How Do You Do It have run programmes for working fathers since 2006 and one of the consistent themes we’ve seen is the conflict many new fathers feel between the fuller role they want to play at home and the way that the flexible or remote work that would enable this has been viewed differently for men and women.
The expectation for fathers has tended to be that becoming a parent changes little in relation to how, where and when men are expected to work. For women, flexible work, including remote working has been more readily available but tended to come with a heavy price tag in terms of career progression. This divide in how parents are treated benefits no one; women are held back from achieving gender parity at work and men from participating fully in the lives of their children in the way that they consistently tell us they would like to.
The enforced conversion to home working caused by COVID-19 has (for people who are able to do their jobs from home) exposed just how many roles and indeed whole industries can successfully be undertaken on a far more flexible basis. As we look at the role of fathers this International Men’s Day, we wanted to explore whether this increased remote working was translating into changes in how the dads we work with are feeling about their dual roles as fathers and employees.
The working fathers on our programmes are typically new dads (although not necessarily first-time dads), many of whom still have a partner at home on parental leave. Their jobs are office-based but they have all worked from home since the start of the pandemic. Our courses are tailored for each client, but we usually work with fathers over a series of sessions. At the start of each programme, our participants answer a questionnaire that seeks to understand how they are feeling about topics such as: how clear they are on their own version of success at home and work; how confident they are that they can achieve success at home and work; whether since becoming a parent they feel greater levels of stress at home and work and how supported they feel by their organisation. This same questionnaire is also completed at the end of the programme to measure the change over their time with us and the impact of the coaching.
Although individuals can have very different starting points, historically the overall participant scores at the start of our programmes have tended to be relatively consistent and reflect the challenges many working fathers feel in successfully integrating their roles at home and work.
Impact of working from home
Looking at the groups of working fathers who have started a programme with us since the pandemic (and therefore have been working from home) compared to a similar time period before the pandemic, there are some clear shifts in the scores we are seeing in our start of course questionnaire. Despite all the well-documented issues of blurred boundaries between work and home and the widespread anxiety caused by the pandemic, these groups of working fathers are showing more positive overall starting scores than our historic average. In particular, we are seeing an uplift in relation to questions around the following topics:
- Clarity about their own version of success at home
- Levels of stress at home
- Confidence about achieving success at home and work
- Feeling that working parents are supported by their organisation
- Pride in working for their organisation
- Commitment to their organisation
Some of these scores were quite significantly higher (up to 1.2 points) on a 10-point scale than our pre-COVID-19 data.*
What we have seen is that the usual harsh divide in day to day experience between the person at home doing all the caring for a young child and the person physically away from the home in paid work has for the moment been eliminated for our groups. Although they are working, the dads on our programmes can be more involved with their child, share a greater amount of the unpaid work with their partner because they are physically present. In practical terms a dad being able to look after his baby from 7am – 9 am (rather than commuting at that time) or have a 30-minute break during the day to take over the childcare has a big impact; both on the wellbeing of the parent who is on parental leave but also on the dad as they have more opportunity to bond with their child and increase their confidence as a parent.
Not only are we seeing that this is beneficial for reducing stress and conflict at home, but it is also increasing the participants’ feelings of commitment to their organisation and their confidence in being able to successfully combine work and homelife. The ability to work from home is often viewed in terms of the benefits to the employee; but what we are seeing is that for new dads, the ability to be more present with their partner and child once they are back at work yields benefits for their employer too. Committed employees who feel able to successfully combine their roles at work and home are more likely to perform better at work and stay with an employer.
What the fathers on our courses are saying?
In this short video, How Do You Do It Associate, Roger Coles talks about what we’ve been hearing from the working fathers on our recent programmes.
Where next for working fathers?
What we are seeing is potentially significant and confirms what fathers have been telling us about the integration they want between their home and work lives. We’ve often quoted Professor Laura Radcliffe’s excellent podcast about the gender divide that happens once people become parents, but it concisely sums up what we’ve experienced over many years of coaching working parents. Working parents don’t want the gender divide between roles and as companies such as Aviva and Deloitte Australia have seen, when parental leave is paid for both parents and fathers have a true opportunity to spend time with their infants, there is huge uptake.
What our data suggests is that although a dedicated period of paid parental leave for both parents is the ideal, the benefits to working fathers (and their families) of simply being present are considerable. As we eventually move on from COVID-19 one of the considerations must be how we maximise productivity and wellbeing by allowing people to work in the way that works best for them and their families. For new dads that includes the option to work from home more extensively during the early months of their child’s life and based upon what we are hearing from the dads we work with, our prediction would be that a hybrid option would continue to be their preference in the longer term.
*based upon a sample of 41 pre-COVID course attendees and 21 post-COVID course attendees