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.