Flexible working boosts dads’ well-being

Fathers who work flexibly and whose partners work full-time report significantly higher levels of wellbeing, according to new research.

The research from Working Families and Lancaster University Management School is launched today by Maria Miller MP, Department for Work and Pensions Minister, with responsibility for families and child poverty, at a Working Families conference in London.

Maria Miller said:  “For far too long flexible working has been dismissed as a burden on business, when in fact the most successful businesses understand the important role it can play in recruiting and retaining the right staff.

“We need to move flexible working away from being the exception, to being considered a normal way to work. With fathers wanting more of a role in family life, people working past retirement and more disabled people wanting to get into work, flexible working is something most people will want to consider at some point in their working life.”

The two-year research project – funded by The Big Lottery – involved over a thousand fathers in two large organisations in the private and public sectors. An increasing number were working flexibly, although this tended to mean full-time working on flexible hours. The main findings include:

– Fathers working flexibly in the private sector have better physical and psychological health, are less stressed and more committed to their employer
– Fathers working flexibly in the public sector are less troubled by their work-life balance and sense of overload but – probably due to current stresses and job insecurity in the sector – are less likely to report higher levels of wellbeing and commitment
– Fathers whose partners work full-time report significantly higher levels of wellbeing and sense of purpose
– Fathers who claim to do most of the housework are happier with their work-life balance
– Fathers who work from home benefit the most from flexible working
– Fathers on a low income feel less stressed if they are able to work flexibly.

The researchers say dads need to become more assertive about asking for flexible working and suggests that some dads may be looking at the flexible working scenario of their partner through “rose-coloured spectacles”. “It may not always come as easily to mums as they might think,” said lead researcher Dr Caroline Gatrell, adding that mums have had to negotiate their flexible working rights and have also faced anxieties about losing out on promotion as a result of being viewed as “less committed”.

The report says that the business case for flexibility is clear and that the majority of dads now rely on flexible working for organising their family life. It calls for more education and support for line managers and the introduction of a Fatherhood Passport where employees can voluntarily register that they are dads or about to be dads. It says this would mean employers were recognising their role as fathers and that engaging with them as dads will make them feel more engaged and committed.

Working Families Chief Executive Sarah Jackson said: “Our research shows that flexible working is good for fathers, good for families and good for business.  It’s clear that the more fathers are involved with family life, the happier they are, so we welcome Government proposals to increase parental leave for fathers and to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees. However, we would urge them not to forget low income fathers, who currently can’t afford to take paternity leave and who – our research shows – particularly benefit from opportunities to work flexibly.”

Dr Gatrell from Lancaster University said: “Our results show that flexible working makes a positive difference to the lives of working fathers, which benefits both fathers and employers. Fathers who work flexibly have better health, better relationships with colleagues and feel more in control of their work-life balance, especially if they are on low incomes. In the private sector, there is a clear link between flexible working and enhanced employee engagement.  However flexible working is not a magic solution and (as can be seen among our public sector fathers) it cannot altogether cancel out the effects of anxiety in difficult times, such as recession. So it’s important for managers right down the line to be well informed and supportive of the flexible working policies on offer,  making sure that fathers can access these in practice, as well as in theory.”

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