Equal Flexibility to Supports Dads’ Well-Being
The M&M pancakes and keepsake cards might be done for another year, but Father’s Day is yet another day on the calendar that provides a fantastic opportunity to continue the conversation on the importance of flexible work for improved well-being.
The Importance of Workplace Flexibility
Flexibility at work is the linchpin that allows employees to allocate their resources between work and non-work aspects according to their individual preferences, helping alleviate the chronic time pressures and conflicts imposed by non-work responsibilities such as childcare, eldercare, schooling, and healthcare. It’s now widely recognised that when employees have access to flexible work in terms of location and work hours, they experience a sense of job control, increased engagement, higher job satisfaction, and ultimately improved health and well-being. Importantly, men who have the opportunity to work flexibly report lower stress levels and reduced burnout. They also tend to have a heightened sense of purpose and overall well-being.
Take, for example, Jason, a Commercial Manager with Ventia. As a single dad, he faced the formidable task of balancing parenthood with a full-time role. Jason’s situation compelled him to discuss his needs with his General Manager, who, from the outset, made it clear that he trusted Jason to manage his own schedule.
“I needed to be able to drop off and pick up the kids from school during the weeks they were with me,” Jason recalls.
Interestingly though, it’s still women who are using formal flexible work arrangements, despite flexibility being in the top 5 priorities for men of all ages when choosing a new job.
Breaking the Flexible Work Stigma for Men
According to the latest Diversity Council Australia 2023 data, the flex work gap appears to be driven by a stigma on men accessing flexible work options typically viewed as ‘feminine’ or associated with care work.
While all flex workers are more likely to face discrimination and harassment at work than those who don’t, men who accessed flex work in the form of reduced hours were more likely to face negative treatment than women (37% vs 24%).
Organisations play a significant role in addressing the gendered stigma on flex work by encouraging their employees to share the care and forming more formal flexible work policies for all employees.
Business Benefits of Flexible Working
The advantages of flexible working are not confined to improving the well-being of fathers alone. They extend to the broader organisational landscape, offering a wealth of benefits including:
- Recruiting from a Broader Talent Pool: Research from the DCA highlights that flexibility is a top employment driver for various groups of male workers, including young fathers, male managers, men under 35 without caregiving responsibilities, and men over 55. For some groups, like young fathers and men under 35, flexible work is among the most highly valued job characteristics. This not only attracts a more diverse talent pool but also promotes gender equality in the workforce.
- Increased Employee Engagement and Effort: When men lack flexibility in their jobs, they often struggle to balance work with personal and family lives. This can lead to decreased job satisfaction, increased turnover intentions, and waning job engagement. Enabling fathers to work flexibly empowers them to contribute more effectively to achieving business objectives.
- Boosting Productivity and Loyalty: Contrary to misconceptions, flexible work arrangements can actually enhance productivity. Dads can align their work hours with their most productive times, resulting in focused and efficient output. Additionally, companies that prioritise flexibility tend to experience higher employee loyalty and retention rates.
Benefits for Individuals, Relationships, and Families
Flexible work not only bolsters the well-being of fathers but also yields positive outcomes for individuals, relationships, and families:
- Enhancing Family Relationships: A less stressed dad at work is a less stressed dad at home! Fathers are likely to also experience reduced work-family conflict when they operate in a family-supportive organisational culture.
- Active Fathering and Psychological Well-Being: Engaging fathers in parenting, enabled by flexible work, positively impacts their psychological well-being, as well as that of their partners. It also enhances the quality of marital and couple relationships.
- Equitable Division of Labour: Engaged fathering has the potential to reshape the gendered division of labour, particularly regarding childcare. When fathers participate in caregiving and experience their partners’ everyday lives, they gain a deeper understanding of the unpaid work often performed by women. This, in turn, fosters greater equality in household tasks.
Tips for Encouraging Equal Flexibility
Organisations keen on enhancing men’s access to flexible work can take several measures:
- Recognise Diversity Among Men: Acknowledge the diversity in men’s work, life stage, lifestyle, cultural background, and more. Understanding this diversity is crucial for effectively responding to men’s workplace needs and engaging them in the flexibility journey.
- Integrate Focus on Men and Flexibility: Incorporate a focus on men and flexibility into existing flexible work frameworks. Emphasise the business case for men’s engagement in flexible work, foster a culture supportive of flexible work for men, and develop senior male role models of flexible work.
- Paternity Leave: Review and expand policies to provide men with greater access to parental and paternity leave, promoting gender equality in these provisions.
- Consider Fatherhood: Use fatherhood as a starting point to integrate flexibility and reduce gender disparities in accessing flexible work. Recognise the contribution men and fathers make to individual, family, and social well-being.
Flexibility in the workplace holds the key to improved well-being for everyone and has far-reaching benefits for organisations, individuals, and society as a whole. Creating supportive cultures and policies that normalise flexible working arrangements for men not only rebalances home and work lives but is a pivotal step toward creating happier, more productive employees.