The COVID-19 pandemic is putting flexible work on the table for thousands of fathers across the country, as they prove working from home can be just as practical as working in a traditional office environment.
It is a welcome move for many fathers, who despite wanting to be more involved in caring for their children and spending more time with their family, continue to face barriers when it comes to flexible work arrangements.
University of South Australia researcher, with the Centre for Workplace Excellence, Dr Ashlee Borgkvist, says the whole working from home phenomenon is providing significant benefits for dads to both play and engage with their families, whilst also delivering clear evidence for employers that it can indeed work.
“In Australia, most dads tend to work full-time, limiting the time they can spend with their families. Now, as many businesses have shifted to work-from-home scenarios, the current norm is changing,” says Dr Borgkvist. People in the workplace, families and children, are all just realising the immense benefits of the changing norms and the positive impacts working from home can have.
Dr Borgkvist says, “Until now, most Australian fathers have not used flexible or part-time work arrangements, despite these options being available to them through their employer… The reasons why are multifaceted”. However, this can be linked to the male perception of the ideal worker, workplace cultures, and the long-held constructions of masculinity.
Although, the ideas of what comprise the ideal worker, or a good workplace culture will undoubtedly be challenged because of COVID-19, as all tiers of workers, managers and executives embrace social isolation measures. Father’s can now reveal how working from home can be just as productive, if not more so, than working in an office environment. This can further boost their confidence that working from home can be both, an acceptable and possible working space.
“Broader societal ideas that mothers should be responsible for caregiving in families, continue to seep into the organisational context and can influence cultural support for men’s use of flexibility, as well as how policies are discussed, offered, and implemented by supervisors and the organisation as a whole,” Dr Borgkvist says.
Their has been a noticeable shift in family employment patterns over the past 40 years, as Dr Borgkvist reminds us of the model, ‘breadwinning’ fathers and the stay-at-home mothers. “The shift has seen an increase in mothers’ employment (generally part-time) while remaining the primary caregiver, but little change in fathers’ employment,” says Dr Borgkvist.
Gender imbalances are occurring in the work hours and arrangements of mothers and fathers, as it has been revealed that, fathers with children under the age of 12 are working an average of 40-46 hours a week, in comparison to mothers working around 28 hours a week. It has also been revealed that most fathers are in full-time work, with less than a third taking advantage of flexible work arrangements, and fewer than 10% on part-time work arrangements.
Dr Borgkvist through her research has revealed that many fathers actually were not sure of their workplace policies or options and entitlements for flexible work, in their workplaces. This a great concern, as it has also been revealed through research that there has been “very little movement among Australian fathers to work more flexibly, with statistics showing barely any growth over the past 10 years“, says Dr Borgkvist.
We reminded by Dr Ashlee Borgkvist, that as a society, this needs to change. This needs to change, not only because it will help balance work and family responsibilities, but it will also allow for both, men and women to contribute more equally.
“As research has shown time and time again, a good work-life balance delivers a more productive and efficient workforce.”
Society needs to see organisations model and support flexible working arrangements for dads which can help build a positive and supportive culture for men who may want to use flexibility. “We need open communications and transparent workplace policies about flexible work for all; and we need dads to step up and challenge organisational and societal norms”, says DrBorgkvist.
The global COVID-19 pandemic, may have be the catalyst for forced workplace flexibility, however, the valuable lessons we, as a society, are taking from this unprecedented time could truly be extraordinarily positive.