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Demands of working parents are changing

With working parents spending more time in the home and with their children, their demands of their employers are changing, argues Geraldine Gallacher.

October 2020

Not since the 1833 Factory Act banned children from work, have they been so visible in the workplace. Not actually working of course but none the less visible. Seen and heard, intentionally or unintentionally, on zoom calls, or TV-bombing news interviews.

Only a matter of weeks into lockdown a quiet revolution had taken place. It became OK for working parents, dads, in particular, to acknowledge they had had children, who impacted their working lives, and reasonably expect colleagues to accommodate these truths. No making excuses or skulking off work early to support their child.

With hindsight it seems faintly ridiculous that until March, many of the UK’s 16 million parents, again, dads in particular, felt obliged to keep up the pretence that parenting responsibilities exist only outside the hours of 9 to 5, often while their employer exhorts them to “bring their whole selves to work”.

Acknowledging the little people in our working lives is healthy not just for parents’ wellbeing but for mature management of a modern workplace. We have more households in the UK in which both parents work than ever before, and that includes more dual-career, professional couples. In today’s society, professional couples need to be able to work in ways that support both parents to share work and care.

Professional couples need employers to embed the quiet revolution in policy to ensure support for working parents, and hello dads again, is normalised. I suggest employers focus on two foundational policies, on which effective parental support is built, Shared Parental Leave and Flexible Working.

By Shared Parental Leave, I mean enhanced pay for an extended period of paternity leave, in line with enhanced maternity pay. You don’t have to be a behavioural scientist to spot the flaw in a policy designed to encourage dads to share an extended period of leave with their partner but only enhances maternity pay.

Little wonder, five years on, take up remains abysmally low with only 2% of entitled parents taking up this benefit. Maternity leave, originally introduced to protect the health and wellbeing of the mother, has become conflated with ‘childcare”. To normalise dads as care-givers, organisations must first equalise and de-gender childcare by making ShPL a financially viable choice for both parents.

Similarly, most organisations’ flexible working polices enable more working mums with dependent children than ever before to remain in the workplace but ask them to exchange career and pay progression for work they can fit around childcare. Working from home during lockdown has shown that work at any level of seniority can be done flexibly.

Together these foundational policies set the tone and expectation that both parents can equally share care and work if they so wish. Lockdown has been a revelation for many fathers. Seeing close up what juggling work with childcare entails in all its messy and unpredictable glory. Many have enjoyed being more involved in their children’s lives and wish to continue to be so beyond if, or when the time comes to return to the office.

As a society, we can’t un-see the seen. Children are a significant dimension of working parents’ lives. The better employers support them to fulfil their care responsibilities the greater their engagement and motivation at work.

Geraldine Gallacher, Founder and CEO, Executive Coaching Consultancy

London Accountant

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