Almost two-fifths of working parents do not have access to flexible arrangements

Working parents

Almost two-fifths (37%) of working parents in the UK state that flexible working is not available in their workplace, despite all employees having the statutory right to request flexible working arrangements, according to research by Bright Horizons and Working Families.

The 2019 Modern families index report surveyed 2,750 working parents and carers with at least one dependant aged 13 or younger who lives with them some or all of the time. It also found that, although 86% of respondents want to work flexibly, only 49% actually do.

James Tugendhat, managing director, international at Bright Horizons, said: “The Index shows that parents trying to juggle work and family commitments are getting a raw deal. The UK’s part-time stigma and long-hours culture renders them exhausted, stressed and unable to climb the career ladder. This applies especially to mothers.

“Encouraging pledges on flexible working have been made, but the approach to date, however well intentioned, hasn’t lightened the load for working parents. Addressing this would have the potential to narrow the gender wage gap significantly.

“[Organisations’] fortunes are based on their ability to attract and retain the best and brightest employees. It’s time we wave goodbye to an office based, nine-to-five culture and embrace a more human-sized, agile approach.”

Almost four-fifths (78%) of those surveyed admit to working beyond their contracted hours; 52% do this because they feel it is part of their organisation’s culture, and 60% because they believe it is necessary to deal with their workload. Nearly half (47%) of working parents feel that the boundaries between work and home are too blurred due to technology.

Furthermore, just 21% of part-time working parents have a chance of being promoted within the next three years; this compares to 45% for those working full-time.

Jane van Zyl, chief executive officer at Working Families, added: “Parents who work part-time and flexibly add immense value to an organisation. This year’s Index shows the sad reality that very often, part-timers aren’t able to progress at work because a higher value is placed on full-time work, and there is simply more of it. Compounding this problem is the fact that parents are often saddled with jobs that require them to work well beyond their contracted hours.”

Just under half (47%) of the respondents say that work has had a noticeably negative impact on their sleep, while a further 47% feel that working long hours restricts the amount of exercise they are able to do. Two-fifths (43%) state that work has had a detrimental effect on their diet.

Respondents also think that work impacts on their family life, restricting the time they have to read or play with their children (47%), affecting their relationship with their partner (48%) or leading to arguments with their children (28%).

The majority (90%) of working parents polled believe that employers have a role to play in addressing these various concerns, and 92% think that the government has a responsibility, too.

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Van Zyl continued: “Both the government and employers have the opportunity to break down the barriers to progression for part-time [employees] and to ensure that parents aren’t under pressure to work extra hours. We welcome the government’s consultation of its proposal to create a duty for employers to consider whether a job can be [flexible] and to make that clear when advertising new roles.

“This will challenge the persistent notion that full-time working is the optimum pattern, changing how part-timers are viewed in the workplace. At the same time, employers need to start properly considering job design, evaluating what tasks the role requires and how these tasks can be completed in the allocated hours, before determining what kind of flexible working is possible.”