Why dads need to embrace flexible working

Happier, healthier, fairer: flexible working is the future for dads. It's also how we'll achieve workplace equality, too

Ideally, we all want more equality at work and at home, and a healthier split between our office and personal lives. But with many men still feeling financially, professionally and culturally unable to work flexibly for family reasons, and a pay gap that remains 17.9 per cent lower for women, equality still feels far off right now.

This is why the launch of new site Working Dads has never felt so apt. The women’s equivalent, Working Mums, was first launched 12 years ago by entrepreneur Gillian Nissim, who saw a gap in the market for a site promoting flexible full-time and part-time roles, as well as advice and information for employers and employees. Now, the dedicated men’s site has arrived.

‘When men are more engaged with family life they are happier and they live longer’

‘The phrase “working mums” has long been a thing but “working dads”? Not so much,’ explains James Millar, editor of Working Dads and author of Dads Don’t Babysit: Towards Equal Parenting (and no relation to our fatherhood columnist). ‘But more and more men were coming to the Working Mums site looking for part-time and flexible jobs. Launching this site makes it clear this is an issue for men and it’s normal for men to want a better work-life balance.’

Infographic courtesy of WorkingDads.co.uk

And they really do. The Modern Families Index, compiled by the charity Working Families, showed that half of the fathers surveyed found their work-life balance was increasingly a source of stress, and a third felt burnt out regularly. This isn’t good news for anyone in the family. ‘When men are more engaged with family life they are happier and they live longer; their partners are happier and they earn more; their children are happier and do better at school,’ says Millar. ‘In my book we called it the parenting hat-trick. Everyone wins.’

And it’s not just everyone’s health and happiness that gets a boost from men escaping the nine-to-five. According to the Women and Equality Committee’s 2016 report, sharing childcare between fathers and mothers is the key to reducing the gender pay gap.

‘You have to look pretty hard to find an area where men are discriminated against but flexible working is one’

‘It starts with boosting paternity leave and normalising shared parental leave,’ argues Millar. ‘If an employer is faced with a male and a female candidate and they know that whichever they choose they’ll take six or nine months off when they become a parent, then the bias against women is removed, and the gender pay gap withers away.’

But it’s that first stat – that men feel financially, professionally and culturally unable to ask for flexible working – that is standing in the way of happier workers and a better quality of life for fathers. ‘You have to look pretty hard to find an area where men are discriminated against but flexible working is one: a woman is far more likely to have her flexible working request granted than a man is,’ say Millar. ‘That’s because employers expect mums to make changes, they don’t expect it from dads. That’s got to change.’

The launch of Working Dads shows things are slowly shifting in the right direction. But to really force change to happen, men need to start talking openly about flexible working, and the decisions they need to make for a better work/life balance, like leaving on time for a parents’ evening, or starting a bit later to fit in the school run. Fathers also need to know that it’s okay to ask for flexible working, or even switch up their full-time job for one that offers fewer hours so they can be more involved with family life. Because only once things like flexible working is normalised for men, as well as women, will everyone be able to reap the benefits.

With thanks to James Millar and workingdads.co.uk