Policy News for Working Parents: The parenthood penalty.

Policy News for Working Parents: The parenthood penalty.

Do any of these resonate with you?  An unrealistic workload.  Working in the evening and on weekends.  Not enough time spent with family, or enough time to meet your own needs.  Stalling your career because you’re concerned about any impact on family life.  A flexible job that doesn’t feel flexible at all.

If they do, then you’re not alone.  Our 2018 Modern Families Index, published today, reveals the huge number of extra hours parents are working.  It found that of those parents contracted to work 35-36 hours per week (a ‘typical’ working week), two in five are putting in extra hours.  Of these, almost a third are putting in an extra seven hours – the equivalent to an extra working day.

Why do parents feel they need to do this?  Most (63%) cite a lack of time to get through all their workload, and employer and manager expectations of long hours and staying later at work; 53% said it was part of their organisations culture.

The figures paint a worrying picture and the effects are as you’d expect; nearly half (47%) of respondents told us work affects their ability to spend time together as a family.  The UK’s long hours culture is listed as a direct cause of tension at home (more than a quarter of parents said work leads to arguments with their partner), as well as having a profound impact on personal wellbeing (parents eating less healthily and not doing enough exercise).

Sound like you?  If so, you’re one of many parents feeling overwhelmed by the increasing demands of the modern workplace; and concerned about the impact it’s having on family life and personal wellbeing.  In short, many of the UK’s working parents are burnt out.

Parents are trying to mitigate these negative effects.  Nearly one in five reported deliberately stalling their careers for family reasons – which could include concerns about an ever more unrealistic workload they won’t be able to keep on top of, or concerns they’ll lose the flexibility they have in their current role. 

This is clear evidence of a ‘parenthood penalty’ at play in the UK.  And, with 11 million working parents it’s something the UK economy can ill afford.  

But hang on.  Wasn’t the right to request flexible working supposed to solve all this?  Make it easier for parents to find the work-life fit that’s right for them? Our study shows over a third (37%) of parents that work flexibly said they felt burnt out all or most of the time (compared to 27% of those that said they don’t work flexibly).   If all employees have the right to request it, why are so many parents still struggling?

There are several reasons.  Many parents don’t feel able to access it.  Nearly half of parents that took part in our study couldn’t access it (the majority said they’d like to work flexibly).  Fewer than half felt flexible working was a genuine option in their workplace.  

And even for those that do work flexibly, it hasn’t gone far enough.  Of those parents that work ‘flexibly’, nearly one third (31%) had restricted or no control over where they work, a quarter had restricted or no control over their working hours and one fifth had restricted or no control over their start and finish times.

To be clear, flexible working is still the best way for parents to gain control over their work-life balance.  But it’s not enough if all it delivers is the flexibility to manage a bumper workload.  We’re calling for more human-sized jobs that allow parents to fulfil their labour market potential allow families to thrive. 

But of course this requires an overhaul in our approach to work combined with a focus on the longer term.  Are UK employers up for the challenge?  Watch this space.


Working Families is the UK’s leading work-life balance organisation. The charity helps working parents and carers and their employers find a better balance between responsibilities at home and work.

Released On 19th Jan 2018


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