Caregiving fathers vote with their feet for flexible work

Despite an increase in flexible working post-pandemic, a new study has found that fathers continue to receive less support in the workplace.

caregiving fathers flexible work


Caregiving fathers regard workplace flexibility as a central factor when deciding on a job role and will vote with their feet by leaving for elsewhere if it’s not offered.

That is the main finding of a new report – Fatherhood Forfeits Post-COVID- All change or business as usual? The Experiences of Caregiving Fathers Managing Work and Care in the Post Covid Environment – which was developed from qualitative research with 28 caregiving fathers.

Led by Dr Jasmine Kelland at the University of Plymouth, in partnership with the early childhood development app Babbu, it set out to explore their post-pandemic experiences of managing caregiving and work.

Dr Kelland, a Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Programme Leader at the University of Plymouth, said, “There’s no doubt there has been a post-Covid change in attitude towards caregiving dads, but there’s still a long way to go to fully accept and support fathers in caregiving roles. Both in the workplace and society as a whole, dads face judgement and deep-seated gender stereotyping. It makes it harder for them to take an active role in looking after their children.”

The responses showed that having had a taste of a more flexible working life and greater involvement at home, many caregiving fathers were reluctant to give this up and would leave their current role for somewhere that offered greater flexibility.

During the course of the research one father, Tim, said: “I couldn’t properly spend time with my daughter, my partner, anything like that and it just basically was not worth it, hence why I looked for another job.”

In addition to flexible working, participants stated the provision of simplified working and parental leave policies with gender-neutral language and more understanding from managers would help them in their management of work and caregiving.

Charlie described the Shared Parental Leave policy as “extremely hard to navigate” whilst Toby said he felt he was teaching his organisation “what the actual law was”.

The use of inclusive, gender-neutral language is important elsewhere, too, with fathers saying society should avoid overpraising caregiving fathers, as they felt this was not the treatment received by mothers. They also discussed how, despite being more visible in society post-pandemic, caregiving fathers continue to be socially excluded when in the minority in child related locations, such as playgrounds.

It seems the ‘fatherhood forfeits’ that had been observed before the pandemic continue to exist, with fathers continuing to face social mistreatment and a lack of workplace support. Caregiving fathers reported struggling with friendships and facing exclusion, receiving disproportionate praise for caregiving behaviours, facing negative judgement and being viewed with suspicion, all of which create a barrier to involvement.

Linked to this, societal norms still place fathers in secondary roles compared to mothers: participants said they felt overlooked in both medical and school settings in favour of the mother and felt they received different (often less) workplace support.

Toby, one of the participants, explained: “I asked my line manager whether I could have a compacted working week. She came back and said you can’t do that as you are required five days a week. Then four to six months later my colleague, who is doing the exact same role as me but was a woman, asked for it and was granted it.”

For many, the support on offer also feels conditional, dependent on the type of organisation and line managers’ own parental status. In the research, the fathers said they have to fight harder and shout louder to get the same treatment as mothers, such as working a condensed week or leaving early for the school run.

To read the full report head here. 

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