Dads who want work life balance facing a ‘fatherhood penalty’


The UK is running the risk of creating a ‘fatherhood penalty’ – as fathers consider stalling or sidelining their careers to find roles they can better combine with family life, according to a new study.

The 2017 Modern Families Index, published by Working Families and Bright Horizons, shows a quarter of fathers who took part in the study drop their children at school or nursery every day; with just over a quarter (26%) collecting them more than half the time.

Seven out of 10 fathers work flexibly to fulfil their caring responsibilities. However, for half of the fathers surveyed work-life balance is increasingly a source of stress.  A third said they feel burnt out regularly and one in five fathers are doing extra hours in the evening or weekends all the time.

Fathers say they work extra hours because this is the only way to deal with their workload and that being seen to do long hours is important where they work. Twice the number of fathers compared to mothers believe that flexible workers are viewed as less committed and that working flexibly will have a negative impact on their career.

For nearly one fifth of fathers, their employer is, at best, unsympathetic about childcare, expecting no disruption to work. At worst they say they wouldn’t even tell their employer they had childcare problems – for fear of being viewed negatively. Some 44% of fathers said they have lied or bent the truth to their employer about family-related responsibilities that ‘get in the way’ of work.

But the study found seven out of 10 fathers say that they would consider their childcare needs before taking a new job or a promotion.  Nearly half of working fathers (47%) want to downshift into a less stressful job because they can’t balance the demands of work and family life; and just over a third of fathers (38%) say that they would be willing to take a pay cut to achieve a better work-life balance.

The study suggests that this risks creating a ‘fatherhood penalty’ – with more fathers compromising career-wise, following a career that is below their skillset and reducing their earnings.

The study suggests this risk isn’t going away – with these considerations being particularly pronounced for millennial fathers: some 53% of millennial fathers said they want to downshift into a less stressful job because they can’t balance the demands of work and family life and 48% admitted that they would be willing to take a pay cut to achieve a better work-life balance.

Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive of Working Families, said: “To prevent a ‘fatherhood penalty’ emerging in the UK – and to help tackle the motherhood penalty – employers need to ensure that work is designed in a way that helps women and men find a good work-life fit.  Making roles flexible by default and a healthy dose of realism when it comes to what can be done in the hours available are absolutely vital.

“A game-changing first step would be government creating a new, properly paid, extended period of paternity leave – sending clear signal that government recognises the aspirations of modern fathers and is serious about tackling the motherhood penalty that blights the working lives of so many women.”

The Women and Equalities Committee is launching a new inquiry into Fathers and the Workplace this week to look at whether fathers are getting the support they need in the workplace to fulfil their caring responsibilities.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • More than a third of parents (36%) said they would take a pay cut to work fewer hours;
  • 72% of parents work at home in the evenings and at weekends, with 41% saying this happens often or all the time;
  • 50% of parents agreed ‘my work life balance is increasingly a source of stress’;
  • Almost half of parents are not comfortable raising the issue of workload and hours with their employers;
  • Almost a fifth of parents reported that their employers were unsympathetic toward their childcare responsibilities, with 11% saying their employers made no allowances.

Gillian Nissim, founder of, said: “ welcomes this report. We’re seeing a big split between lower paid dads who are increasingly forced to work part time due to the insecure labour market and higher paid dads who are working all hours and finding they don’t have enough time for family life. In the latter case that means the burden of childcare continues to fall on women with all that that means for their careers, given that there are still not enough senior flexible jobs around to enable career progression.  The result is not good for parents and it is surely not good for business. For one, they are losing talented staff. Our annual surveys show how lack of flexible working for women can force them out of their jobs and how many are considering setting up their own businesses.

“Dads now face the same issues because they expect and want to share more of the childcare. The problem is not simply a lack of flexibility, but unmanageable workloads which mean people are essentially working full days and then clocking on at home and on holiday. The result is stress and burnout and that impacts on family life and on children. Our Top Employer Awards include an award for Best for Dads which highlights employers who recognise the links between equality at home and in the workplace. Through encouraging best practice we aim to show the strong business case for creating a flexible, family friendly work culture. Businesses’ greatest asset is their staff and those that understand that will be the big winners in the future because people will vote with their feet for a better work life balance.”

* has a section for dads and has produced an e-book on supporting dads in the workplace.

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