Categories
Flexible Working Parenting Shared Parental Leave

Supporting Men in the Workplace upon Return to Work

As Governments of the United Kingdom cautiously signal a slow easing of lockdown restrictions, employees are going to trickle back into the workplace. They may not return five days a week, but return they will. This begs the question: What steps are employers taking to welcome back men into the workplace?


That may sound like a sexist question, but it isn’t. Allow me to explain why:


Many employers are used to welcoming female staff back to work after a prolonged period of maternity leave. Employers often have Keeping In Touch days and other initiatives for women, but not men. Added to this, in most households it is mum who balances work while doing most of the childcare. The past year has been very different. Fathers have been around to help with getting the kids ready in the morning, with remote learning and been much more involved with family life.


This has resulted in a big shift in mentality for lots of men. Far from being sexist, what we’ll hopefully see is men taking on more of the childcare and domestic burden at home. Thereby freeing women up to concentrate on work and their careers. The question is, are employers ready for this monumental change in working culture?


Men’s domestic roles have changed


I asked Ian Dinwiddy for his opinion. Ian operates Inspiring Dads, a coaching service for men in the workplace who struggle balancing work and family life. I asked how he thought employers should prepare for welcoming dads back to the workplace:


“For many people, the return to the workplace will be fraught with tension, potential ongoing concerns about personal safety, and the ‘simple’ emotional challenges of change.


“To support men, it is vital to take the time for an individual assessment of needs, both from a mental health perspective and work life ‘balance’ perspective. Many men will have fundamentally changed their domestic role, especially dads caring for children, and altered their expectations of the trade-offs they are prepared to accept.”


As you can see, Ian confirmed what I’d been thinking: Many men will have reassessed their role in the home. Ian also issued the following warning:


“Any failure to recognise and carefully support men are likely to store up well-being, performance, and talent retention issues for businesses everywhere.”


What the employer organisations say


With Ian’s words ringing in my ears, I approached the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). I asked what advice it was giving employers about welcoming back men into the workplace. I was directed to this article on the FSB website.


Credit where it’s due, the article addresses Ian’s concern that employees might be concerned about the risks posed by returning to the workplace. It also mentioned childcare and the possibility of furloughing staff for longer if necessary so they can deal with children. That said, the FSB didn’t offer any specific advice for supporting dads (or mums) when they return to work.

My next stop was the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). The CBI had a dedicated Coronavirus Hub on its website with some great resources. There were ideas and case studies to help employers support staff mental health and support staff working from home. There was mention of the stresses faced by “working parents” but nothing about easing working dads back into the workplace.


Having looked at a couple of employer organisations, I approached an employer directly. Zurich is a company with a reputation for being a very forward-thinking organisation with a good approach to gender equality. I made enquiries about how it was preparing for staff to return and if it had identified any issues where men in the workplace might need some additional support.

The insurer hasn’t yet firmed up its plans. It is still “considering how to welcome staff back to the workplace” so it’s unclear at this stage what support will be available.

How to support men returning to the workplace

All things considered, I felt more than a little underwhelmed with how UK employers are preparing to welcome men back into the workplace.
With no one else providing tips for helping male employees back in to the office, I’ve put together a few suggestions:

  1. Be mindful of the fact men are less likely to acknowledge and admit they are having difficulties re-adjusting to office life. Have regular catch-ups. Ask how they are doing and make sure they are familiar with any workplace counselling services or mental health support that is on offer.
  2. Why not introduce Keeping In Touch days for all employees before they return to the office? There is no reason why these can’t run virtually.
  3. Look at the diversity training undertaken by your management team. Do they undertake training to better understand the stresses and strains faced by mums AND dads? A lot of diversity training ignores dads. This is a big oversight. The reality is that many employers are more flexible in their approach to working mothers. After a year of working from home, much of it spent in the company of their children, dads will expect equal treatment. Managers need to be aware of this.
  4. Are you ready and prepared for a surge in requests from male employees who want to formalise flexible working arrangements? They’ve spent a year balancing work with childcare responsibilities and been productive. And employers need to give all such requests serious consideration thinking long and hard before turning them down.
  5. Keep in mind that employees may have other caring responsibilities. They may be looking after an ill or disabled family member or spouse.

