Dads who disappear into the office early and get home late have discovered a whole new world of parenting in recent weeks as they moved into work from home mode.
From kids around full-time, at first schooled online at home, followed by the school holidays amid the stay-at-home orders, many kids have seen their fathers more in the past month than they would all year.
The response to the covid-19 pandemic has made what previously seemed impossible – flexible working arrangements for fathers to around more at home – not only viable but beneficial to everyone, according to University of South Australia researcher Dr Ashlee Borgkvist.
“Until now, most Australian fathers have not used flexible or part-time work arrangements, despite these options being available to them through their employer,” she said.
“The reasons why are multifaceted, often linked to men’s perceptions of the ideal worker, workplace cultures, and long-held constructions of masculinity.
“But ideas of what comprises an ideal worker or good workplace culture will inevitably be challenged because of covid-19, as all tiers of workers – managers and executives alike – embrace social isolation measures.
“It’s now that fathers will be able to show how working from home can be as productive, if not more so, than working in an office. And in turn, boost their confidence that working at home is an acceptable and possible workplace construct.”
And despite major changes in the family dynamic over the past four decades as more women enter the workforce – generally part-time – they’ve remained the primary caregiver with little change in how dads work, with fathers with children under 12 working a 40-46 hours week, compared to mums on around 28 hours. And even when flexible work is available, less than a third of men use it, while fewer than 10% have part-time work arrangements.
Dr Borgkvist argues there are cultural issues at play, with the statistics on dads working flexibly barely changing over the last decade.
“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,” she
“In my research, many fathers said that they weren’t sure of workplace policies or options and entitlements for flexible work, in their workplaces, so there’s certainly a need for transparency within organisations because this can be a real barrier to requesting flexible work in the first place.”
Borgkvist adds that the research demonstrates repeatedly that a good work-life balance delivers a more productive and efficient workforce.
“We need to see more organisations model and support flexible working arrangements for dads which will help build a positive and supportive culture for men who might 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,” she said.
“COVID-19 might have been the catalyst for forced workplace flexibility, but the lessons we take from this unprecedented time could be extraordinarily positive.”