Flexible fathers: Fitter, happier, more productive

Research suggests that when fathers choose to work flexibly, it's good for them and good for their employer...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
One of the key aims of the Government's new parental leave proposals is to make it easier for parents to share childcare responsibilities. The argument usually made for this is that it will promote equality in the workplace, by reducing the burden on working mothers. But it may also have a positive effect on fathers too: according to new research by Working Families and Lancaster University Management School, fathers who work flexibly are happier, healthier, and more committed to their employer. Sounds like a win-win, right?

The research, which is based on a two-year Lottery-funded study of over a thousand fathers, found that those working flexibly in the private sector 'have better physical and psychological health, are less stressed and are more committed to their employer' than the general average (although interestingly, that wasn't true of the public sector - perhaps because these people feel their jobs are particularly under threat).

What's more, if this study is anything to go by, traditional gender roles are being reversed: fathers whose partners worked full-time reported higher levels of wellbeing and commitment, while those who claimed to do the lion's share of the housework felt they had better work/ life balance. In other words, suggests Working Families chief exec Sarah Jackson: 'The more fathers are involved with family life, the happier they are.'

The benefits for the individuals concerned make perfect sense; if they're able to spend more time at home, it's hardly surprising that they feel they have a better work/ life balance. But the upside for their employer may not be so immediately obvious, given the additional challenges (and sometimes expense) of managing a flexible workforce. However, this research suggests they might also benefit in the long run - both because happier workers tend to be better workers, and because the staff concerned will feel more positive about them as an employer.

There is one caveat to all this, though. This study was based on just two large organisations - one public and one private. So we should probably be wary about drawing general conclusions about whether this applies across the board; it may be that there's something about these particular organisations that skews the results. In particular, smaller companies may argue that the practical downsides of widespread flexible working outweigh the theoretical engagement benefits. But food for thought, nonetheless – if only the suggestion that cultural norms do seem to be changing.

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