Being Aware that Change has taken place

To wrap up, let me make clear that women should receive the same levels of support. But employers need to be aware of how a year of working from home will have impacted and changed the expectations of fathers.

Things have changed a lot for men and employers need to accept this and take appropriate action. If they don’t, men will talk to employers who offer greater understanding and flexibility.

Categories
Flexible Working Parenting

The Pressures Felt By Working Dads

The subject of my first blog post of 2021 is very timely. I had planned to write something about the pressures felt by working dads. As COVID-19 yet again closes schools and the workforce is ordered to work from home, those pressures will be plain for all to see in households across the country.

The reason I wanted to write this post is that I regularly see working parents in the media discussing the pressures they feel. Nines times out of then those parents are mums. Tens times out of ten, the discussion focuses on the pressures faced by parents with very young children. If there’s one community that is consistently overlooked, it’s dads like myself. Dads with children in the middle years of childhood.

What pressures do working dads face?

With that point made, what pressures do dads face? Ultimately, the pressures felt by working dads come from two sources: Their employer and their family. I shall first look at the pressures employers often unwittingly place on male staff. 

Unconscious bias is a huge problem. Managers frequently pressure men to put work before family. Why? Well, they’re men and childcare is women’s work innit? I know of one woman, a well known academic as it happens, whose husband was once asked “Why the **** can’t your missus do it?” When he made clear to his boss that he had to undertake a routine childcare task. 

I’ll give a further example. The University of Birmingham and University of Kent recently did a research project into working practices during the pandemic. It found that managers contacted male employees working at home twice as much as female ones. Their seemed to be an understanding that women might be busy with kids. Whereas men would be 100% available to their employer at all times.   

Attitudes like this fail to appreciate that most households are dual income. They also fail to appreciate that men have responsibilities away from the workplace. Striking a good work / life balance is made all the tougher when your employer doesn’t want to acknowledge your life away from work.

Pressures from the family

When a man becomes a dad or a child is born, he will often take some shared parental leave. The arrival of a newborn is an exciting time, but it does also come with some stress. Sleep and feeding patterns have to be established. If a couple already have children, their needs must be attended to also. 

In my experience, employers are generally quite good at acknowledging these stresses. That won’t be every man’s experience, but it is mine. 

As kids get older, dads can have real issues because they are pressured not to get involved with their children so they can focus on work. If you have school-aged children, just take a moment to think about the last Nativity play you attended or sports day your child participated in. (I know you may have to think back to the pre-COVID era!). 

How many dads were there? I’ll wager there were some, but not nearly as many as mums. 

I know some dads genuinely struggle to get the time off work because of the nature of their employment, but many simply don’t see such events as in their ‘fatherly job description.’ This is partly because employers don’t always make it easy for men to do these things. 

Men also feel pressured by the culture of presenteeism. Hopefully COVID-19 will spell the end of this phenomena, but men’s working hours actually increase when they become dads. It’s long been thought this is because men feel pressured to provide for their families and the one way you can do that is to work, work, work. 

If a child falls ill and gets sent home from school, dads find themselves under pressure. This is something I have personal experience of. I once received an email from my boss asking me to do everything I could to make sure I didn’t have to leave the office to look after my child in future. 

Flexible working is the answer

If I were a working mum reading this post, I may well be saying: “I face all these challenges too.” 

It’s important to recognise that working mums do indeed have to deal with these issues. The big difference? Flexible working is much more acceptable for women. Managers often receive training about the pressures mums face, but not the pressures working dads face. 

Flexible working can do so much to unleash the talent of both female and male workers. The good thing is that change is afoot. Younger men are demanding the right to work flexibly so they can better balance work and family. The stats released by Find Your Flex that I published in last month’s blog post show a surge of men looking for flexible job roles. 

I just hope this is a change we see continuing. Long term it will benefit everyone: Dads, mums, children and also employers. 

Categories
Parenting

How To Build Your Own Daddy Support Community

A Daddy Support Community – It’s More valuable Than You May Think!

A little while ago, I was taking part in a panel discussion about flexible working. I was the only man on the panel. I found myself getting very frustrated with how the discussion was going.

Time and again the female panel members said it was important to have a network of friends to call upon for support. I should make clear that “friends” was code for “mum friends”. One of the panel said she was part of a WhatsApp group that featured 25 friends she called upon for help. Help such as picking kids up from school at the last minute, I simply had to respond. 

