Sarah Jackson, CEO of Working Families, is pleased to announce the publication of the Modern Families Index 2016 in collaboration with Bright Horizons.
“The Modern Families Index, kindly sponsored by Bright Horizons, is in its fourth year and this year, more than ever, I feel positive that some things are changing for the better. Younger parents are more likely to share care than the generations before them and it is clear, for example, that more care is being shared.
But families in the UK are living in the shadow of austerity and feeling the effects of the economic downturn. Each parent working full time is becoming more common – families may not be able to get by without two full-time incomes – and work has, for so many, intensified greatly.
This comes at a cost, and that cost is all too often family time, which parents identify as their highest priority. But for so many working parents, family time is squeezed as work takes over. Parents are often putting in additional hours at work – in some cases an extra ten a week. All too often, their unsustainable workload is to blame. Working all these extra hours creates tension and conflict, with clear implications for the well-being of parents and their families.
It is no surprise that a third of the parents we spoke to reported being burned out.
Making ‘compatible flexibility’ – where flexibility is not ‘done’ to employees, but is a positive choice offering some discretion and control over workload and time – the norm in UK workplaces would go a long way toward helping parents make their work-life fit better. But this year’s Index tells us loudly and clearly that, despite the work-life balance policies now well established in many workplaces, and the Right to Request flexible working available to all employees, for this kind of flexibility to become a reality for all working parents in today’s workplaces, a culture shift is required.
There can be no better illustration of the cultural barriers that still exist than our finding that many parents are choosing to take sick leave rather than approaching their employer to discuss how they can achieve a better work-life balance. As a result, parents (who may not be able to afford to take the sick leave or be subject to other negative consequences of, in particular, continuous absence) and employers will suffer – with unplanned sickness absence disrupting work and placing additional burdens on other workers. The reality is that many parents do not feel able to discuss their family commitments or raise concerns about their workload and placing boundaries around their work.
It is vital that employers support a culture where employees are not hesitant about discussing their work-life fit. At Working Families, we believe that one way to do this would be to move towards workplace cultures that are flexible by default. That is why thinking about the importance of job design, flexible recruitment and hiring, and building the quality and sustainability of these flexibly designed jobs, is a central recommendation of our report. Training and communication about the importance of job design and fit, and the strategic value of flexible working in terms of opportunities for employee engagement, motivation and retention, is vital too.
Our mission is to create a UK in which our workplaces allow work-life balance for everyone. Our name defines two of the most important parts of life: family and employment. It is clear from this year’s Index that these are often in conflict. We feel passionately that this is unnecessary, counter-productive and must change. And things ARE changing. But, as we have seen, there is still so much more to do. Creating workplaces where employees are comfortable saying what they need and employers are responsive needs everyone on board – parents, employers and government. I’m ready – please join us.”