Working dads avoiding HR to organise flexibility informally

Dr Carina Paine Schofield, Senior Research Fellow at Hult Business School, explains some of the research she’s been doing around workplace support for fathers.

equimundo state of fathers report 2023


Following their experience of juggling work and family life during the pandemic, many dads are keen to continue sharing the childcare load with their partners. But research coming out of Hult International Business School suggests that complicated policies and outdated attitudes are making it difficult for them to put this into practice.

As part of a joint research project with coaching practice WOMBA (Work, Me and the Baby), we interviewed working dads who had recently taken advantage of extended parental leave, either formally or informally.

Many of them told us that they were struggling, both practically and emotionally, to take on a greater parental role. Dads told us, for example, that they were frustrated by complex and unclear formal policies and often found that talking to HR didn’t help. As a result, many of them were circumventing the system and negotiating directly with their line managers to secure both paid time off and the flexibility they needed to help with childcare. The mums we interviewed were less likely to go down this informal route, preferring to stick to the ‘rules’ and make their arrangements via HR.

Working dads also felt their difficulties were compounded by the fact that very few others had gone down the parental leave route before them. Without role models to learn from, they felt they had to take a pioneering role themselves, paving the way for others to follow. “It’s my generation who are leading this…we will be the role models in the future,” said one interviewee.

Dads were also worried about whether taking parental leave or playing a bigger role in childcare would affect how they were perceived in their current role, or might have an impact on their future career prospects. There was a striking contrast, however, in the way mums and dads made their decisions about the work-child-care equation. The potential financial impact of their choices was top of the list for men, followed by emotional considerations, whereas women were led by their emotions first, with monetary issues lower down their agenda.

Some of the dads we interviewed also told us they were still coming up against generational biases in the workplace around who should be ‘looking after baby’. There was still an expectation that women should be taking on the majority of the caring, with senior managers less accepting of men having to miss meetings or take time off work to deal with a childcare issue.

There was a general feeling that the (often older) managers who held these views didn’t really understand the challenges – or maybe regretted that the same choices hadn’t been made available to them earlier in their careers. Equally, dads found that they were sometimes given almost ‘hero’ status by their work colleagues, when they took parental leave or adopted a more flexible approach.

If employers want to hang onto their working dads (and indeed mums), they need to look at HR policies to make them less complicated and ensure both parents are treated equally when it comes to parental leave and flexible working. Companies also need to hold up a mirror and see if their organisation is really as family friendly on the ground as it aspires to be. Coaching managers on how to support working dads in their teams and asking what support those dads would appreciate, would also be a step in the right direction.

If you are interested in taking part in the next phase of this research please get in contact with [email protected]

Read more:

Five questions NOT to ask at the end of your job interview

Why we need to give dads more support in the workplace

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