Since they have traditionally shouldered the burden of caring responsibilities the quest for work-life balance has been seen as a women’s issue. Increasingly, however, as the expectations of younger fathers change, men are also facing challenges in balancing work and family life.
For earlier generations the transition to parenthood would result in men feeling more pressure to focus on their work and their primary role as breadwinner. Younger fathers, however, are keener to be involved with their children from the outset – often at the expense of their careers.
The charity Working Families, which has been supporting fathers for many years confirmed this shift in this year’s Modern Families Index. Their research found one in ten fathers has already compromised his career in order to spend more time with his children. This might involve downshifting his job, moving employer or putting a promotion on hold. Among millennial parents it would appear more fathers than mothers are planning on reducing hours or downshifting over the next two years.
A lack of workplace support is exacerbating the challenges men face. Working Families also found that while one in two mothers felt they could go part-time for family reasons, only one in five fathers felt the same. It seems many employers continue to automatically assume that childcare is a mother’s responsibility.
This traditional thinking flies in the face of an emergent debate suggesting that encouraging fathers to be more involved at home will enable women to make more progress at work. A challenge here is to encourage men to make use of Shared Parental Leave. Up until now take-up has been disappointingly low.
Mindful of this the EHRC recently launched a new booklet designed to guide fathers through their parental rights; and to facilitate workplace discussions around paternity and parental leave. Attending the launch seminar where a number of men shared their experiences I was struck by one key difference between mothers and fathers. While women can often fall prey to what Sheryl Sandberg calls ‘leaving before you leave’ in that they begin to plan for a family long before they have one; the reality only appears to hit men when the baby is born.
There’s a case to be made for encouraging expectant fathers to start the leave planning process early: and employers have a part to play here. Another group increasingly supporting fathers as their expectations change is the growing army of ‘daddybloggers’. (Yes, it is a thing and if you’re curious take a look, for example, at the award winning site musicfootballfatherhood.com which the BBC called “mumsnet for dads”.)
Men are also becoming more involved in the care of adults. Research published by Business in the Community last month showed four in ten carers of adults are men, but only a third of them is likely to have discussed their caring responsibilities with their manager or team.
These shifts in expectations by men should serve as a wake-up call to those employers doggedly maintaining traditional working practices. Being an employer of choice increasingly means recognising that everyone has a life outside of work and supporting that.
Anna Meller is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and one of the UK’s leading experts in re-balancing work. https://www.linkedin.com/in/annameller/