New research shows extent of workplace ‘parenthood penalty’

Working parents feel overwhelmed by the demands of the modern workplace, reporting negative impacts on their health, family life and promotion prospects, according to The 2019 Modern Families Index.

Image of stressed parent working at home amid chaos of toys
Published by charity Working Families in partnership with national childcare provider, Bright Horizons, the study finds that poor job design and stigma around part-time working means working parents put in extra hours and women achieve promotions more slowly than their male counterparts. With mandatory gender pay gap reporting meaning large companies are now approaching their second filing deadline, government efforts to tackle "burning injustices" through workplace reform and businesses pledging to take action, the 2019 Modern Families Index offers an insight into the state of play today. 

Key findings from the 2019 Working Families Index

  1. Part-time penalty leaves mothers behind

The 2019 Modern Families Index reveals that parents working part time – most of whom are women – have just a 21% chance of being promoted within the next three years, compared to 45% for their full-time counterparts.The disparity in promotion rates between part-timers and full-timers has a major impact on career progression for mothers.The Index shows that the average mother waits two years longer for a promotion than the average father.This is the consequence of more mothers than fathers being in part-time work and threatens to frustrate recent efforts by government and many corporations to close the gender pay gap.
  1. Poor job design and presenteeism cultures sees parents work extra hours

The Working Families study also found that many parents grapple with unmanageable workloads: 78% of parents work beyond their contracted hours. Of those, 60% report that doing so is necessary to deal with their workload and 52% said that working extra hours is part of their organisation’s culture, highlighting the role of presenteeism.The survey also reflects others studies in this area that show unmet demand for flexible working and among parents: 86% of parents want to work flexibly but only 49% of those surveyed do.For more than a third (37%) of parents, flexible working isn’t available in their workplaces, despite all employees having the statutory right to request flexible working arrangements, and campaigns that are encouraging employers to advertise all jobs as flexible from day one.
  1. Work takes toll on family life

The snaphsot into the lives of 2,750 working parents and carers with at least one dependent child aged 13 or younger also reports on the health and wellbeing toll of modern working practices. Around half say work causes arguments within partnerships.Working parents say they feel overwhelmed by the increasing demands of the modern workplace. Almost half (47%) said work restricts their ability to spend time reading or playing with their children and that it affects their relationship with their partner (48%). More than a quarter (28%) said it led to arguments with their children.This is exacerbated by the constant intrusion from technology on family time: 47% of respondents felt that the boundaries between work and home had become too blurred by technology.
  1. Wellbeing of parents under threat from long hours culture

The figures also raise concerns about the physical wellbeing of parents in the UK. 47% said that work had noticeable negative impacts on the amount of sleep they could get; 47% said the long hours restricted the amount of exercise they were able to take; 43% said work had a detrimental effect on their diet. 
  1. Call for employers and government to take more responsibility

Parents overwhelmingly agree that it is up to employers and the government to ease these workplace pressures: 90% of parents said that employers have a role to play and 92% said that the government has a responsibility to address these issues. This chimes with recent findings from other surveys that finds sentiment employers can do more to support working parents with childcare arrangements and backing for reform of existing legislation, for example around shared parental leave.

Actions to change perceptions of part-time work

Jane van Zyl, chief executive of Working Families, said: “Parents who work part-time and flexibly add immense value to an organisation. We have found that among Working Families member companies – which generally have excellent policies and practice around flexible working – part-time and flexible workers perform significantly higher than the average employee."However, 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. “Both the government and employers have the opportunity to break down the barriers to progression for part-time workers, and to ensure that parents aren’t under pressure to work extra hours," continued Ms van Zyl."We welcome the government’s consultation of its proposal to create a duty for employers to consider whether a job can be flexibly 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.”

Working parents 'getting a raw deal'

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. Companies’ 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 9-5 culture and embrace a more human-sized, agile approach.”  

Join Relocate Global and our Think Women community for an interactive morning at the International Women’s Day Lunch on Friday 8th March. Book tickets.

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