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Traditional expectations of men and women don’t work for either. As Fathers’ Day approaches, it is vital that more is done to include men in the flexible working argument.
Flexible working has been considered a bit of a woman’s thing. It tends to be associated with part-time work and the so-called ‘mummy track’ where a once burgeoning career runs off the main line and heads rapidly into the sidings. However, things are changing. Many companies now offer a huge panoply of flexible options, from nine-day fortnights to flexi-time, allowing staff to stay in their posts and use the experience they have worked hard to gain to full effect.
Still, however, it is women who are more likely to take flexible options up. Part of this is because of peer pressure. Men don’t want to be the only ones to ask for flexible work. They fear being sidelined. They still have the whole weight of traditional expectations on their backs, just as women still work themselves into the ground trying to fulfill traditional expectations about motherhood in addition to working in high pressure jobs. The result is a lot of unhappiness. Men feel they miss out on their children – and this is a generation that prides itself on wanting to spend more time with their children because they felt they suffered from not having a close relationship with their own dads. Women feel they are practically single parents since, working more flexibly, they have to do most of the childcare and domestic chores. Resentment builds. Everyone’s tempers are frayed and no-one has enough time to stop and think of a way out.
The emotional impact of the traditional model on working parents’ lives is huge – whether on the couple, on their children or on wider society. Take, for instance, the practically ubiquitous talk about how the lack of a positive male role model affects children, especially boys who are lagging behind girls in almost every educational indicator. The traditional model simply does not work.
And yet few couples these days can exist on two half time wages. However, they could possibly exist on two four-day a week wages or a few days a week working from home. The technology is there. Not only does homeworking save time, it also reduces pollution, overheads and absence rates. More and more businesses are offering these options, but there are many that still need convincing, not just of the benefits but of how to overcome their fear of a change in working and management which is inevitable.
Men in particular need to have the courage of their convictions to ask for changes to the way they work. They need to consider themselves as being at the vanguard of a movement which is changing and will change the whole way we work. It is not about working less, but in a more balanced way that favours creativity and innovation. It is about working more effectively and ensuring that work fits around our lives rather than our lives fitting around work.