In the last issue of Sussex Business Times, we looked into the importance of female entrepreneurs in the UK economy. This time around, we explore the problems males face with regards to maintaining a work-life balance

Nearly half of working fathers revealed they wanted to downshift into a less stressful job so they can spend more time caring for their children, study has found. More and more fathers are struggling to balance the demands of work and family life, and around one third also reported that they would take a pay cut to achieve a better work-life balance, according to the Working Families charity.

The same study found that a quarter of fathers drop their children at school or nursery every day, with just over a quarter collecting them more than half the time. However, for many fathers involved in this study (which identifies workplace culture in the UK as a key problem), work-life balance is increasingly becoming a source of stress. Many fathers claim that they work extra hours on a regular basis because it is the “only way to deal with their workload” and that “being seen to do long hours is important where they work.”

So what are employers doing to help working dad’s achieve a healthy work-life balance?

Apparently not enough; according to the Modern Families Index report, of the 2,750 parents surveyed, one third of fathers said they regularly felt burnt out, and one in five were working extra hours. For nearly one fifth of working fathers, employers are unsympathetic about childcare, expecting this to have no disruption to their work. Some even admitted that they would not tell their employer they had childcare problems for fear of being viewed negatively.

A spokesperson for the Working Families charity said: “For many fathers, the workplace is unsupportive of their aspirations for a better work-life fit, running the risk of creating a ‘fatherhood penalty’, where fathers are willing to follow a career that is below their skill set and reduce their earnings.” This could also lead on to elements we have spent so long trying to get away from, such as the ‘motherhood penalty’, which gender quality charity, the Fawcett Society identified as being one of the core causes of the disparity in pay between men and women. To prevent a ‘fatherhood penalty’ from occurring in the UK, and to help tackle the motherhood penalty at the same time, employers should ensure that work is designed in a way that helps men and women find a good work-life fit.

Organisation for employers, the Institute of Directors, agreed with Working Families, saying bosses should design jobs that let both men and women work flexibly. Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the organisation claims the Government should also reform shared parental leave, which is “far from perfect and offers fathers no individual personal entitlement to time off with their child.”

“The benefits, to individual families as well as companies and the overall economy, of sharing parental responsibilities equally between mothers and fathers are clear,” said Mr Nevin, “The number of stay-at-home fathers has almost doubled since the mid-1990s. However, it’s still the case that women are far more likely to take the lion’s share of parental responsibilities.”

Making roles flexible when it comes to what can be done in the hours available is vital for working fathers. A first step to take would surely be for the Government to create a new, properly paid and extended period of paternity leave?

It seems that things might be soon to change for the better as MPs on the Woman and Equalities Committee have launched a new enquiry into fathers in the workplace. Committee Chairwoman, Maria Miller said that investing in policies to let men and women share childcare will reap financial benefits as well as reducing the gender pay gap. She said: “Many fathers want to take a more active role in caring for their children. Clearly more needs to be done. We are keen to hear views from individuals as well as organisations about the changes they would like to see.”

Sussex Business Times caught up with Dan Flanagan, a father of a young family with first-hand experience of struggling to maintain a healthy work-life balance. 18 months after quitting his job to spend more time with his son and less on the daily commute, he launched a dad-centric PR agency and a magazine for young dads. Here, he answers some of our burning questions…

Dan, could you introduce yourself, your business history and explain how you came about quitting your job as a Senior Analyst? 

I’m Dan Flanagan, Father, Journalist and part-time Revolutionary. My first role after leaving college back in the 90s was in trade media. Then, over the next 20 or so years I developed my experience over a number of different PR related roles, taking me through the music, tech, lifestyle and finance sectors.

Throughout all these positions, the overwhelming theme has been the fusion of the traditional and digital areas of PR and marketing. This is where I come into my element.

When I ran my own start-up agency back in 2012, I worked with clients such as LivingSocial and Brighton Racecourse on event-led PR campaigns. This is where print, broadcast and digital media all played an equally important part of its DNA. Two years later I was approached to join an international media agency, part of the Hearst publishing group, as a Senior Analyst. Here I was able to do what I had been doing, but on a much bigger stage with household name brands. I ended up running huge campaigns for their biggest clients, including LG, Visit Wales and the Barclays Bank group.

I left 18 months later after realizing I was never meant to be part of a corporate world, with its commutes, stress burnout and endless red tape. I prefer the excitement and freedom that building a startup brings.

What are your views on the general topic of fathers maintaining a healthy work-life balance?

 In my previous role the work-life balance was pretty much non-existent. I’d leave early in the morning only to return late at night to see my son be put to bed. I missed out on so much of his early years, because my mind was always on work. I’d be out the door at 7am and home at 7pm if I was lucky. In the life of a busy three-year-old, that’s pretty much the majority of the tie they’re awake. I’d get to hear second-hand about the games he played, the things he learnt and what made him laugh. Now I’m around to help teach him or instigate that laugher, rather than hearing about it.

Now it is the complete opposite. I do the majority of the school runs, where I am able to build a real bond with my son by playing an active part in his life. We are very fortunate to live just by the beach, so often we finish school and head to the beach for a swim on a spot or dinosaur hunting.

Is it becoming harder? Why is this and what are the effects? Are fathers taking on careers that they may not wish to get to spend more time at home?

Actually, I think the reverse is true. I’m part of a huge worldwide community called ‘The Happy Start-Up.’ It is made up of entrepreneurs focused on being purpose, rather than profit-driven. Many of the members are dads who have opted out of the 9-5 in order to build businesses that allow them to be around for their children more. 

What do you think employers can do as a means of taking the pressure off of fathers struggling with this issue in their daily lives?

Understanding that if dads are given the chance to work more flexible, child-friendly hours, can make a real difference to productivity and staff retention. It’s the simple things like being able to do work from home so they can do the school runs without having the stress of being up against the clock, or being able to pick the kids up early and go to the park or the beach for tea as a family. Things like this are what make memories.

Do you think employers should be taking a more active role in childcare costs?

Childcare costs are expensive, and cause a great deal of stress for many parents. It would be great if employers took an active part in alleviating that pressure. It helps with health and wellbeing, so wouldn’t you want to help your staff? 

Can you give us a brief explanation of Don’t Believe The Hype and what it aims to do?

Don’t Believe The Hype is the word’s first agency of dad. It is a new breed of publishing company, one that is build around the concept of Dad 2.0. We are a media platform made for and by dads that were 70s and 80s kids, and our aim is to provide dads with a voice to tell and share stories that matter to our generation.

My whole business has the idea of ‘dad’ at the heart of it. I am very fortunate that I am able to build a company that operates around a family friendly ethos – there aren’t enough of these around!