My wishlist for dads at work in 2020 – Achieving true work/life progress

fathers at work

So here we are at the start of 2020; a new horizon, a new decade, and for many new working fathers the start of a new dawn when it comes to work.

Where did 2019 leave us?

Diageo, O2, Deloitte, Standard Life Aberdeen, and many more were amongst the record numbers of large organisations establishing better parental leave packages for dads last year. Han Son Lee, founder of Daddilife explains that this was tremendous progress that more accurately reflected the new dynamics of modern day fathers having more equalized parenting roles.

There were also seeds of encouragement in the Government’s election manifesto, with pledges to:

  • Encourage flexible working and consulting on making it an employer’s default position.
  • Legislating to enable parents to take extended leave for neonatal care.
  • Considering how to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave.
  • Extending the leave entitlement for unpaid carers, who the Conservative party recognises are mostly women.
  • Funding more high-quality childcare before and after school and during the holidays to support working families.

What comes of those pledges still remains to be seen, but there is now an urgent need to build on last year’s momentum so that we can get closer to true progress for business and family as a whole – particularly in an economic climate where we will need to look at maximizing each and everyone’s potential at work more than ever in a post Brexit world.

Taking 2020 to new levels

Here is my top five wishlist for 2020 that I hope will enable true progress for modern day dads at work.

The Gender Balance discussion needs to consider dads as well as mums.

The gender balance debate for parents has been – and in many instances rightly so – focused on mums in the workplace. But with a new generation of fathers coming through, who are more involved in family life than ever, we need business  to enable true gender balance for dads too and help to create the ultimate goal – thriving modern day family – in all its different shapes and sizes.

I thought Caroline Strachan’s Tedx talk about this area, was one of the most enlightened from last year, and is exactly the sort of progress we now need to take action on.

As a start, businesses need to have the confidence to approach this subject in a clear, mature way, because getting flexible working right is going to drive significant competitive advantage over the short, medium and long term.

“Balance” and flexibility isn’t just for working mums

Flexible working and work life balance are often used as short-hand for “perks” for mums. As Ian Dinwiddy wrote recently, this is a failure on two levels:

  • For the dads who want to design their working time more flexibly and,
  • For the mums who need certainty of flexible working and find that they are trapped by the 26 week requirement i.e. where an employee needs to have been working for an employer for 26 weeks before a statutory request for flexible working can be made

A two tier system isn’t good for anyone.   Helping Dads to communicate their needs and desires about work life balance is vital to move the conversation on about flexible and part time working away from just being a female ‘issue’ to becoming a people issue.

Publish parental leave packages

The requirement in law to publish gender pay differentials has been a powerful tool to drive change and awareness of a workplace system that doesn’t serve the cause of retaining and promoting the best female talent.

In October 2018 the government announced that it planned to consult on a bill that would require large employers to publish their parental leave package.

Transparency in this area would represent the raising of the bar for everyone. I hope 2020 is the year where it becomes a reality.

Support in the workplace for all new parents

Becoming a parent is a massive life change – as much for men as it is for women. Men face the challenge of limited leave and the financial and cultural pressures of being the sole breadwinner on reduced income. It’s tough, and 25% of men show signs of Post Natal Depression while 80% feel the pressure of being “the rock”.

Firms that offer maternity return to work coaching or mentoring need to be recognising the benefits of supporting their men returning to work too.

It’s for that exact reason we started our own Dad Mentoring service last year which has been a huge hit for those who have been through it, and we’re expecting even more of a need in that area this year.

Flexible working must be seen as a key enabler of a productive workforce

The current legislation says that after 26 weeks of employment, you are able make a “statutory application” for flexible working. Everyone has a legal right to request, not just parents.

But too many organisations have a perception of flexible working as a way of working less. If anything, the opposite is true. The UK has one of the longest work hours cultures, but one of the least productive too.  We need to change the way we work and create new ways of working around innovation – and nowhere is this truer than with parents – mums and dads.

Flexible working for dads matters more than ever, but our own research showed that the percentage of dads being granted different forms of flexible working requested is astoundingly poor. Unless we can drive real change in this area, 2020 isn’t going to look much different to 1920 in how we view the role of fathers – both at work and at home.