Part-time parents penalised when vying for promotion

06 February 2019 5 min. read
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Parents who expect flexibility to help them balance work and life commitments are being penalised by many employers, according to a new report. Parents are over 20% less likely to win a promotion in the next three years of their career having taken the option of flexible working, while 90% of parents have called on the Government to help address the conflict between their home lives and work.

Flexibility in working hours can be great for both employees and employers, according to a growing body of research. At the same time, stressed, over-worked employees are more likely to take time off sick and more likely to quit. There is also a stack of evidence to show that over-worked employees are less engaged and productive. One study, conducted by HR consultancy Mercer, found that in the US, employee stress is costing employers over $250 billion in lost time alone. 

Despite the mounting evidence in support of flexible working – coupled with a need to better accommodate marginalised groups in the workplace due to a shrinking labour pool – British firms remain steadfastly inflexible. Bending to the needs of employees has historically never sat well with executives, who have grown accustomed to driving growth at all costs in the past 30 years in particular, and that dog-eat-dog attitude does not lend itself well to the issue of flexible working. As a result, one recent study found that Britain’s working mothers are presently losing out on £1.3 trillion in earnings, as a result of inflexible business culture.

Parents working part-time are half as likely to have been promoted within the last three years

Now, another report from charity Working Families and childcare provider Bright Horizons has come to the conclusion that parents who work part-time are penalised when it comes to their future job prospects, too. According to analysis of the Working Families’ 2019 Modern Families Index, part-time parents have a meagre 21% chance of being promoted within the next three years, in stark contrast to their full-time colleagues, who have a 45% chance.

Working Families also found that because most part-timers are women, this has a major negative impact on their career progression. Because more women will spend time away from work than men on average, the average mother will wait two years longer for a promotion than the average father.

Cultural clash

The research found that more than three-quarters of parents are working beyond their contracted hours, with 60% of these doing so in order to manage their workload and 52% doing so because it’s considered part of their organisation’s ‘culture’. Due to a long-hours culture which continues to pervade UK workplaces – which in 2015 the Office for National Statistics suggested was a contributing factor to the UK exhibiting some of the worst mental wellbeing in Europe – far fewer parents surveyed worked flexibly than those who desired to. 86% of those surveyed by Working Families would like to work flexibly but only 49% do. 

Of course, while there are likely to be cultural standards which make it harder for employees to work flexibly, however, it is much more common for there simply to be no workplace accommodation for such needs. More than a third told researchers that flexible working is ‘not available’ in their workplace, despite employees having a statutory right to request these arrangements. At the same time, the pervasive nature of mobile technology has seen work even creep into the home, with 44% noting “always-on” expectations had caused them to dip into work at home, while 28% said it caused arguments with their family.

% of parents dip into work at home and for 73% this wasn’t a positive choice

With parents at a loss for how to tackle this issue, and employers seemingly happy to play fast and loose with their statutory obligations on the off-chance they can intimidate their staff into overlooking their rights, more than nine in 10 respondents told Working Families the Government has a responsibility to address this conflict between work culture and family life. As part of its Industrial Strategy, the Government is consulting over whether there should be a duty on employers to look at whether a job can be done flexibly, and for them to make that clear when advertising, though what progress this will yield remains to be seen. 

Commenting on the findings, Jane van Zyl, the charity’s Chief Executive, said, “We have found that among Working Families member companies – which generally have excellent policies and practice around flexible working – part-time and flexible workers perform significantly higher than the average employee. However, this year’s Index shows the sad reality that very often, part-timers aren’t able to progress at work because a higher value is placed on full-time work – and there is simply more of it. Compounding this problem is the fact that parents are often saddled with jobs that require them to work well beyond their contracted hours.” 

On the matter of how jobs are conceptualised by bosses, Van Zyl added, “At the same time, employers need to start properly considering job design – evaluating what tasks the role requires and how these tasks can be completed in the allocated hours – before determining what kind of flexible working is possible.”