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Working parents are struggling to cope with the strain of overwork – and deliberately stalling and downshifting their careers to reverse the negative impact it is having on family life, according to a new study.
The 2018 Modern Families Index, published by Working Families and Bright Horizons, is based on a survey of 2,761 working parents with at least one dependent child aged 13 or younger who lives with them some or all the time. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) were also caring for adults.
It shows many parents are obliged to work far over their contracted hours due to increasingly intense workloads or because they feel it is expected of them.
The study found that:
The Index calculates the extra hours done by full-timers – those on 38 hours per week – would earn them an average of £2,429 per year if they were paid; for part-timers (on 24 hours per week) it is an average of £1,927 per year. In households with two full-time working parents, the amount could be as much as £4,858 a year.
Nearly half (47%) said that work affects their ability to spend time together as a family.
The study found that:
A third of parents said they feel burnt out all or most of the time, with more than half identifying work as their main cause of burnout.
However, many have changed their working life for family reasons, although the norm is still for men to work full time and women to work part time:
The Index says the figures are similar for men and women and are evidence of a ‘parenthood penalty’.
Some 46% of parents did not work flexibly though most wanted to; and fewer than half – 44% – felt that flexible working was a genuine option for mothers and fathers in their workplace.
Moreover, over a third (37%) of parents who work flexibly said they felt burnt out all or most of the time (compared to 27% of those that said they don’t work flexibly). Of those parents who work ‘flexibly’, nearly one third (31%) had restricted or no control over where they work, a quarter had restricted or no control over their working hours and one fifth had restricted or no control over their start and finish times.
Other interesting findings included:
The Index calls for change in several areas: it says flexible working needs to become the norm; jobs need to be advertised as flexible and that involves thinking through job design so jobs can be done in the hours stated; a flexible and generous childcare structure is needed to support working parents; and parental leave rights should be available from day one in a new job. The report also calls for assumptions on who does the caring to be tackled and for a properly paid, standalone period of extended paternity leave for fathers.
Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive of Working Families, said: “For mothers and for fathers, becoming a parent looks like a bad career move. Because the norm for people who want to get ahead is still to show up early, leave late and be on email out of hours – and parents have less time to give, putting them at a disadvantage.
“Parents are responding to the pressures on them by acting – deliberately stalling and downshifting their careers. With more than 11 million working parents in the UK, our economy can ill afford this ‘parenthood penalty’. Our findings should be a wake-up call for UK plc.
“We need a more widespread, genuinely flexible approach to work. But on its own, flexible working is not enough if all it delivers is the flexibility to manage a bumper workload. We need human-sized jobs that allows parents to fulfil their labour market potential and give families back the time together they need to thrive. This should be central to the government’s forthcoming review of its right to request flexible working legislation.”