I remember the debate and the push for flexible working hours 10 years ago when I started running programmes for working mothers and working fathers. It began with a perception that flexibility was only needed for working mums to look after their children. Now gradually the movement is being taken up by working dads who also want to care for their children and support their partners having a career. Add to that, the current strong push by those without dependents at all – 75% of so-called millennials want a job where they can work flexibly without damaging their prospects (Guardian.com, 2015). In other words, people want a life outside of work, whether they have children/dependents or not.
The push for flexible working hours has come from many directions:
1. In the UK, 90% mothers now work, and in almost 50% of couples, women now earn at least as much as their partners (Guardian.com, 2015). Maternal breadwinners have also increased from 23% in 1996 up to 33% in 2013.
2. The trend towards “shared parenting” has put pressure on dads to increase their child caring load, whether they are living together with their partner or even more so after a relationship breakdown.
3. The rise of divorced or single fathers needing flexibility has dramatically increased – the number of dads citing single fatherhood as a reason for changing hours has climbed (Guardian.com, 2015).
4. Millennials want to work flexibly whether they have caring responsibilities or not and see parenting as an equal proposition between men and women (Huffingtonpost.com.au, 2016)
In February 2016, I read that a new report has revealed the UK is on the verge of a flexible working ‘tipping point’ – when working away from the office becomes more common than working solely from a desk, 9am-5pm. The Lancaster University’s Work Foundation hosted 500 in-depth interviews with academics, business leaders and the public sector to glean insights around the theme of flexible working, revealing 2017 as the time when over half of organisations in the UK are likely to have adopted flexible working. It also predicts that over 70% of organisations will have followed suit by 2020 (Citrix.com, 2016).
While this may be the trend, I believe there is still much to be done to address current attitudes towards flexible working. In a recent survey, 58% of millennial father respondents did not feel confident asking their employer about reducing their hours, working remotely or placing boundaries on responding to calls or emails (employeebenefits.co.uk, 2016). We need to ensure employees are working smarter, rather than longer, and that they are able to overcome some current discriminatory attitudes towards flexible working.
The Institute of Leadership & Management (UK) has found that more than a quarter (27%) of managers who have no experience of working flexibly believe it doesn’t benefit the business at all, while a third (31%) of respondents overall have heard colleagues make derogatory remarks about those with flexible working arrangements.
At How Do You Do It, we address these obstacles by offering programmes and coaching not just to mothers and fathers returning to work, but also by recommending that support is mandatory for their line managers at all levels of seniority. Follow us @HowDoYouDoItUK and on Linkedin to find out more.
Virginia Herlihy, CEO, How Do You Do It