Written by Ciara Duggan and

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In just a few weeks’ time, schools across the country will break up for the summer holidays, and their parents will begin wrestling with the question of how to balance the increased demands of childcare with their working lives.

It is around this time that questions around working parents’ work/life balance are brought to the fore, as the focus shifts to how they divide their time between work and home responsibilities.

Such is the question that is addressed in the Modern Families Index, which surveys how working parents achieve this balance.

One of the main findings in this report was the value placed on flexible working. Of the 2,750 parents surveyed, 86% indicated that they wanted to work flexibly, but only 49% said that they did. Those who did not gave a number of reasons, including that they job was not compatible with flexible working (40%), that it was not available to them (37%) and that the manager did not like it (9%).

It also appeared from the Index that flexibility was valued more highly than career progression for parents, with 11% of parents saying they have turned down promotions or new roles to maintain their work/life balance. 65% of mothers and 50% of fathers said they intend to stay in their role because they would not find the same flexibility elsewhere.

Employers should therefore be alive to the value of flexible working, and to the benefits such practices can bring to the business, such as improved morale, better retention of staff and an ability to attract higher calibre candidates.

When asked how employers could improve in addition to offering flexible working, the action 37% of the total respondents (and over 40% of fathers) suggested was a change in the office culture to be more accepting of a work/life balance.

There are numerous steps employers can take to address this. For example, better training for managers and senior staff can make a big difference. Managers are often concerned that flexible working will disrupt their team and create an unfair workload for other employees.

By offering them guidance on how to implement flexible working patterns within their team and how to distribute workloads effectively, managers may be less hostile to the idea of flexible working and therefore more supportive of employees who want to exercise this option. Managers may then find there are ways of working flexibly that are compatible with their teams, such as compressed hours or flexi-time.

In addition, there is a perception that those who work flexibly will not be promoted as quickly as their full-time colleagues. A Government analysis earlier this year reported that employees feel that limited career progression was a “necessary sacrifice” to make to work flexibly.

While changing office culture may help remove this barrier, it is up to employers to consider whether the more senior roles can be done on a more flexible basis. A benefit of considering offering such roles on this basis is the ability to attract better candidates for the position than if it was advertised as a full-time post.

With the Government set on improving access to flexible working, and the possibility of extended paternity rights on the horizon, employers would do well to consider how flexible working can benefit not just its working parent employees, but the business as a whole.

8th July 2019