UK families seek flexible work to manage the juggle
The Sector > Economics > Supply & Demand > UK families seek flexible work to manage the juggle

UK families seek flexible work to manage the juggle

by Jason Roberts

February 06, 2019

Working parents in the UK are penalised for working part-time and suffer from poorly-designed jobs that force them to work extra hours, according to a new study published by Working Families and Bright Horizons. Is Australia’s workforce suffering in the same way?


The 2019 Modern Families Index (MFI) provides a snapshot into the lives of working families across the UK: 2,750 working parents and carers responded with at least one dependent child aged 13 or younger who lives with them some or all the time. Now in its seventh year, it has been published annually by Working Families and Bright Horizons Family Solutions since 2012.


Why should Australia take notice?


The UK MFI findings – and the US MFI findings released in January – are interesting to consider when thinking about Australian workplace culture, as many of the challenges of working mothers are the same. So much so that the Australian Government recently developed Australia’s first Women’s Economic Security (WES) package, which will  invest in excess of $100 million over four years to focus attention on building financial security for women, increasing workforce participation, and better earning potential.


On the release of the package, Federal Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer said “With more women in the workforce than ever before, 2018 has seen female workforce participation reach record highs…Despite this progress, some problems still persist. Women are likely to earn less than men; they are likely to work part time at over twice the rate of men; and, at retirement age there is a 42 per cent gap in their superannuation balances.”


Part-timers less likely to receive promotions


The United Kingdom’s 2019 MFI reports that parents working part time – most of whom are women – have a 21 per cent chance of being promoted within the next three years, compared to 45 per cent for their full-time counterparts.


The MFI found that the disparity in promotion rates between part-timers and full-timers has a major impact on career progression for mothers, with the average mother waiting two years longer for a promotion than the average father as a consequence of more mothers than fathers being in part-time work.


Majority of workers work longer hours than contracted


The report also found that many UK parents “grapple with unmanageable workloads owing, in part, to a workplace culture of ‘presenteeism’”, the term given to the practice of being present at one’s place of work for more hours than required. The MFI shows that 78 per cent of UK parents are working beyond their contracted hours, and of those who put in extra work, 60 per cent report that doing so is necessary to deal with their workload and over half (52 per cent) said that working extra hours is part of their organisation’s culture.


Unmet demand for flexible working hours is high


There is also an unmet demand for flexible working among parents in the UK: 86 per cent of parents want to work flexibly but only 49 per cent of those surveyed do. For more than a third (37 per cent) of parents, flexible working isn’t available in their workplace, despite all employees having the statutory right to request flexible working arrangements.


Demand for flexible work arrangements in Australia is also high, and the Fair Work Commission recently ruled that employees may legally challenge an employer’s decision if they fail to genuinely try to reach an agreement on flexible working arrangements.  


No boundaries: interruptions to family life


Report authors state that “Unsurprisingly, [UK] working parents feel overwhelmed by the increasing demands of the modern workplace. Nearly half of parents (47 per cent) said that work restricts their ability to spend time reading or playing with their children. 48 per cent said it affects their relationship with their partner and more than a quarter (28 per cent) said it led to arguments with their children.”


In addition, the report highlights that this is exacerbated by the constant intrusion from technology on family time: 47 per cent of respondents felt that the boundaries between work and home had become too blurred by technology.


The UK 2019 Modern Families Index report can be read in full here. A summary is also provided here.


What about Australian working families?


The UK report raises some interesting questions with regard to ECEC services’ role in servicing working families within their care.


How do the above UK results resonate with the families that your ECEC centre services? And how do you help to alleviate the load on time-poor working families, or reduce the impact to the children in your care? Do you feel that ECEC services have a role to play? How does your service reduce the impact on your own staff with families?


Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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