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For many decades, workplace mental health has quite literally been shrouded in secrecy, hidden away from teams, and the corporate objectives that follow them.

Thankfully things have slowly started to shift as HR leaders have been brave enough to firstly open the debate, and secondly put real action into solving this important issue. After all, this doesn’t just affect our performance at work, but the wider lives of our families too.

But as we enter a new more open way of dealing with health and wellbeing in the workplace, it’s worth asking whether the industry is doing enough for groups who may still be vastly under- represented.

Always on, and forever working?
Up until recently, the age at which you could claim state pension benefits was 65 for men, and 60 for women. However, both men’s and women’s pension ages are both in the process of being raised to 66, with another rise to 67 expected to happen between 2026 – 2028 according to the latest Treasury reports.

For Millennials now rising up the career ladder, and starting families, a heady question may well be playing on their minds – will I ever get to retire!?

At the same time as this shift, is an increasing recognition that the UK office culture is one where people work amongst the longest hours in Europe. Full time employees work an average of 42 hours per week – which is almost two more than the typical European employee according to the TUC. Of greater concern is that the UK is almost 50% as productive!

So, if we’re working for longer hours, and can be expected to do so for(ever), then isn’t it about time to look at our mental health in areas that have themselves gone under the radar in order to drive real change?

The hidden struggle
We need to start with changing family dynamics which are undergoing radical change as more and more dads become actively involved in parenting. Our study on Millennial dads at work showed that nearly 9 in 10 (87%) were now actively involved in day to day parenting.

However in an “always on” world, we are also starting to witness a different way that dads (and mums for that matter) are approaching their work – in two chapters.

The first chapter typically takes place within the confines of the normal working day but allows for any change in working hours to accommodate child-care.

The second chapter takes place after the children have gone to sleep and continues often right through until bedtime.

As more and more parents want more flexible ways to work, are we doing everything we can to ensure that our brightest and best talent isn’t burnt out by their 40s and 50s?

37% of the dads we surveyed in the millennial dad at work told us their mental health is negatively affected by trying to balance work and parental responsibilities, and less than a quarter of all the dads surveyed (23%) reported their mental health as somewhat or very positive.

The Fatherhood Penalty
Our findings are backed up by the Modern Families Index, published by Working Families earlier this year.   One of the stand out results of their poll was the increasing number of fathers who are now going through their own version of what mothers have put up with for years – the motherhood penalty – where women have had to make a choice around full time careers or leaving the world of employment altogether to accommodate parental responsibilities.

For fathers, this penalty is being expressed slightly differently and is as focused on the limitations around career advancement as it is on exiting the workforce.

One third of the dads we surveyed as part of our research have actually left a job since becoming a dad in order to find better parental balance, and another third were actively looking.

In this modern day, are we doing enough to support the mental health of new dads?

Setting Health and Wellbeing goals
For working dads looking for workplace flexibility, it is important to set goals.  For example:

1. Communicate your red lines: What do you really value that can’t be crossed? It may be leaving at work at a certain time on certain days, it may be something else entirely, but let your manager know about your red lines. It helps reset behaviour and expectations.
2.Exercise and Food: The world never stops, but your approach to health and exercise can. Many a science report has confirmed the link between healthier lives and healthier mental wellness.
3.Speak up: Men as a whole are not good at showing any vulnerability at work, but for new dads, it’s important that they find their own ways to speak up, challenge outdated stereotypes, and be the model of change that you want to see.

It is clear that societal changes within families are impacting on attitudes to work.  It is no longer the case that women shoulder the majority of childcare and, as these tasks become shared more equally then working dads are no longer happy to put up with being “always on” and need more workplace flexibility in order to achieve a good work life balance.  As HR directors take mental wellbeing more seriously, it is important that they really understand the pressures that working families are under and offer ways of working that allow both working mums and dads to achieve a good balance between home and family without being penalized.

Han Son Lee, Founder of Daddilife

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