Parents Don’t Often Have the Work Flexibility They Need, UK Study Says

Despite the fact that every employee in the UK legally has a right to request flexible hours.
ByNehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
December 26, 2019
dad embracing his baby on the floor
Image: iStock

Being a working parent is hard for several reasons. Whether you’ve found yourself crying at your desk because you miss baby or have had to leave work early because your toddler wouldn’t stop throwing a tantrum at daycare, any working parent can tell you balancing work and life is incredibly difficult. Usually, the assumption is that women get the worst of it, as they’re the ones who go through the actual giving birth and then breastfeeding (or formula feeding) journey. But, now, a new study is finding that the motherhood penalty may actually affect both moms and dads.

The motherhood penalty is when working moms usually earn lower wages and poorer evaluations as compared to women who don’t have children. A study conducted in the UK by the Modern Families Index this year found that dads who choose to stay home with their kids also suffer in the workplace. Modern Families Index is a comprehensive study on working parents and how they balance work and family that’s been conducted in the UK since 2012.

This year’s study surveyed 2,750 working parents and caregivers that had at least one dependent child aged 13 years or younger who lived with them part- or full-time. It found that only 25 percent of respondents felt like they had the right balance between work, family and income.

When it came to finances, only 24 percent of respondents felt their financial situation had improved over the past three years, while 49 percent felt it had become harder financially to raise a family. The number jumped to 69 percent for single parents. Full-time and part-time work also played a role, as 56 percent of respondents with a partner who worked part-time felt it was difficult, financially, to raise a family. According to the study, many parents felt having both people work full-time was the model that best eased financial strain around raising a family.

In terms of work flexibility, 86 percent of working parents in the study wanted it, but only 49 percent of parents say they had it. Two out of five parents stated work flexibility wasn’t compatible with their job and over one third (37 percent) of respondents felt that work flexibility wasn’t available where they worked—even though all employees in the UK legally have a Right to Request flexible working hours. Plus, 9 percent of parents said their manager didn’t support work flexibility.

When it came to feeling in control, fathers were 38 percent more likely to say they had some control over their start and finish time, as opposed to mothers, who were 67 percent more likely to say they had no control in their working hours. Plus, many parents said they continued to work even after leaving their workplace. While 44 percent said they dip into work, such as checking email, 73 percent said they felt they had to do it to either keep on top of their job (41 percent) or keep their manager happy (32 percent).

While the study was conducted in the UK, a lot of its findings transcend borders, as the sentiments can be applicable to working parents all over. But, of course, when it comes to balancing work and being a parent, it’s more than a numbers game. Often, finding work flexibility involves open and honest communication with your manager and your colleagues. At the end of the day, remember to go easy on yourself because, while it’s hard to balance working and being a parent, you’re doing the absolute best you can.


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