‘Flexible working can’t lead to work life balance without workload reduction’

keyboard with 'flexible' working


Tackling unsupportive workplace cultures is crucial in helping parents achieve a better work life balance, according to research by Working Families and Bright Horizons.

The 2018 Modern Families Index: how employers can support the UK’s working families,  shows many parents feel compelled to work far beyond their contracted hours to meet managers’ expectations and to progress in their careers. 

When parents were asked how they felt about their employer in terms of work-life balance, over a third (34%) of parents said they felt resentful, with more fathers than mothers agreeing (37% vs. 32%). Millennials were the most resentful; 46% of millennial fathers felt resentful, the highest proportion of any group of parents.

In response, parents have stalled their careers, refused a new job or turned down a promotion. This attempt to rebalance is most prevalent in younger parents with 41% of millennial parents intending to downshift into a less stressful job, and 36% willing to take a pay cut to work fewer hours.

Meanwhile, the majority (81%) of parents who said they worked flexibly still had to bring work home in the evenings or at weekends.

The study found that, for many parents, flexible working can’t deliver work-life balance if they are battling an unrealistic workload.  Working Families said it must be accompanied by better job design, effective organisation and management and by a culture that truly supports balance. 

When asked what employers should do to ensure a good work life balance, the most popular option was ‘make efforts to change the company culture so work-life balance is more acceptable’ (37%, which equates to nearly two in five working parents). The next most popular choice was ‘put more policies in place to help balance work and home’ (35%). The third most popular was ‘encourage people to use existing policies to help their work life balance’ (28%).
Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive of Working Families, said:  “While work is badly organised and workplace cultures are unsupportive of work life balance, the best policies aimed at supporting working parents won’t translate to a better lived experience.   Parents, particularly millennial parents, are looking for human-sized jobs and supportive workplace cultures that genuinely allow them to combine work and family. Employers whose approach to organising work and underlying workplace culture hasn’t caught up with their family friendly policies may find that, for parents, they aren’t an employer of choice.  Tackling workplace culture – for so long the elephant in the room – is a vital to future proofing businesses, unlocking working parents’ potential, tackling the gender pay gap and harnessing the business benefits of family friendly and flexible working.”

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