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The challenges of combining work and family

Survey shows mixed results for parents and carers


60% of working parents and carers are not happy with their work-life balance. And while flexible working patterns are key to the 40% who are happy, those who have flexibility are often concerned that it may have a negative impact on their career.

These are among the findings of a survey by My Family Care of over 1400 working parents and carers. The results should make interesting reading for all employers and especially line managers of the third of the workforce with caring responsibilities.

Among the findings are that:

  • Flexibility and care are no longer female issues. The survey found that 4 out of 5 parents caring for children are female, but carers of adult dependents are more evenly split: 60% female and 40% male. But while many women work part-time, for men flexible work is more about changing the times and locations of full-time work.

  • Flexible working links positively with work-life balance happiness, loyalty and productivity, but not necessarily career progression. The report notes: ‘There is a striking correlation between employees being “happy with work-life balance, given their working arrangement” on the one hand and on the other hand, employer flexibility and practical support. This happiness is a valuable resource.’

  • The role of line managers is absolutely pivotal. Having a good understanding line manager who ‘gets’ flexible working is key to making it work. Trust is key. The role of line managers also impacts on the question of consistency and fairness in an organisation. It is very common to have different standards applied in different parts of an organisation.

  • Family networks are very important. Having the domestic side sorted is also a key ingredient of work-life balance – and having family members supporting caring is important for this. But 45% report that they rarely or never have relatives helping out.

  • The lack of a care system is most felt when there is a care crisis. 85% of working parents report needing additional support on occasions when their regular help is unavailable. 50% report that they need emergency care for 5 days per year. And 13% report taking sick days themselves to deal with these crises.

The report found that the top factors that link to being happy with their work-life balance are:

  • Working part-time

  • Having supportive managers and colleagues

  • Enabling technology.

And unsurprisingly, pressure on work-life balance relates to lack of time. Working parents ‘simply have more ‘mandatory’ elements in their lives than their non-caring colleagues', say the authors. Managers and colleagues need to understand this and how different working patterns can help liberate working parents so they can be more effective on all fronts. Workload management is very important, both for the employee and the manager.

One of the key challenges is career progression – or at least in perceptions about the opportunities. And the only cure is for flexibility to become normality, with the leaders in organisations setting the example.

The report also links flexible working to other measures that support working family, such as proper management of maternity and paternity leave, and company support for childcare. And the overall message of the report is that organisations need to address work-life balance positively and proactively:

‘The building blocks of support for work-life happiness are clear. These building blocks provide support for practical and emotional needs outside of work, and practical, technological, managerial and cultural approaches within work.

‘The employers whose employees are reporting the highest happiness with work-life balance – and concomitantly the highest engagement, productivity and loyalty – are making these available for employees to access and call upon as needed. And they are seeing them as a way of working to achieve results, not a special personal favour to a stigmatised group.’
 

November 2011
 

 

Further information

Further details of the survey can be found on the My Family Care website.

My Family Care advises and supports employers with their work+family strategies and implements employee solutions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

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