel ‘great stress’ getting work/life balance right.”

Too often I see or hear about businesses creating high-profile mental health support programmes and forget about the key role of early intervention.

A client of mine told me about how a partner in his global consulting firm was proud of the way the business helped him get him back on his feet after a mental health breakdown while seemingly lacking the self-awareness that it was his work pattern and stress that led to a mental health crisis in the first place.

On return to work post-Covid 19, preventing organisations falling back into a culture that assumes that men need to be “all in” for work is dangerous.  Rather, encouraging the continued use of flexible working practices over the last few months can be a way of improving work life balance and therefore better mental health for dads.

It can also have mental health benefits for mums too. Breaking the two speed system where dads are assumed to be present, dedicated and ‘committed’ to work while mums potentially battle the perception of being uncommitted while facing reduced hours and inequality at home is bound to reduce some of the exhausting pressure of trying to compete on an uneven playing field.

How are dads engaging with flexible working?

My experience is that pre-Covid 19, dads did engage with flexible working opportunities, but often in an informal way that reflects a common reality – that as a dad they are a supporting act in childcare requirements.

If you don’t have to leave work at 5pm on the dot to pick up children from nursery then the chances are you’ll think twice about the “message” it sends if you leave at that time.

How dads engage with flexible working really matters….

Access to informal flexible working is great for getting to signature events such as harvest festival or sports day and is also an important way of being confident that you can ‘help out’ your partner if need be.

It’s the sort of flexible working that is popular with men because it stays under the radar, gives you the chance to be a great parent, but at the same time you don’t risk appearing to be uncommitted (more on that later).

But informal flexible working does nothing to move the dial away from the belief that flexible working is a “perk” for mums.

The lockdown created a significant change in dads’ lives, many worked much more flexibly than ever before. With data showing that approx. 80% of women with dependent children are in work, it’s no surprise that the Office for National Statistics found that the number of hours men spent on childcare has increased by an average of 58 per cent since lockdown began in March.

Dads told me how much they enjoyed the opportunity to spend more quality time with their children, getting them to reflect on how they wanted to structure their working patterns in the future.

What do dads want?

These stats are all pre-Covid… but reflect a degree of unmet demand for dads for flexible working.

  • To be a ‘Present’ Father

GQ magazine’s 30th anniversary survey “State of Man” found that the #1 aspect of modern masculinity, identified by 66% of respondents was ‘Being a present father.’

Source – GQ State of Man

  • Good Work Life Balance Opportunities

While 11% of men have refused a new job and 10% have said no to a promotion because of a lack of good work life balanced opportunities.

Source – Working Families 2018

  • Flexible Working Opportunities

With the launch of in 2019, 600 Dads were surveyed and 73% were found to be considering searching for a flexible job and 16% are actively looking for one.

Part 2 of this article, due to be published in 2 weeks, will look at what may get in the way of flexible working going forward and what specific actions are recommended for HR professionals to take. 

Click here to find out more about Ian Dinwiddy.  

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