Across the City: 2017 Cityparents Survey
"The City's 'society' needs to catch up with real society": commented one participant in our latest Cityparents survey about the experiences and expectations of professionals seeking to balance a City career with a meaningful home life. This view was echoed by many others working in traditional ‘City’ industries such as banking and finance, management consulting, the law, accountancy and insurance.
What’s driving this belief? Are City firms leading the way or not in terms of enlightened workplace policies and practices? Do employees believe they can progress their careers on merit alone regardless of their gender, ethnicity and working arrangement? And what support do today’s City workers want their employers to offer?
The responses and comments shared by over 1,000 respondents to the 2017 Cityparents Survey show a mixed picture, including -
- Formal workplace policies are becoming more supportive, according to 60% of respondents, up 6% on last year
- Flexible working is more widely accepted: 72% of women and 57% of men (+7% for men vs 2016) say they work flexibly and across genders, 63% of flexible workers believe their arrangement works well for them and their employer.
- But career progression is the cost for many. 56% of respondents (+9% vs 2016) say they don’t feel confident they can progress their career at their current employer without making unsustainable sacrifices in their personal/family life
- Worklife balance (81%), career progression (63%), coping with workload pressure (59%) and emotional and mental wellbeing (57%) are the four top challenges facing City professionals
- 55% of respondents reported either having experienced mental ill health in the past or experiencing it at present (+33% vs 2016)
- Office culture remains a key barrier to openness about mental health issues - 66% of those affected by mental ill health chose not to disclose it to others at work
- With 95% of married/cohabiting women and 75% of men saying that both spouses/partners work, parents are keen for employers to recognise that balancing a career and parenting is a whole family issue, not just a women’s issue
"I am encouraged by the changes being made in City firms".
There is substantial and growing recognition of the effort by many employers to establish clear and supportive workplace policies. Furthermore, 61% of respondents (fig 1 below) believe that “the work culture (defined as behaviours and attitudes) in my organisation is becoming more supportive towards employees”. A number of professionals speak highly of this e.g. "My line manager and colleagues in my current department are very understanding of family issues, health issues etc....I am very proud to work for my current company which stands true to all their principles".
Figure 1 below shows survey participants experiences based on their current role
Work/life balance is seen as inching up the corporate agenda. 57% of respondents now agree with the statement ‘I feel I am able to achieve a satisfactory worklife balance in my current role” (Fig 1 above), up 3% on 2016. Having said that, achieving a satisfactory work/life balance is still the top challenge cited by respondents (81%) but this is down 3% on last year and we have also seen a steady drop over the past 3 years in the proportion of people saying this is ‘unsatisfactory’, from 30% to 25%.
The widespread adoption of flexible working patterns is a key factor in this gradual trend. 69% of respondents say they work flexibly and 63% of flexible workers believe their arrangement meets both their own objectives and their employers’ objectives well.
The Taylor Review of modern working practices, published yesterday, also confirms that across the UK flexible working has been shown to have a positive impact on productivity, retention and quality of work. Mirroring our own research in the City, the Taylor Review found that 75% of their survey respondents were satisfied with their ability to set their own hours.”
"Having the flexibility to work from home is a real game changer for me."
73% believe their flexible working arrangement has a positive impact on their personal health and wellbeing. 90% of respondents say that both they and their spouse/partner work and anecdotally, the vast majority say that working flexibly is essential in enabling them to manage competing demands in home and work lives, especially when children are part of the mix.
Another key family-friendly policy - shared parental leave - is slowly gaining ground among City professionals with 46% of respondents saying they would consider taking this versus 20% saying they wouldn’t. Whilst actual take-up is still low - only 23% of eligible respondents who’d had a new baby in the last 2 years say they chose to benefit from this policy - 71% of these parents rated it as a positive experience.
"There is only one "winning" model"
Employers are more accommodating of working preferences but seen by many as offering insufficient structure and opportunity to progress up the ladder, especially for those following ‘alternative’ career paths or working flexibly. When asked “do you feel your employer provides you with appropriate support to fulfil your role effectively and progress your career?” 53% responded ‘in part’.
People are looking higher up in their organisation and feeling dissuaded from progressing their careers due to the mounting sacrifices they feel they will be required to make at the expense of their home lives. 56% - a striking 9% more than last year - disagreed with the statement “I feel confident I can progress my desired career path at my current employer without making unsustainable sacrifices in my personal/family life” (Fig 1 above).