The microphone was passed to me. I made it absolutely clear that a dad could only dream of that level of support. I’ll paraphrase, but I said that what dads desperately need is “mum friends”. That mums needed to be more willing to mix with and support dads. Even if I say so myself, my comments caused a bit of a stir and I’m glad they did!

Issues For Dads. . . + What To Do About Them

When it comes to seeking support and help, dads face a few barriers. In this article, I’ll focus on two of the main ones.

First of all, men are often raised to be strong, silent, solitary types. They can feel awkward admitting they need help or someone to talk to. It can seem like weakness.

My advice to any dad is to smash this barrier down. You’ll need help and support and your children will throw unexpected curve balls at you. You can’t and shouldn’t be expected to deal with this on your own. Re-evaluate what you were taught about men and how they should behave when you were growing up. 

You are, after all, simply trying to care for your children. What could possibly be more masculine that that?

Second, informal support networks are often very mum-centric. Nursery groups, Parent Teacher Associations, school WhatsApp groups and Facebook groups can seem very mum-heavy. 

As a stay and work from home dad of many years standing, I’d say it’s imperative on you have a presence in these networks. Mums need to get used to dads being active in these groups. The only way that’ll happen is if dads engage with them and make a positive contribution. It can be lonely and it isn’t always easy, but it would be in your interests to get involved.

What Support Exists For Dads And How To Build Your Own Daddy Support Network?

Okay, so let’s take a look at what support does exist for dads. At the beginning of the parenting journey are National Childbirth Trust groups.

I personally found the support from the NCT limited. However, if you are willing to get together for coffee with the boys from your NCT group, I’d strongly recommend it. I often hear of mums meeting up with NCT mums years after giving birth. Why not dads too?

I’d also suggest getting in touch with your local Sure Start or health centre. In most localities you’ll find some kind of group for fathers. The group in my area was called Saturdads. As the name suggests, it gave dads a chance to mix and mingle with other dads and their kids on Saturday mornings.

Just one observation I’d make about these groups. They usually meet the needs of working dads. Saturdays are often ‘mum time’ in households like mine where dad does most of the childcare. Stay at home dads who look after the kids during the week, are unlikely to want to mingle with dads and other people’s kids at the weekend. 

This brings me nicely on to the subject of where at stay at home dads can look for support. Since the introduction of Shared Parental Leave in 2015, there’s been an increase in fathers undertaking the ‘at home’ role, albeit often for just a few months. Even if these men are only fulfilling the main carer role for a few months, they still need support.

Outside of the trendiest parts of East London, stay at home dad support is incredibly thin on the ground. You’re best heading online where you’ll find communities such as the UK At Home Dads Facebook group. This group, is a great resource and in the pre-COVID days, organising the occasional face-to-face meet up.

TheDadsNet also has a variety of online groups plus local groups run by volunteers across the country. It’s worth having a look to see if there is something in your area.

Daddy Support Community Apps

Over the past year, we have seen the launch of a couple of apps. These give dads a chance to meet like-minded people. These are for stay at home or working dads. DadApp is one such app while DadAF is another (just don’t ask what the F stands for). 

Online, Offline And A Little Dose Of Confidence

If you’re going to build a community you can call upon for dad support, it is likely to be a mix of online and offline communities. I’m afraid there is no escaping that mums do have more access to formal and informal support. But, if you look around, there are opportunities out there. I’d also say there the future looks rosier than it did when I became a dad over a decade ago. More recognition that dads need support exist and more has become available. Even if more is needed. 

You may need a little dose of confidence to meet with dads (…and mums) you’ve not spoken to before. If you can muster that confidence, you’ll find some great networks do exist. Don’t worry, everyone you speak to will have been in exactly the same position as you!

Daddy support is just as important as mum support.

Categories
Flexible Working Parenting

I’m A Dad And I Work Flexibly

Making Changes At Work

I always wanted to be a ‘hands on’ dad. Getting stuck in with feeding, nappy changes, cuddles, development milestones and all of the other things associated with caring for a baby. So, when my daughter was born in 2006, I decided to request a change to my contract to enable me to spend one day per working week with her.

