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Stigma of the part-time dad

Office Angels commissioned research of working dads and here, Angela Smith, Operations Director at Office Angels, discusses the results of the research, how new trends in flexible working will impact on employers and perceptions of flexible working amongst society more broadly.

With Government plans to allow parents to share their 50 week maternity leave entitlement by 2015, the UK is looking forward to a far more flexible way of working for both parents. To find out if men are planning to take advantage of these changes, Office Angels commissioned research of working dads. While flexible solutions for working mums have long been well-documented, the research revealed an appetite amongst dads to cut their hours and spend more time with their family. However, even though many dads are unhappy with their work/life balance, a substantial number still did not take the paternity leave they were entitled to. The majority also worry that society attaches a negative stigma to being a dad who works part-time. To help families manage work and childcare and create a happy and productive workforce, there is a role for employers in promoting flexible working. By prioritising flexible working, organisations can also play a positive role in encouraging society to be more accepting of men working part-time.

Balancing work and family is a dilemma for dads as the research found dads are choosing to work part-time and that spending time with family, rather than being unable to find full-time work, is the primary motivator for this. Over half (57 percent) of dads surveyed who work full-time want to reduce their working hours to spend more time with their children. Ben D’Alton, a technical support worker from Lancaster, told us he deliberately chose to work part-time, to play a significant role in the upbringing of his children. He has had to simplify his spending to work a 26-hour week, but by prioritising time with his family, he believes he now has the perfect work/life balance.

Paternity leave should make spending time with children a reality for dads. However, the research revealed that over a quarter (27 percent) of dads didn’t take advantage of the two weeks paternity leave they were entitled to when their children were born. The research indicated there is some variation in attitude towards taking paternity leave across different industry sectors. Over a third (37.7 percent) of dads employed in the retail, catering and leisure sectors did not take their full two weeks paternity leave, in contrast to the finance sector, where just over one in ten (12.5 percent) did not take their entitled leave. While there are likely to be a range of factors influencing whether dads take their paternity leave, some may be unaware of their legal rights. Employees should be encouraged to discuss their working options with their employers, and there is also an important role here for employers to make sure their staff are aware of the leave they are allowed.

Despite clear enthusiasm for cutting their hours, the majority of the dads surveyed (70 percent) expressed concern that society attaches a stigma to the part-time working dad. Those dads who already work part-time said they had shared similar worries when considering cutting their hours. A fifth (22 percent) thought about the negative stereotypes surrounding being a part-time working dad, while one in ten (13 percent) worried about negative perceptions from their colleagues. Over half (54.3 percent) of dads surveyed believe men who work part-time are seen as the weaker partner in a marriage. This indicates that although many dads realise the benefits of working part-time, traditional beliefs held by society more widely, where the man is the breadwinner and woman cares for children, mean that a truly flexible workforce is not yet a reality. Some employers are already responding to this. Reports from our branch managers show that some employers are making arrangements to help both parents share childcare. However, this is mostly organised ad-hoc, to meet demand from individual employees. Employers now have to show that flexible working is firmly embedded in the culture of their organisation. I believe that a working culture that accommodates the needs of modern families will be a key factor in attracting and retaining the best talent in the future. By enabling employees to create a work/life balance that suits their family structure, employers will enhance staff satisfaction, with a positive influence on retention rates. In promoting flexible working, employers will also play an important role in helping to encourage society more broadly to accept and support a flexible, dynamic workplace.

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