Working dads and lockdown: Karen Lothian

Edinburgh coach Karen Lothian specialises in helping working dads. She says it’s time to change the conversation around working dads

Two men sitting on a bench in a snowy city talking having a conversation


Karen Lothian is a qualified coach with 20 years of experience working in HR. She helps men grow their confidence, support their wellbeing and mental health and help guide them through life transitions. This includes helping them navigate parenthood.

Coach Karen Lothian

Time to change the conversation around working dads

I have worked operationally in HR for over 20 years, often in male dominated industries, which means I have seen first-hand the stresses and the struggles faced by many dads, especially when it comes to flexible working or working from home.

Over the course of my career, I have seen a significant rise in the number of dads who want to play a more active role in raising their children.  Some want to be stay-at-home dads; others are keen for more flexibility around how they work. What they have in common is a sense of frustration around the strictures of our society that do not allow for these lifestyle choices to be followed.

Our society is changing. Dads want to play a bigger part in parenting, a role they can do just as well as women, but the narrative feels like it is stuck in the 1950s.

When lockdown happened in March of this year life changed very quickly for families. Early morning commutes were replaced with a stroll downstairs and home living spaces converted into an office, whilst balancing 24/7 childcare responsibilities.

Research from the Office for National Statistics found that the number of hours men were spending on childcare has increased by an average of 58% since lockdown began in March. Whereas in 2015, men spent 39% of the time women spent on childcare. In lockdown, this figure rose to 66%.

Different experiences of lockdown

Has this change been a positive one for dads?  In some cases it has been. Not having to commute has meant spending more time with their families. Building a stronger bond with their children by being there for bath time or bedtime. Having the opportunity to read them their favourite book, or play their favourite game. And also supporting mum and giving her time to herself.

On the flipside some dads are more stressed and report having less time to spend with their children, working longer hours, lower productivity, and less motivation. Fathers’ mental wellbeing, placed under pressure during lockdown, is also a growing concern. Many struggled to balance their workloads with homeschooling and childcare commitments.

The Dads in Business 2020 report found ‘many dads felt they were worse parents, that work stresses were worsened, and that there was an increase in a high level of emotions. 50% of dads feel guilty working from home and 87% of those also feel distracted from work’.

Challenging narratives

These vital concerns are echoed in the coaching work I do. I work with fathers to challenge the societal narratives placed upon their paternal role. We create new life road maps focused upon a sense of inclusion, wellbeing and emotional literacy that will benefit both them and their wider environments.

So why have some fathers had a more positive experience than others?  My intuition would say it is largely down to the organisational culture and how they view fathers in the workplace. Many still operate a ‘presenteeism’ and ‘leavism’ culture and the expectation is that it is business as usual and the only change is that they are now working from home.  This will have also had a knock-on effect to relationships. There’s bound to be strains if the balance of childcare leaned more heavily towards the primary caregiver.

What needs to happen to make changes?

With new government restrictions coming into place this week working from home is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Organisations have started to adapt and will have learnt, maybe without realising, a lot about how dads and the rest of their employees prefer to work, the times where they are most productive and when they have their downtime.

Top Tips

  • Challenge the cultural stigma around dads requesting flexible working through training and coaching
  • Include dads as part of the parenting discussion and adapt family friendly policies to support this change.
  • Identify senior male role models who work flexible hours and share their stories
  • Consider offering a blended flexible working approach when it is safe for employees to return to the office
  • Offering workplace initiatives, such as a coaching programme, to support and assist dads working from home.

A survey conducted by Working Families states that ‘65% of fathers said that they would like to adopt flexible working arrangements going forwards in order to spend more time with their family, and improve their work and home life balance’. Organisations need to start thinking and planning now about what happens over the next six months and beyond. They are likely to see an increase in flexible working requests when employees start to return to the office.  If you are an employer in this position and thinking about what a new working world will look like, then including a plan on how best to support dads will benefit your organisation.

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