At the time I was working five days per week in a London office in a technology related role; I was not in a position financially to take a reduction in salary, so I went for the ‘compressed hours’ option. By 2007 I was working full time hours across four days rather than five and became a bona fide flexible worker!

Was Changing To Flexible Working A Positive Experience?

On Wednesday’s I would take my daughter (and later my son) to playgroups and the park to feed the ducks while my colleagues toiled away in the office. It was a really positive experience and I have no regrets. However, I did have to endure the occasional jibe about not being available for important meetings and I feel those two years did affect my progression within that team. Once I returned to five-day weeks in 2009, I felt so strongly about this, that I moved to a different department.

The Covid Effect

Fast forward to March 2020, I was still London based, albeit at a different company. I was preparing to start a new job in April 2020. My working pattern was four days in the office and one day ‘working from home’. Which at the time was still considered less productive. Then the COVID-19 enforced lockdown happened, overnight I became a remote worker!

Like most people, the idea of working from home all the time sounded great. I embraced it wholeheartedly – no more crowded trains and expensive sandwiches; however, after a couple of weeks the novelty started to wear off.

Especially when I realised that I was facing the prospect of starting a new job at the height of lockdown in late April 2020!

Starting A New Job During Covid Lockdown

Sure enough, I started my new job and was on boarded remotely without any issues. However, one of my strengths is collaboration and brainstorming. I enjoy conversing with colleagues in both formal and informal settings. None of this was going to be possible for me, at a time when I was trying to establish myself in a new role.

For this reason, my first few months were extremely challenging from a mental health perspective. Especially when home schooling was also factored in.

Tips On How To Thrive As A Remote Worker

However, it is possible to thrive as a remote worker and over time I have managed to adjust successfully. Some tips to enable this included:

  • Developing a routine – including work start and finish times.
  • Taking regular breaks – for comfort and beverages.
  • Doing some exercise – getting outside for at least an hour during the day if possible.
  • Arranging informal catch ups with colleagues during the working day.
  • Discussing any mental health issues with a line manager.

The Future Of Work Beyond Covid

An ideal situation going forward will be a balance of office and home-based work. Local high streets and communities have begun to thrive during the lockdown. I’m hoping that things will change for the better. We’ve proved that it’s not necessary to be in the office all the time to be productive.

A guest blog from Mo Philip.

Disclaimer: This blog represents my personal views and not those of my employer.

Categories
Parenting Shared Parental Leave

Shared Parental Leave

The Benefits And Downsides Of Shared Parental Leave

Are you an expectant dad? If so, you are probably considering whether you should take Shared Parental Leave (SPL). 

Just in case you aren’t familiar with SPL, it’s a way of allowing parents to spend time at home following the birth of a child while also receiving some pay. These days parents get 50 weeks of leave that they can share between them following the arrival of a child (In shorthand, both parents could take six months of leave, or mum could take nine months and dad three months etc.).

Personally, I would encourage any dad to take SPL. It’s an awesome way to get to know your child and develop your fatherhood skills. Here are a few pros and cons to taking SPL that you should keep in mind.

Father And Child Form A Closer Bond

This is probably the most important point to keep in mind. Vast amounts of research has shown that a father who is involved with his child from day one forms a better bond with his child and stays involved, no matter what the future holds. Even if the parents get divorced in later life, a dad who has been hands on from the very start continues to play an important role in his offspring’s life. Taking SPL and spending time with your offspring in those very early days will have huge benefits for your relationship with your child and in turn, make the family happier.

You Are A Trailblazer

SPL has been around for a few years, but it’s still a relatively new concept. To some, the idea of a man looking after young children is revolutionary. Some people have never heard of SPL and take up of the leave among men is still quite low. As a result, dads who take SPL are real trailblazers. It shows you are serious about being an involved dad and you are taking advantage of a right that was denied to previous generations of men. Make the most of it!

Mum Benefits Too

The old paternity leave system simply assumed dad was only needed at home for a fortnight, after which mum could hop, skip and jump around the family home doing everything from breastfeeding to vacuuming the floor (…probably both at the same time). If you’ve ever lived with a woman who has given birth, you will know this is absolute rubbish! Two weeks is the absolute minimum most women need to recover. SPL gives dad the chance to be around for longer and help mum following the physical trauma of giving birth.

