The National Working Families Report — released on Tuesday (29 October) by Parents At Work and compiled on the back of data from 6,289 Australian parents and carers — confirmed what many have long suspected about Australian workplaces: that flexible work is seen as primarily for women.
More than two-thirds of those polled agreed with the notion that it is more acceptable for women to take up family-friendly work options than it is for men.
Fathers reported barriers to accessing flexible work arrangements, particularly in relation to their professional reputation, employer perceptions as well as financial constraints.
For women, however, one of the greatest challenges arising relates not to taking advantage of leave, but in returning to work. The report found that a third (34 per cent) of women had missed out on an opportunity for promotion because they had taken paid parental leave — compared with 11 per cent of men.
Almost as many mothers (28 per cent) said they returned to work with the same employer only to find their job had changed.
Fathers, by comparison, almost unanimously (96 per cent) returned to the same employer, and only 6 per cent of those found that their job had changed as a result.
It should be noted that of the respondents, the vast majority (80 per cent) were women. Of the remainder, 19 per cent were men, while 1 per cent identifies as non-binary.
Importance of findings for employers
Employers may or may not be surprised by the findings as they relate to staff turnover: one in four parents admitted that they actively intended to change jobs because of difficulties managing it with their responsibilities at home, or at the very least had considered doing so.
“These stresses have important implications for both families and employers. One in four parents and carers reported an increased intention to leave their jobs in the next 12 months, because they struggle to combine caring with their job,” said Parents At Work CEO Emma Walsh.
“Two-thirds of working parents and carers reported struggling to look after their own physical and mental health, and that’s a startling statistic by anyone’s measure.
“Half of all women and one-third of men who were parenting or caring reported they were under a lot or a great deal of stress when juggling work and family roles.
“Two-thirds reported feeling too emotionally or physically drained when they got home from work to contribute to their family, and half had missed out on family activities in the past month due to time they had to spend at work.”
The delicate balancing act is also having an impact on personal relationships and stability at home, the report also found, with a third of parents stating the stresses of juggling work and family were causing tension in their relationships with their partner and children.
Furthermore, most parents (62 per cent) reported struggles with looking after their own health — both mental and physical — due to these pressures.
Giving up work not the answer
According to Ms Walsh, despite the stresses of juggling work and family commitments for parents and carers, employment remains an important part of their overall wellbeing.
As well as providing an income, she said that most Australians said their job contributes to their personal sense of fulfillment.
One of the significant findings of the report is that there is room for improvement in terms of communication.
Just 19 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men said they kept in touch with their employers while on parental leave.
Perhaps better communication between the parties would alleviate some of the stresses faced by parents, while also providing employers with greater certainties around if and when the staff member is likely to return to work, in what capacity, and what (if any) other factors could be introduced to help both parties manage this transition.