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The impact of parents not being able to ‘switch off’.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Jobs need to be “human-sized”…in order to produce happier, healthier workers.

Jane van Zyl, CEO – Working Families

For the average employee, there’s often no greater feeling than turning off your work computer and saying goodbye to the avalanche of emails, Slack messages and Trello tasks at the end of the day. However, we all know too well that it’s not always that easy. A recent piece of research highlights the fact that for many parents specifically, the inability to disconnect from work is having a considerable negative impact on their lives.

‘The Modern Families Index’ is an annual survey conducted by Working Families and Bright Horizons, and the results for the 2020 iteration are very concerning. The study found that 44% of parents feel compelled to carry on with their work in the evenings, with three-quarters of those saying they felt they had no choice. Meanwhile, a staggering 58% are working additional hours without pay. Even without this statistical data, a simple Google search reveals a gamut of articles and blog pieces with tips for working parents about maintaining a good work-life balance.

This year, more than 3000 parents were surveyed across a range of incomes and family structures. The conclusion is that the pervasive communications technology which defines the modern-day has created a situation where parents feel they cannot ‘switch off’ after work, with 47% of participants saying it has blurred the line between their work and home life. And it would seem that the ability to work from home may, in some cases, have increased pressure rather than cutting it down, with nearly half of participants claiming they had actually increased the amount of time they spent working. The report describes so-called “family friendly” or “flexible” working hours as a double-edged sword.

Many working parents are struggling to find time to get away from work and shift focus on to the family.
The ability to switch-off at the end of the working day is alluding a significant number of parents

60% of parents said the only way they could handle the amount of work given to them was to work extra hours. Working more hours also doubled the likelihood that a respondent would be unable to get their mind off of work issues while at home. The report makes it clear that this is not necessarily a direct result of flexible working, however, stating that the wellbeing benefits of such arrangements are ‘being undermined by poor job design and workplaces where working extra hours is part of the culture’.

Being unable to “switch off” after work is having a direct negative effect on parents’ home lives. Of the parents who said they kept thinking about work in the evenings, 54% said it resulted in arguments with their children, while 57% said it led to arguments with their partner. 72% of parents stuck in “work mode” complained of stress, compared to one in five parents better able to ‘switch off’.

According to the CEO of Working Families, Jane van Zyl, the research ‘makes clear that jobs need to be “human-sized”. Employers who design roles that can be done in their contracted hours and encourage “switching off” will feel the benefit of happier healthier workers.’

But while many of the report’s findings were problematic, the survey wasn’t all doom and gloom. Compared to the 2015 survey, this year’s findings found that parents’ perceptions of their employers and ability to access flexible working arrangements have improved. 55% of working parents expressed confidence in the idea of discussing flexible working arrangements with their employer, up from 47% five years ago. The amount of parents who felt their line manager cares about their work/life balance has increased by 8%. However, this section of the survey also found that the number of parents who were actually working flexibly was down 3% from 2015.

Flexible working can help parents strike a better balance between work and family, but it's not without its pitfalls.
It’s not all doom and gloom – many parents report flexible working opportunities are on the rise.

Overburdening employees with more work than can be done in a day may seem like an effective short-term measure of bolstering employees, but the truth is that the resulting stress is as bad for the organisation as it is for the employee. More than a third of parents admitted to lying to their employer about family commitments that could interfere with work. A similar amount also admitted to pretending to be sick in order to meet family responsibilities.

While the perception around the availability of flexible work patterns has improved over the last five years, the likelihood of working flexibly was linked to two separate factors. Firstly, millennial-aged parents were more likely (62% rising to 78% when specifying millennial fathers) to be in a flexible arrangement than older parents, compared to half of parents aged 36-55, and 48% of parents over the age of 56. This is due to differences in how successive generations view work-life balance and the obligations that come with employment.

The second factor influencing the availability of flexible work patterns was that of seniority within organisations. The more senior the job, the more likely the parent in that position would be to be able to work flexibly. 71% of senior managers and directors said their work routine was flexible, compared to 48% of parents in junior roles. As you might expect, this also means that the statistics differed along financial lines as well. More than two-thirds of parents earning 50k or more a year worked flexibly compared to around two in five parents earning 15-20k.

As the report states, there is clearly much more to be done to ensure that parents and their employers aren’t missing out on the mutual benefits of flexible working arrangements.

One approach to ensuring parents in your organisation are benefitting from a healthy work-life balance and managing the challenges that come with working and raising a family, is to encourage open and honest communication within the business. Weekly10 is centred around a regular, light-touch check-in, allowing staff to share successes and issues in equal measure, with their direct managers and beyond. If you want to see how your workplace culture is boosting or holding back your people, why not book in a free demo and see how we can help.

Head of People Science