Mum’s Career Can Also Benefit

I think this is one of the most overlooked benefits of SPL. If both parents share SPL between them, mum no longer has to assume she’s got to take a year away from work because dad only gets two weeks paternity leave. Each parent could share six months of leave, reducing mum’s absence from the workplace. It also gives dad a greater chance to be active on the domestic front, lessening the childcare and housework burden on his partner.

Statutory Shared Parental Leave Pay Is Low

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that Statutory Shared Parental Pay is not well paid. At the time of writing, the Government will only pay you £151.20 a week, or 90% of your salary (whichever is less). If you take SPL, you will probably need to watch your outgoings for a while. This brings me on to a slight anomaly in the SPL system. . . 

Women Are More Likely To Receive Enhanced Pay From Employers

It’s very common for employers to voluntarily pay new mums and dads a percentage of their salary while they are taking SPL. Only thing is, some employers will pay a dad just two weeks’ pay, whereas a mum may receive some kind of payment from their employer for months (this essentially replicates the old maternity / paternity pay system that existed before 2015). This is a major barrier to some men taking SPL as they can’t afford the drop in income. You need to check if your employer pays enhanced benefits and if so what you might expect to receive.

Final Words On Shared Parental Leave

If you would like to find out more about Shared Parental Leave and Pay, there’s plenty on the .GOV website. Please do also remember that SPL is your right as an employee so do not be shy of asking for it.

I will finish with a quote from Simon Hall, a Director of Corporate Finance at BDO LLP. Simon is a dad I spoke to when writing an article about SPL for my own blog. He had recently taken SPL himself following the arrival of his daughter Jessica. 

He gave me the most amazing quote summing up his experience. I hope you find it inspiring and seriously consider taking SPL yourself: 

“From a personal perspective, SPL meant we could both be around for some really key milestones, like hearing Jessica’s first words, helping her wean onto solid foods, and taking her to meet her extended family for the first time.”

Simon Hall, a Director of Corporate Finance at BDO LLP
Categories
Business And Careers Parenting

Covid Opportunities

Some Positive Takeaways From Tough Times.

Without doubt the biggest part of this year has brought much devastation. The ONS state that “early indicators for August 2020 suggest that the number of employees in the UK on payrolls was down around 695,000 compared with March 2020.” We’ve seen families suffer loss of loved ones, not only from Covid but from mental health issues, cancer and more. But, if we are to recover and come back stronger we MUST learn lessons. We’ve been forced to rethink how we work. This, we believe is the good to come from Covid.

We have been talking to a series of dads on how they have been dealing with the past few months. Here we have Nick Donnelly,  Co Founder and CEO of Work Club HQ

The Plus Side To Dealing With Covid Times

This “COVID PERIOD” has certainly been a blessing. My wife gave birth to our daughter in September 2019. By lockdown, Scarlett was 6-months old and it was the perfect time to really bond with her. Without lockdown and running a business, I may only have only seen Scarlett for a half-hour in the morning and possibly one day on the weekend. With lockdown in place, every hour of every day I was with her, which was awesome.

Though COVID has done more for me than giving me time with my daughter, it has accelerated my business forward at rocket pace. The business my wife and I run is called WorkClub and we enable remote teams and individuals to tap into a network of workspaces, laptop-friendly spaces and meeting rooms that are local, flexible and cost-effective.

This period has forced businesses to rethink how they work, giving them the once in a lifetime opportunity to transform from the inside out. Many businesses are not adopting a hybrid workforce approach, allowing employees to choose where they work best. Our product is perfectly positioned to support teams that are evolving into a hybrid style of working.

Lessons Learned

All this is very exciting, but life changed when I became a Dad. Pre-kid, I was a workaholic, dedicating all my time to my business, travelling and staying fit. But since becoming a Dad, my priorities have shifted as I searched for a more balanced life. No longer do I randomly jump on my motorcycle with a backpack on and go to Heathrow to catch the next available flight. No longer do I spend 2 hours in the gym everyday. I also don’t spend every other minute of the day working. I want to spend more time with Scarlett and my wife Tori. However, whenever my wife and I are together, we naturally discuss WorkClub. 

Thank you to Nick for sharing his experiences. #TheCovidEffect

Read more stories from dads and their experiences of dealing with these Covid times.

A Wider Understanding Of Dads and Flexible Working

Changes To Working Culture During Lockdown