Half of working parents feel unfairly judged

A new study calls on UK businesses to do more to help working parents. It finds the relief felt as children return to school after the summer holidays is quickly replaced by the worry of balancing work and family life.

Image of small boy and parent at school drop off
A major new study of 1,400 working parents by HR software provider, www.CIPHR.com, finds a full three-quarters of working parents suffer stress and anxiety from trying to manage their work-life balance – four years on from the introduction of the right to request flexible working and as the government seeks to improve awareness and take-up.The biggest challenges for managing work-life balance are child sickness and school holidays, which both secured a third of the vote.  Echoing other research in this area, the study found a further 53% of respondents feeling judged by managers and colleagues for trying to balance their work and family commitments.

More responsiveness to working parents’ needs needed?

Six in ten (61%) of respondents to CIPHR's survey said they thought their employers did a good job at supporting working parents. Yet just 55% of respondents feel able to access flexible working arrangements, leaving them stressed and anxious, and meaning there is “significant room for improvement” in employer practices.Earlier this year, the professional body for HR and people development, the CIPD – a member of the government taskforce set up after the Taylor Review to assess among other issues the practicality of advertising all jobs as flexible from day one – released figures showing plateauing take-up of flexible working.A Working Families study also examined the barriers men face in taking up their flexible working and shared parental leave rights.This latest research from CIPHR therefore adds further insights, which could help employers of working parents better balance professional lives with family commitments

Managing and overcoming perceptions 

Among the survey’s findings are that managers who are empathetic to their team members’ personal circumstances are key to helping to resolve the pressures of managing work and family.CIPHR’s study found that 66% of more senior managers with greater childcare resources are perceived as "far less understanding" when it comes to helping their staff with their work-life balance.A further two-thirds (67%) of working parents surveyed said managers and colleagues with their own children were "far more supportive" of their flexible working needs – likely because of a shared understanding of the issues parents face. 

Crossing the workplace gender divide

Gender also plays a role in the perceptions of how helpful managers are. Four in ten said they felt women bosses were more understanding and supportive of their own needs. Just 10% said male managers were most sympathetic.Given the research to date on female representation at senior levels, these findings play into wider conversations around diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace, unconscious bias around aspirations of working men and women, and wellbeing.

Family-sized stress

The number of children in a working family is also seems to be critical factor in stress, anxiety and career prospects, with different challenges for each.Workers with one child are most likely to have formal flexible working arrangements in place (62%). Workers with three children were the most likely to say that being a parent had hindered their career prospects (55%).

Double the trouble for working parents of two children?

However, the pain point really comes for those working parents with two children, says the CIPHR. Around six in ten (59%) of people with two children report feeling the most judged by managers and colleagues for their work-life balancing issues.Workers with two children are also most likely to report feeling stressed and anxious about juggling home and work.More than three-quarters (77%) said balancing responsibilities caused them stress and anxiety, compared to 75% across all respondents. 

Presenteeism and working parents

Claire Williams, head of people at CIPHR, said: “While this study confirms that the majority of employers are doing a good job of helping their staff balance their professional and family lives, there is still significant room for improvement.“There also seems to be an uncomfortably wide gender gap between perceived supportive managers, which is concerning.“It’s clear from this study there is a greater need for understanding and acceptance of the issues staff with young families face, especially by colleagues and managers who do not face these problems themselves.“Often when a child is sick there is an exclusion period from their regular childcare or school. School holidays simply add to the juggling act. These additional pressures create a level of anxiety and perception of being judged for issues that are simply out of anyone’s control.“Flexible working is obviously key to many successful employee and employer relationships, but perhaps the issue of presenteeism needs to be addressed for working parents, too.”For related news and features, visit our HR pages. 
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