“It feels to me that in order to have a meaningful home life, you have to put your career on the back burner - and vice versa"
Figure 2 below shows 49% of flexible workers said they felt that their flexible arrangement had a negative impact on their potential for promotion and similarly for their desired longer-term career progression (50%)
All too often, working mothers say they have lost momentum in their career or are no longer perceived as valuable, whilst “employers could do more to recognise and promote fathers as also needing a meaningful home life, and the expectation should be that fathers are recognised as co-primary caregivers”. 84% of working parents say that career progression has slowed or changed course for either them, their partner or both.
Diversity & inclusion
"There is a drive from the top to promote inclusion and diversity in the organisation"
45% of respondents agree that their “place of work offers an inclusive environment where differences are valued”. These employees feel their senior management are setting the right tone and that “from a policy perspective, this is pushed”. The most positive praise their employer for being "cosmopolitan and forward thinking in attitudes" with "laudable policies". Another 44% only agree ‘in part’ that their work environment is inclusive, but many point to an evolving position where things are beginning to change.
The proportion of female and/or ethnic minority employees progressing to senior levels is perceived by the majority (51%) to be “improving slightly/slowly’, although another 34% say they see no change here. Many comment on the scarcity of promotions to senior management for women working flexibly or without a full-time partner at home. "I don't know of many senior ethnic minorities leaders in our organisation" is also a common refrain.
"Physically it is good. Mentally less so".
This comment from one individual summarises how many City professionals rate their current health and wellbeing. While 60% of respondents say their physical health is either ‘excellent’ or ‘good’, the same is true for only 55% of respondents when asked about their mental health, with another 37% rating this as merely ‘fair’.
55% of respondents reported either having experienced mental ill health in the past or experiencing it at present - this is a huge increase (33% up) on last year’s figures and shows supporting employee mental health should be an area of high priority for City firms1. The higher figures this year may be attributed in part to higher levels of awareness, possibly encouraged by some high profile, recent campaigns across the City to reduce the stigma attached to mental ill health.
Figure 3 below shows the most common forms of mental ill health in the City reported by our survey participants.
66% said they did not disclose their mental ill health to others at work; for the vast majority this was out of concern about how this would be received and the potentially negative impact on their career. More than one professional described disclosure as "professional suicide" whilst another simply commented "it's not done". Shockingly, one stated "insomnia/stress/burnout are so common in the industry they are not noteworthy" whilst another "thought it was normal to feel like that". A minority chose not to disclose because they didn’t feel the need to or felt this was a personal matter unrelated to work.
Summary and recommendations
Although many City employers have put in place supportive, formal policies, these are not yet being consistently translated into day-to-day attitudes, behaviours and decision-making. Time and again, respondents say that your experience in the workplace depends on your particular department and senior managers. "Lots of talk...but in practice [....] it really depends on who your boss is".Too many, particularly in minority groups/circumstances (ethnic, gender, social, returnees) still experience City working as an "uphill battle". Mental health and wellbeing remains a key area of concern, and employers need to do much more to ensure that they promote a culture where the topic of mental illness can be raised without fear of stigma, judgment or career derailment.
We encourage employers to make good, effective policies an integral part of the work culture by:
- Reviewing and strengthening career progression support for women, flexible workers and others following ‘alternative’ career paths
- Identifying and addressing potential bias in decision-making relating to promotion and succession
- Making shared parental leave more affordable and culturally acceptable
- Reducing the stigma around men taking extended leave and working flexibly for family reasons
- Looking afresh at organisation and job design to address the ongoing issue of unsustainable workloads and reduced progression opportunities
- Ensuring that appropriate, proactive mental health support is available and career progression is not jeopardised by disclosure.
And above all, for senior leaders to visibly lead by example and in turn, constructively engage and challenge their direct reports around how they are doing the same.
For more information, please contact:
Louisa Symington-Mills: firstname.lastname@example.org
Helen Beedham: at email@example.com
This Survey of Cityparents members working in ‘City’ professions was conducted from 19 June - 4 July 2017. It reflects the views of 1,022 respondents.
 This year we included explicit definitions of mental ill health in our question, so last year’s lower figures may have indicated a general lack of understanding about what is or isn’t classified as mental ill health.
Released On 11th Jul 2017