According to the data from the Office of National Statistics, there are around 14 million parents of dependent children, with the large majority being of working age. While the percentage of working fathers has remained fairly consistent over the past few decades, the number of working mothers has grown steadily, and it is now at its highest ever level. Just over three quarters of mothers (75.1%) with children under the age of 18 are now in employment[1]. This compares to just 50% of mothers working in 1975[2].

What this means is that parenting is changing. As more women have entered the workforce, expectations around the role of women in society have changed too. Childcare is no longer the main responsibility of mothers with fathers taking a much more active role in the upbringing of their children. In fact, 58% of fathers under the age of 40 say they are fully involved in the day-to-day raising of their children[3].

Before we take a more in-depth look at the particular benefits and support mechanisms that can make a difference, we need to consider the impact this new parenting dynamic is having on working parents. The first, is the impact this increasing parenting role is having on fathers and their wellbeing and the second, is the approach businesses are taking to flexible working and parental leave for mothers and fathers and the impact that has on their progression at work.

Working dads and their wellbeing

By starting to take a more active role in parenting, fathers are beginning to feel the pressures both at home and work more acutely, but many businesses have been slow to respond and aren’t necessarily supporting them on this journey. Most fathers return to work just two weeks after the arrival of their baby, often without fanfare or support. Expectations are often that they will continue as they did before the arrival of their new baby. This period is, without question, a challenging time. Mental health statistics for Fathers highlight this with 1 in 10 new fathers being diagnosed with depression and a third admitting to having questioned their own mental health.[4]. 1 in 5 are also likely to experience a break-down of their relationship within 12 months of the arrival of their child, all of which, we know to have an impact on fathers at work.

Usage statistics on the Parent Cloud platform certainly correlate, with almost 50% of our Therapy sessions being accessed by dads.

Flexible working for Mothers and Fathers

While fathers are taking a more active role in raising their children, it is still mothers who usually adjust their working hours to accommodate their caring responsibilities. 40% of women in employment work part-time compared to just 13% of men. This has a definite effect on their career progression. Points to note are as follows:

  • Part-time employees have a 21% chance of being promoted within the next three years, this compares to 45% for full-time employees
  • The average mother waits two years longer for a promotion than the average father
  • According to the Deloitte/Daddilife, The Millennial Dad at work report (2019), 40% of fathers have requested flexible working arrangements, 44% of those requests were unsuccessful
  • The 2019 Modern Families Index found that working parents were falling behind in their career progression. They found the two main causes for this were:
    • Being penalised for working part-time
    • Poor job design – being asked to do too much in the time available

Considerate employers will consider how they can address this situation. While this highlights a need to better support all part-time employees with their career ambitions it also emphasises the need for flexible working requests for mothers and fathers to be considered on an equal playing field. It is only then that we might really start to see a greater step forward in terms of gender equality in the workplace.

The minefield that is enhanced shared parental leave

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) gives more choice in how two parents can care for their new child.  While SPL is now an option for all working fathers, fewer than one in 10 working parents are taking advantage of it[5], most likely because of the financial impact. There is just a small minority of organisations across the UK currently offering enhanced shared parental leave, most are large corporates but those who have chosen to do so have seen encouraging uptake. Aviva is one such organisation who sees that 300 out of the 800 employees taking parental leave annually are fathers, averaging 5.5 months leave.  This demonstrates the desire among dads to be more involved in the raising of their children. It also inevitably enables mothers to return to work more quickly and promotes an equal parenting dynamic at home. This inevitably leads to an on-going sharing of the burden of parental responsibilities.

Enhanced shared parental leave is often viewed as a huge expense for businesses and with a lack of demonstrable evidence on the return on investment it can seem difficult to justify but initial, albeit anecdotal evidence from the likes of Aviva have shown that it can more than pay for itself with increased retention and attraction across the company.

Benefits to consider when building father-friendly parental policies

There is a plethora of options when considering family-friendly policies and benefits and, first and foremost, it is always key to engage with your employees to understand their needs. The 2020 Employee Benefits Research found that 68% of employees are looking for increased parental policies and 88% are looking for better awareness and support for mental health issues.

Options to consider are as follows:

Clearly sign-posted enhanced mental health support – what we know from our own analysis at Parent Cloud is that there is still a reluctance among men to access mental health support.  So it is key to ensure employees are aware of how to access support, that they are convinced it is confidential and, ideally, that they can choose who they engage with. We see more fathers engaging with remote, online support than face to face and engagement levels, and therefore results, are 60% higher if an individual can choose who they speak with. This can be difficult when accessing support via a traditional Employee Assistance Programme.

Enhanced shared parental leave – we’ve discussed this at length but we believe this is one of the most impactful benefits if you’re passionate about supporting your working fathers.

Open-for-all flexible working requests – Unconscious bias is something we talk about constantly when considering recruitment but there is also inevitably unconscious bias at play when it comes to flexible working requests. If you can do your best, as an organisation to strip this away, by educating managers on the broader commercial benefits of an equalised approach, then that will make a difference.

Parent Groups for mothers and fathers – There are pros and cons to separating your parent group but if you see far more mothers than fathers active within a parent group it may well be something to consider. While there are many similar challenges for working mothers and fathers there are also some unique differences. By creating an environment where both feel comfortable talking about their personal challenges, fathers will feel more supported.

Giving fathers in leadership positions a voice – Role modelling is always a useful tool and never more so than here. By encouraging senior fathers within your organisations to be open about the challenges they face you will encourage that openness across the organisation.

Every year more and more fathers are choosing to play an active role in parenting their children. To support your working fathers effectively, the working culture and support available needs to change. If organisations are slow to adjust, the increase in fathers looking for mental health support will inevitably continue and those gender biases will persist. If you’re a company that can move with the times and go that step further for working fathers then you’ll be one that reaps the rewards.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/oct/24/three-quarters-of-mothers-now-in-work-figures-reveal

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-43919090

[3] Deloitte and Daddilife The Millennial Dad at Work report 2019

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-49564467

[5] https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/news/articles/fewer-than-one-in-10-employees-using-shared-parental-leave


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